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Experience Nashville before, after Music City Bowl
Tips from insiders and tourists on things to see and do there
If you’re bowling in Nashville, be sure to pack for changing temps. Expected highs the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve range from 37 to 57, with a chance of showers Dec. 29 to Jan. 2.
But that’s not enough to dampen the fun for hardy Iowa fans invading Music City for the Dec. 31 bowl game between the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
If you go
What: Visiting Nashville during the TransPerfect Music City Bowl (or any other time of the year)
About Nashville: visitmusiccity.com/explore-nashville/about-nashville
Holiday happenings: visitmusiccity.com/explore-nashville/seasonal/holiday
New Year’s Eve: visitmusiccity.com/newyearseve and more at visitmusiccity.com/newyearseve/events
Kickoff is at 11 a.m. leaving plenty of time afterward to check out New Year’s Eve festivities. Ally Parrett, Visitor Experience & Public Relations Coordinator for the Nashville convention & Visitors Corp., recommends spending “the last night of the year in Nashville with hours of live music, fireworks, and the signature midnight Music Note Drop. Brooks & Dunn, Zac Brown Band, and Kelsea Ballerini will headline the free main stage event at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park,” 600 James Robertson Pkwy., downtown; visitmusiccity.com/newyearseve.
If you’re planning to make a several-day holiday getaway, we’ve asked some Eastern Iowa transplants for their insider recommendations, and my Facebook thread lit up like a Christmas tree when I asked for ideas from those who have made Nashville a vacation destination.
From former Eastern Iowans
TED WENDLER launched a solo music career in Nashville after his eclectic electro-pop trio, Mansions on the Moon, disbanded in 2017. He now works under the name Ted When, and offered these suggestions via email:
Here are some of my personal favs and suggestions:
I recommend staying at The Urban Cowboy, 1603 Woodland St. in East Nashville, if you enjoy small unique boutique hotels with a stylish yet homey feel.
For a day trip, go hiking and/or rock climbing in the Obed River Gorge east of Nashville, then eat/drink at the nearby Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery, 920 Ridge Rd., Lancing, Tenn. Also, Virgin Falls southeast of Nashville, for an 8-mile round trip hike.
For a quick no-frills greasy, salty, delicious cheeseburger on the go, hit The Grillshack, 1000 Riverside Dr., Nashville.
If you’re looking for some authentic Memphis barbecue, try Central BBQ, 408 11th Ave. N., in The Gulch neighborhood. While you’re down there, grab a scooter and head over to the “WhatLiftsYou” wings mural, 302 11th Ave. S., for the obligatory Nashville selfie.
In my humble opinion, Prince’s and Hattie B’s are tied when it come to the best Nashville Hot Chicken joint, so call ahead and see which has the lesser wait time. (You’ll find Prince’s at 5814 Nolensville Pike or 5055 Broadway Place Unit 2268; go to hattieb.com to see multiple Nashville locations.)
Once Upon A Time in France, 1102 Gallatin Ave., is a hidden gem that offers amazing authentic French cuisine. They don’t take reservations and the wait can be pretty lengthy, so go early to beat the dinner rush.
The 12South strip of shops and restaurants is a must. (A half-mile stretch along 12th Avenue South.) If you’re looking for a local clothing store check out Imogene + Willie, 2601 12th Ave. S, for exclusive men’s casual clothing.
If you’re heading to Broadway to do the honky tonk thing, check out Robert’s Western World, 416B Broadway. I suggest going to The Listening Room, 618 Fourth Ave S, for dinner and a show to see some of Nashvilles best songwriters.
JAKE MCVEY is a southeast Iowa native and Mediapolis High School graduate. The touring country artist has lived in Nashville for several years, and offers up these suggestions:
Downtown: Traditional Tunes: McVey echoes Wendler’s recommendation for Roberts Western World, and adds Tootsie’s, 422 Broadway, and the Ryman Auditorium’s Old Crow Medicine Show on Dec. 30 and 31, ryman.com/events/
Off the beaten path: Winners Bar & Grill, 1913 Division St., and The Bluebird Cafe, 4104 Hillsboro Pike. Both places serve up food and music.
Top eats: Again, Prince's Hot Chicken is a must, along with the farm-to-table Butcher & Bee, 902 Main St.; Two Ten Jack, 1900 Eastland Ave. Unit 105; and Mangia Nashville, 701 Craighead St.
