As we’re right smack in the middle of Music City’s busiest month, I thought it perfect timing to launch my new “Nashville Neighborhoods” series in which I detail my favorite parts of a different ‘hood in each installment. After all, the majority of blog emails I receive these days are from people coming to visit my lovely Tennessee town for the first time.
And where better to start than an area seeing one of the biggest booms?
Now, some locals aren’t wild about the whole “SoBro” moniker to describe the area directly south of Broadway—and many will claim that no native would ever call it such—but since a) I have no problem with it, b) Google calls it that, c) there are signs around town that designate the area “SoBro” and d) this is my blog (heh), we’re going to go with SoBro. (Rutledge Hill and Rolling Mill are smaller areas adjacent to/on the outskirts of SoBro—and not an area that many out-of-towners are going to know, at that—so I chose to lump it in with this post. Again, because what I say goes. Ha!)
So, with that said, here are my favorites eats, drinks and dos from SoBro, Rutledge Hill and Rolling Mill.
Where to Eat
Etch. Since it opened its doors two years ago, I’ve probably eaten at Etch more times combined than I have anywhere else in Nashville. Chef Deb Paquette is a long-time restaurant industry veteran who knows how to create a menu of classic dishes with her own unique spin. (A chicken curry made out of quinoa is my current frontrunner on the lunch menu, and the mind-blowing cauliflower “steak” that appears on the dinner roster from time to time? Forget about it.) However, you must absolutely leave room for dessert; Etch boasts the best sweets in town. (And I swear I’m not saying that because I used to live with its pastry goddess, Megan Williams! It’s just straight-up The Truth.)
The Farm House. Tucked away across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and right next to Etch, The Farm House has become one of my very favorite places for consistently delicious farm-to-table fare with an ever-changing menu. Chef Trey Cioccia, boy genius, has yet to disappoint me, and with items like bison over a bed of spaghetti squash, pumpkin seed pesto, preserve tomato, lamb bacon, and blueberry jus on the menu, how can you go wrong?
The Southern Steak & Oyster. While I like the Southern for any occasion, I particularly appreciate the fact that they allow reservations for weekend brunch, something most Nashville restaurants don’t offer. Also, it’s open three meals a day, seven days a week, meaning it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a midweek breakfast, as so many places in downtown don’t open their doors till lunch. The Southern offers free valet parking, and if there aren’t events going on at the time, you can get self park in the Pinnacle and have your ticket validated at the hostess stand. (And while its new sister restaurant, the three-story, 22,000-square-feet Acme Feed & Seed is technically on Broadway and not within SoBro, I must also insist you get your butt down there sooner rather than later.)
Husk. Fans of celebrity chef Sean Brock were stoked when the Charleston restaurateur opened a Nashville outpost. Whereas the South Carolina location focuses on “from the sea,” Husk Nashville’s menu features dishes mostly “from the dirt.” The bar is one of the best in town—see my article on Nashville best whiskey bars here, in which I included it—and the old house it occupies is simply gorgeous. Husk has a lot with free self parking; if it’s full, street parking is usually relatively easy to come by.
Where to Chill Out
Crema. This used to be my go-to spot until Pinewood Social (see below) arrived across the way and also installed a Crema bar inside its huge space. I still go there from time to time and am happy to see it’s still always packed, despite a second locale on the same block. They recently expanded their counter space, and there’s outdoor seating—as well as a good number of tables indoors—for those balmy fall days. Oh, and did I mention the coffee is some of the best in town? (My favorite is the Vietnamese, though sometimes I just stick with mint tea.)
Where to Drink
Pinewood Social. While Pinewood serves food from 7am to 1am on weekdays and 7am to 3am on weekends, I love it the most for midday cocktails (or early happy hour on the porch). It also has a coffee shop, workstations, karaoke room and six bowling lanes—not to mention Bocce ball, Ping-Pong, shuffleboard and more outside. AND there’s now a pool with an Airstream trailer serving tacos and tiki drinks (two words: Banana Hammock; order it, no questions asked). There’s free valet parking, but there’s also a huge lot to the left of the building where you can park for free.
Pub5. From the owners of 12 South Taproom, this relatively new spot just off Broadway is the perfect perch from which to get your booze on pre-show at Bridgestone or the Ryman. Personally, I love the rooftop bar, and if the downstairs dining room and bar is full, you can always sneak away up there and grab a table. The food is standard pub fare—wings, burgers, salads, etc.—though I’m a fan of the tacos.
Where to Hear Music
3rd and Lindsley. You just never know who you’ll see on any given night at this split level, dive-y live music venue tucked away on a random side street. I’ve seen my hometown boy Dustin Lynch take the stage there, several Nashville stars like Chip Esten (Deacon) and Sam Palladio (Gunnar) have made surprise guest appearances, and there’s always something fun going on, from big names to lesser known acts. Check the calendar of shows here.
The Listening Room Cafe. Forget the Bluebird Cafe; the Listening Room is one of my favorite spots to see a writers’ round and a great alternative to the out-of-towner who wants that Bluebird experience without the hassle. There’s live music several nights a week. Sometimes, there’s a cover charge; other times, it’s simply a food and drink minimum. Make reservations in advance if it’s a recognizable name taking the stage. Bonus: There’s a parking lot (a rarity in downtown).
