Nashville: Making Memories in Music City

Written by Bre Humphries
skylineDark 2 My girlfriends and I have a playlist titled “Road Trip,” as I suspect many friends do, which we reserve specifically for that purpose. Ours is filled with country classics by crooners like Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless and Shania Twain. Wherever we go, the country music comes along. So when we started looking for drivable destinations for our next adventure, there was only one natural choice.
         With its selection of trendy restaurants, shopping districts and entertainment venues, Nashville is great for a girlfriends’ getaway. For a memorable vacation, here are a few things you must do to get the most out of Music City.

Listen to Live Music
This may seem obvious, but if you’re looking for a particular genre or atmosphere, it helps to know where to go.
         The Bluebird Café is undoubtedly the most renowned venue in the city, characterized by its intimate, listening room environment and line-up of chart-topping songwriters. The Bluebird has helped launch the careers of artists like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, and continues to host songwriters of all genres. Shows take place at 6 and 9 p.m. nightly, and reservations are highly recommended.
          If bluegrass is more your style, an evening at The Station Inn is essential. The hole-in-the-wall listening room is the place to go to see the best bluegrass talent, where past regulars include Ricky Scaggs and Alison Krauss. Shows start nightly at 9 p.m., and you can typically find a seat half an hour before they begin.
         When you’re ready to let loose, it’s time to hit a honky tonk. Located up and down Broadway in Downtown Nashville, these bars open as early as 10 a.m. with entertainment starting around noon and lasting late into the night. It’s not uncommon for the legendary Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which features a different cover band on each of its three levels, to be packed out by 3 p.m. You never know when the Southern rock diva belting covers by Miranda Lambert and Melissa Etheridge might be the next big thing; famous early Tootsies regulars include Kris Kristofferson, Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson — the very same artists who later found themselves just down the street on the stage at the legendary Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and one of the most prestigious music halls in the world, which still hosts musicians of all genres today.

Pay Tribute to the Queen of Country Music
With 34 studio albums, two television shows, 11 movie roles, a book, a clothing line and countless awards under her belt, Reba McEntire is arguably the most successful woman in the industry. She’s also one of our personal favorites, so our girlfriends’ getaway wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to see “Reba: All the Women I Am.” On display through June 8, the exhibit chronicles McEntire’s rise to fame and subsequent success and features five of her famous “Fancy” dresses, a collection of stage costumes, and mementos like the cowboy boots she wore as a child.
         While you’re there, check out the museum’s permanent exhibits, which trace the roots of country music and pay tribute to its legends and current stars.

Have Some Hot Chicken
Take a chicken breast, thigh or wing, apply a heavily spiced paste and flavorful breading, then pan fry it and serve it with white bread and pickles, and you’ve got hot chicken, a hot trend in kitchens across the South that originated in Nashville. In fact, every July 4th weekend, the annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival heats up with vendors and an amateur cooking competition. There are a few restaurants in town strictly devoted to the dish — most notably, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack — but many of the finer dining establishments around town dish out their own versions of the Music City specialty.
         According to Nashville Lifestyles magazine, the rendition on the bar menu at Silo in Germantown is one of the “101 Reasons to Eat Up Nashville.” Made from Springer Mountain Farms boneless white meat, the dish is said to be wickedly hot, so we chose tamer options from the menu of sophisticated farm fare. Dishes change seasonally, but the culinary team works wonders with sea scallops, and if fried Brussels sprouts are available, order them without hesitation — served with slivered apples, red onions and molasses vinaigrette, they’re the perfect union of earthy and sweet.
          My personal recommendation for hot chicken is the snack-sized portion at Holland House Bar & Refuge, which delivers just enough heat to ignite your taste buds without overpowering the flavorful crust. In addition to the obligatory pickles, there’s also a dollop of cold potato salad to assuage the spice. Hot chicken aside, Holland House is still my top choice for girls’ night out. Located in East Nashville, an up-and-coming neighborhood for local artists, the chic space is both industrial and elegant, with beaded chandeliers hanging from exposed ceilings, artisan cocktails with house-made ingredients, and a menu of seasonal Southern cuisine prepared with classical French techniques.

 Grab a Cup of Joe
With a large population of artists, songwriters and college students in constant need of caffeine, coffeehouses are of the utmost importance in Nashville. Touted to be the oldest and most celebrated, Bongo Java started as a single café across from Belmont University and now operates five cafés and two wholesale businesses throughout the city. Our favorite is Fido, a coffeehouse/casual restaurant combination with specialty lattes in flavors like lavender and cardamom, an eclectic menu, and great location in the Hillsboro shopping district near Vanderbilt University.
         True coffee aficionados, however, will want to visit Barista Parlor in East Nashville, a hipster café that takes the hand-crafted coffee concept to the extreme by offering beans from multiple roasters and multiple brewing methods. Just watching the TLC that goes into each cup is enough to bring out the coffee snob within. Rumor has it the sausage biscuits are euphoric, too.
         Another can’t-miss morning activity in Nashville is brunch at Tavern, which opens at 10 a.m. on weekends and often has an hour wait time by 10:30. Try The Nooner (omelet, bacon scramble, fried oysters, spicy sour cream and “white trash hash”) with a Tomatillo Bloody Mary.

 Sample Local Goods
While in Nashville, be sure to seek out a few of the city’s original goodies. In Hillsboro, Bongo Java’s Hot & Cold is a one-stop shop for Nashville-made treats. Not only can you order locally roasted Bongo Java coffee, you’ll also find Olive & Sinclair chocolates made with slow-roasted, stone-ground cocoa beans in flavors cinnamon chili, Las Paletas gourmet popsicles in flavors like avocado and chai tea, and Bang Candy Company’s handmade marshmallows. Down the street, Tennessee Chic boutique carries ingenious accessories by Nashville designer Day2Night — a bracelet that cleverly hides your hair tie is one item that should be in every girl’s jewelry box. Back in East Nashville, The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden cranks out housemade preservative-, caffeine- and corn-syrup-free sodas on an old-school soda rail (try the Kentucky Mint for refreshment or the ice cream soda for your sweet tooth). And if you’re a craft beer girl, stop by the Filling Station in the 12South district for local brew suggestions (Yazoo is a popular choice) and a growler full of your favorite.