The Original Nashville: 10 Spots to Go
It’s always weird to come home after time away- after 8 years the city of Nashville has seen a drastic change. Before leaving for college, this city was just another sleepy sunbelt capital, with great music and a fun culture, but a place more for those born and raised here than those seeking a crazy weekend getaway. Closing in on a decade later, Nashville is the country’s new it city - the place where everyone and their mother wants to be. To say this is the home I left behind years ago would be a stretch. There are probably just as many hipster breweries as there are fast food drive-thrus. The honky tonks where you could find every American Idol performer before their big break have now all been turned into corporate traps owned by Top 40 recording artists. And, let’s not forget the bachelorettes; they roam the streets in color-coordinated outfits like packs of wild animals -- their hoards can be counted by the dozens on any weekend downtown. In fact, it’s a newly popular local drinking game.
Yet, even with all this changing, there are definitely still hints of the city I grew up in. The same meat and threes are still there with lines out the door (no cutting!). And, even though they’ve changed a bit, the honkytonks are still blaring country rock covers that you can hear all the way up Broadway. Somehow, Robert's Western World, one of the oldest venues on the downtown strip, is still serving up 4$ fried bologna sandwiches in the same boot-lined shotgun bar as it did decades ago. Knowing that my same core group of friends and I can still hit up the same joints we did in high school is what really makes this place feel like home.
Since this city has so much to offer, I thought both the classics and the newcomers deserved articles of their own. This one (the first) is my list of go-to’s around the city, that I consider the lasting staples of this rapidly changing city. I feel like the best place to start there is lunch. Since you’re visiting, you deserve to sleep in a bit.
For a first time visit to Nashville, there’s only one thing for you to do for a first meal. Prince’s Hot Chicken. I know you’ve heard of Nashville hot chicken, you can find it everywhere across the states on menus of hipster spots in Brooklyn all the way to KFC (at least for a limited time). Prince’s may not be the originators of hot chicken, but they are the totem bearers of the delicacy.Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish also deserves honorable mention here, serving up a great tilapia alongside chicken, as the name suggests.
If you’re going for a true Nashville experience, you’re going to need to hit at least one meat and three. Yes, it’s that simple - a meat and three dishes that make up a perfect meal. There are a number of cafeterias around the city that qualify as such, including Arnold’s, where even President Barack Obama waits in line. For me, though, Wendell Smith’s Restaurant is the best possible representation of this down home cuisine. Attached to a liquor store that shares a similar name, this simplistic diner is a yet unspoiled diamond in the rough that preserves a great Nashville tradition.
But, what would a trip to the South be like if you didn’t get a taste of the local BBQ. Nashville ranks amongst the best in the country in this cuisine, the smokehouses are as endless as the piles of pork shoulder that fill them. Nashville has a good variety when it comes to Q, but stay on the lookout for pork specialties. Whitt’s, a local chain, is known to have cheap pulled pork sandwiches every day of the week throughout the city, making it a convenient stop over for any quick craving. Martin’s and Edley’s have taken over though, showing off some of the best in local flavors. My recommendation here, though, goes to Hog Heaven -- a shack of glory that's been around 25+ years on the edge of Centennial Park. Conveniently located to almost everyone in the city, it's constantly bustling, serving up delicious simplicity.
(credit the Barbecue Fiend)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you some drinking recommendations, too. Melrose Billiards and 3 Crow, Found on 8th Ave and Woodland streets, respectively, are two classic Nashville dingy joints; you’ll find locals who know every member of the service team and their sister. The former, an underground pool hall, and the latter, a holdout in the gentrification of East Nashville, represent some of the last old school bars in the city. Be prepared to come out smelling like an ashtray though, these watering holes are some of the few establishments left allowing you to smoke inside.
Food is such an important part of culture, the flavors of the south are undoubtedly part of why this place still feels like home, and being able to go with old friends solidifies this further. There’s so much going on here, I couldn’t fit it into 750 words, but felt like I had to hit the essentials of what makes this place so easy to come back to.
Coming up next, I’ll fill you in on all the good stuff that’s popped up recently continuing to shape the New Nashville.