For the adventures: Fox & Locke at Leipers Fork, Tenn., a country store and music venue in this historic district near Franklin, Tenn., 30 minutes outside Nashville; foxandlocke.com/. Also, book a tour to the Jack Daniel's Distillery in historic Lynchburg, about 90 miles from Nashville; nashville.com/attractions/jack-daniel-distillery/.
DAVID LOFTON, a childhood resident of Cedar Rapids who played young Winthrop in “The Music Man” at Theatre Cedar Rapids in 1992, has now lived about 30 years in Nashville.
“This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if people get fatigued of Broadway (and that generally doesn’t take long) these are some different options where people can explore a bit more of what the real Nashville has to offer beyond the neon lights,” he said via email.
Franklin: About 15 miles south of downtown, a historic downtown square where you can park and spend the day walking through various local shops such as White’s Mercantile (owned by Holly Williams) and eat at historic buildings like Gray’s on Main, a former drugstore turned high end restaurant and cocktail bar. A secondary location of Biscuit Love is right off Main Street (where you can avoid the hourslong line that is at The Gulch location) to get a brunch fix. If you venture out there in the evening, the main street gets a little quiet, but Kimbro’s Picking Parlor right off Main is one of the local hangs for live music and is one of the most unique venues in the Nashville area.
Wedgewood-Houston: Just a quick Uber ride down Eighth on the edge of downtown, this area hosts some of the best-kept secrets in the city. Jackalope Brewery and Diskin Cidery are both great places to relax and kill an afternoon in an awesome environment. Then, just across the street from Jackalope is Bastion, which is one of the best cocktail bars in the city, but also a small chef-driven restaurant (but is usually booked months in advance with an ever-changing fixed menu). Numerous other bars and restaurants are in the area that are all unique in their own way (NvrNvr, Earnest, The Flamingo).
The Nations: Up and coming neighborhood just west of downtown. For barbecue fans, Bringles Smoking Oasis is where Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker fame has branched out from his flagship (and super-busy) restaurant to open a new concept in one of the fastest growing areas of the city. If you are looking for pizza instead, Nicky’s Coal Fired is steps away and beloved by locals for their coal-fired pizzas and Italian classics. Numerous bars are around the area, as well.
Germantown: Just north of the Capitol, this neighborhood hosts some of the best restaurants in the city. Much of the area was leveled by a tornado a few years ago, but has come roaring back. Geist (which is an old blacksmith shop) is one of the coolest settings for a meal or a great cocktail in the city (they also have a champagne garden outside with heaters, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Iowans). City House, run by James Beard Award winner Tandy Wilson, is one of the standard-bearers for Nashville’s dining scene. You also have incredible restaurant options like The Optimist (seafood), Henrietta Red (best happy hour starting at 5 p.m. $2.25 oysters and $5 Cava to wash it down), Rolf and Daughters (homemade pasta), 5th and Taylor, Butchertown Hall (homemade sausages and smoked meats, plus more). For a bar with a ton of history, great food, and a lot of quirk, Mother’s Ruin is one of the better bar scenes for locals in the city. It is located in a historic home in the heart of Germantown and is open late night to service the restaurant workers of the area after their shifts end.
Local music scene
To get away from the commercialized (offerings) of Broadway (again, this is this local’s take) here are some great venues that tourists generally don’t find:
The Station Inn, 402 12th Ave. S: Original roots music and bluegrass spot in Nashville. I used to go watch a band there Wednesdays in college called the Steeldrivers. Their lead singer was a guy named Chris Stapleton.
3rd and Lindsley, 818 Third Ave. S: One spot that locals will always go, even on a whim to see who is playing
The Basement East, 917 Woodland St.: Leveled by the tornado, but rebuilt and is one of the last true independent venues in the city
The Blue Room at Third Man Records, 623 Seventh Ave. S: Run by Nashville adopted son, Jack White of the White Stripes, super eclectic record shop and performance venue.