Barlines. You don’t even have to brave Lower Broad to get your Honky Tonk on anymore; the Omni offers its own live music venue on the ground level. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can enter Barlines off of 5th Avenue, belly up to the bar and check out who’s playing on that given night.
Nashville Schermerhorn Symphony Center. A different kind of musical experience, at Nashville’s symphony, you’ll find a little bit of everything, from special Home Alone holiday shows to Queen tributes to live music from the likes of REO Speedwagon.
Bridgestone Arena. The biggest venue in town, Bridgestone is not only where our Nashville Predators play, but also where special events like the NCAA Final Four or Disney on Ice and every arena traveling arena tour take place
Where to Go
Country Music Hall of Fame. If you’re not a country music lover, you’re probably not going to want to fork over the $15 for admission (well, duh); however, even if you don’t go into the museum itself, you can visit the well-stocked shop for free. Being a country fan, I find all the exhibits fascinating—particularly when they’re tour costumes from the likes of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert—but I know not everyone has the same taste in music as I do.
Hatch Show Print. Originally opened in 1879 on Broadway, Hatch Show Print is one of the world’s oldest letterpress print shops still in existence. It moved locations last year to the Country Music Hall of Fame (which owns it) and is attached to the Omni Nashville. Hatch is responsible for printing many a well-known musician and band’s posters, from concerts to tours to album releases, and much of the event signage around town, but also offers letterpress art workshops periodically and sells a wide smattering of prints, both new and vintage.
The Johnny Cash Museum. I’m going to be upfront: I haven’t actually gone to the Johnny Cash Museum, though indeed I am a fan of the late singer. (Who isn’t? People with whom I don’t want to associate, that’s who.) However, I do know it features more than 1,000 items of memorabilia (such as handwritten lyrics and his 12th grade report card) and stocks a whole bunch of Johnny-and-June souvenirs in its store. Speaking of the shop, you can poke around in there even if you don’t care to walk through the museum itself.
Third Man Records. Those who think of us as “just a country music town” should really spend some time at Jack White’s Third Man Records. Not only does White bring in some stellar musical talent, but the company also records live LPs of many of the shows, the final product of which is usually only available for purchase by those who were in attendance. (I went to a 2012 Shins concert there, and it was truly one of my favorite music experiences to date.)
The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. Offering the best view of the Nashville skyline, this historic truss bridge—and one of the city’s most iconic spots—links downtown and East Nashville (it’s also one of the main routes to get to the Tennessee Titans’ football stadium, LP Field, as well as Cumberland Park). On the list of National Register of Historic Places, the Shelby Street Bridge was completed in 1909 and originally was open to automobiles but underwent a major $15 million renovation in the 90’s when it was deemed unsafe. Reopened in 2003 as a pedestrian bridge, it now sees a good number of cyclers, runners and scenic strollers daily.
Goo Goo Shop. Tennessee’s most beloved candy brand finally has a brick and mortar! This 4,000-square-foot retail space at the corner of 3rd and Broadway is slated to open later this year, complete with a kitchen turning out Premium Goo Goos, merchandise (like my favorite, the “What a Cluster!” tee), a timeline and archival information compiled by the Tennessee State Museum and more. For now, there’s a pop-up shop in the space, so you can still stop by until the full store opens.
Where to Stay
The Omni Nashville. If you followed me last year, you’ll know I put on a major media conference right when the Omni opened, so I’ve spent a lot of time there (like, more than I care to admit). Luckily for me, the four-star property is one of the nicest hotels in town; the rooms are absolutely gorgeous, with floor-to-ceiling views of the skyline, and reflect Music City’s personality with the custom decor. The location is walkable from nearly everything downtown, and the property has the only outdoor pool in downtown Nashville. Don’t even get me started on the Mokara Spa; it’s fantastic—though I can’t afford regular treatments there! There’s also a casual lobby level restaurant, Kitchen Notes, a Bongo Java coffee shop, a pool bar, Barlines (see above), the Five and Tenn gift shop (which sells Tennessee-themed merchandise) and Bob’s Steak and Chop House. Bonus: The Omni connects directly to Hatch Show Print and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Hampton Inn & Suites. I grew up spending my weekends in Hampton properties across the South as I competed in basketball, soccer and softball tournaments nonstop for years. I was thrilled then when Hampton underwent a brand makeover a couple years back; now, on top of new furnishings and decor, they offer free breakfast, Wi-Fi and parking—all things that can save you beaucoup bucks. This downtown Hampton couldn’t be in a better spot, and it has an indoor pool, fitness facility and much more. Prices start at $199 a night—this is Nashville, after all, where central hotels are never cheap—but I’d say you’re more likely to pay in the mid-$200 range (but think of what you save on parking alone!).
Airbnb. These days, I only stay in hotels if I’m on assignment that requires such a review; instead, my personal preferred way to explore any city is by booking an Airbnb rental; I have no partnership with Airbnb (I wish! Airbnb, call me!) but I’ve done this dozens upon dozens of times and am staying in four Airbnb places in four different cities in October alone. Here are some of the SoBro rentals that look enticing to me. (And if you’re new to Airbnb, please be a peach and use my referral code to sign up, so I can get credit toward a future stay!)