Restaurants: Hattie B’s and Prince’s received numerous nods from my Facebook friends who traveled to Nashville. Others on the list: Tin Roof, 316 Lower Broadway, has a Nashville IOWA Club, and will be showing the bowl game; Pancake Pantry, 220 Molloy St., near the Country Music Hall of Fame (Kent Stock: for the best breakfast around. It’s a wait, but worth it.); lunch at the Sylvan Park Cafe, 4403 Murphy Rd. (Thomas Hemenway: a must; best “Meat ’n Three” in the South.); The Stillery restaurant, 113 Second Ave. N, near the Johnny Cash museum, and 1921 Broadway; Broadway in general, for the country bars and restaurants, including Blake Shelton’s Ole Red; Sun Diner, 105 Third Ave S (Beth Draheim: serves an excellent breakfast with nostalgic memorabilia and pictures of country music stars all over the walls.); Music City Bar and Grill, 2416 Music Valley Dr.
Tours/sites: Trolley tours to get the lay of the land (Google Nashville trolley tour for options); pedal taverns (Amber Nollen: The drivers make it super fun. I will do this every time I go to Nashville; Google Nashville pedal taverns for options); Skull’s Rainbow Room, 222 Printers Alley (Kim Chabal: Great food/drinks/burlesque show. Food tour starts from brewery and takes you to the first location where “hot chicken” originated.); Cheekwood Botanical Garden, 1200 Forrest Park Dr., with holiday lights display, cheekwood.org/; Radnor Lake State Park, eight miles south of downtown Nashville, radnorlake.org/
Museums: Johnny Cash Museum, 119 Third Ave S, johnnycashmuseum.com/; Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery, 5025 Harding Pike, visitbellemeade.com/; Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 222 Rep. John Lewis Way S, countrymusichalloffame.org/; The Parthenon, built in 1897 for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition, it’s the centerpiece of Centennial Park and “the world’s only exact-size replica” of the original Parthenon in Athens, nashville.gov/departments/parks/parthenon; Traveller's Rest Historic House and Museum, 636 Farrell Pkwy., the oldest historic house museum open to the public in Nashville, historictravellersrest.org/; Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, 4580 Rachels Lane, Hermitage, Tenn., 10 miles east of downtown Nashville; Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Ave. N, concert hall and original home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, and offering several types of backstage tours, ryman.com/tours
From recent Cedar Rapids visitors
Erin Rooney: Must Eat: The “Crustburger” at Joyland, 901 Woodland St. It’s the new "burger joint” creation of James Beard Award winning Chef Sean Brock. He has much fancier establishments in Nashville as well, but this burger is unforgettable. It’s a smashed burger, with the most “crunchy bits” and ooey-gooey goodness you’ve ever had in a burger. Get a shake and a waffle hashbrown on the side.
Activity and bar: Pinewood Social, 33 Peabody St., amazing cocktails and food, plus a bowling alley in the back and bocce ball on the patio.
Getting outside: Go on a self-guided mural tour. Lots of unique murals all over town. Great way to get off the “main drag” and stretch your legs for an afternoon.
Place to stay/hotel bar: Graduate Nashville, 101 20th Ave. N, rooms are all kitsch. Nashville is known for music, but have you ever sung karaoke with animatronic animals as your backup singers? We ended up at "Cross Eyed Critters" on the first floor of The Graduate. Fun crowds and a quirky theme.
White Limozeen, 101 20th Ave. N, is the Dolly Parton themed bar/restaurant. Pretty, pink and just perfect. It’s like Barbie’s dream house as a restaurant. Unique cocktails and a giant Dolly Parton head on the roof deck.
Rhonda Viktora: I have stayed at the Gaylord, 2800 Opryland Dr., and at Embassy Suites on Broadway. Both nice. Tons to do at the Gaylord, lots of family activities — highly recommend the ICE show, through Jan. 1, christmasatgaylordopryland.marriott.com/ Embassy Suites would be more geared to adults.
Country Music Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry, including backstage tour, are good for the country music fans. General Jackson Showboat, 2812 Opryland Dr., has both lunch and dinner cruises down the Cumberland River. They put on a great show.
The Blue Bird is an awesome venue but requires getting tickets through their online system. A true “listening venue” to hear up and coming songwriters. A must if you enjoyed the show “Nashville.” It is away from the hustle of Broadway Street.
One of my favorites is taking a short drive to Franklin. A beautiful town rich in history, it is full of quaint shops and restaurants. I recommend eating at Puckett’s. Lots of stars live around there. The “new” money of Nashville.
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