The Austin-Nashville comparisons are many, for good reason.
Both capital cities have a creative culture that comes from and fuels many of the local industries, particularly music, design, and technology. Both are booming bachelorette destinations and have very similar vibes in lots of the neighborhoods.
But Nashville is special in its own ways. The heart of Nashville’s tourist scene is Lower Broadway, a six-block section of downtown filled with four-story mega clubs owned by the likes of country stars Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, and Luke Bryan.
But Nashville’s tourism industry has changed a lot in the past couple of years, especially since the opening of the National Museum of African American Music and the popularization of Nashville-style hot chicken. If you’re Austinite heading to Nashville, here are some suggestions sure to satisfy your curiosity.
Dine at the Pullman Standard
There’s no shortage of good food in Nashville. Restaurant reservations are a little easier to snag than in Austin, but always have a backup plan. The line for Biscuit Love can be as long as the line at Austin’s Bird Bird Biscuit.
There’s no better place to enjoy (and be part of) the Nashville skyline than Proof, an upscale bar on top of the W Hotel with sweeping views of downtown.
There’s also the Pullman Standard, an upscale gastrobar housed in an old brick building near the railyard and is an homage to the fancy cocktail days of the Pullman Standard train car.
We also had excellent meals at Chauhan Ale and Masala House, run by Food Network star Maneet Chauhan, and at Butcher and Bee, a sandwich shop that has become so much more and has locations in Nashville and Charleston.
In Austin: Fans of Chauhan would love Vixen’s Wedding and Canje, and if you’ve ever enjoyed Butcher and Bee, you’ll want to check out Aba or Olamaie. For an upscale cocktail in a cool old building, check out Firehouse Lounge, housed in the city’s oldest still-standing fire station
Get dressed up and go to Mimo
Mimo (Italian for “mockingbird,” the Tennessee state bird) is the restaurant inside the newly opened Four Seasons hotel, an immaculately designed place where you can stop by for a bite to eat and a Bloody Mary, along with Nashville’s movers and shakers. We were there for lunch, and the yuzu dessert was one of the best things I had during the four days I was there.
This was where I got to chat with their director of PR, a live music-loving Brit who knows more about Dale Watson than most Austinites. (Dale, a fixture of the Austin honky-tonk scene, spends most of his time in Memphis these days.) I found out that, as part of the hotel’s experience offerings, guests book a meet-and-greet and personal performance with the songwriters and performers of their favorite songs.
In Austin: For an upscale downtown hotel experience, I’d recommend The Line Hotel, with its eye-catching design and Top Chef-worthy food. It’s just a few blocks from our Four Seasons, which is another place to see and be seen while sipping on something delicious with a nice view. (I can’t think of a comparable experience to the songwriter sessions in Austin, but someone should do that.)
Browse the vinyl at Grimey’s, shop from local makers
In East Nashville, you’ll find the city’s up-and-coming East Nashville arts district, with locally owned restaurants and retail shops, including a little cluster in the Fatherland district, a specialty makeup shop (that was way more fun than I thought it would be) and a record store (and live music venue) with a bookstore in the basement.
In Austin: Waterloo Records. This Austin staple also hosts in-store performances and is right across the street from BookPeople, which is the biggest indie bookstore in the city. (But I think my favorite bookstores in town are BookWoman and Reverie.)
Check out the sculptures at LeQuire Gallery
Throughout Nashville, you’ll see Alan LeQuire’s sculptures and statues. The working artist, now 68, has a small gallery and studio near a neighborhood called The Nations. Sometimes, he and his wife often host visitors in the workshop in the back, and it was another highlight of the trip. (I didn’t get to see the Frist Art Museum, which will certainly be at the top of my list on my next visit.)
That’s where you’ll see the many miniatures and casts he’s used over the years to make some remarkable pieces, like the 40-ft tall statue of nine naked dancers at the north end of Music Row that is the largest bronze figure group in the country.
In Austin: Austin’s most famous sculptor, Charles Umlauf, died in 1994, but the sculpture garden that bears his name offers classes and workshops for artists and visitors alike. For a visit to a working studio, check out Roadhouse Relics, where Todd Sanders makes neon art found all over the city. Our most famous fountain is probably the one on the UT campus named after a Confederate officer.
Visit Sean Brock’s fast-food playground
Sean Brock, one of the best chefs in the South, and Davis Reese, who came with him from his former restaurant Husk, run a buzzing fast food restaurant called Joyland in East Nashville that couldn’t be more different than the fine dining at his other restaurants.
Here, the team takes fast food up a few notches with “crustburgers” (like smashburgers, but with an upside-down bun), fried chicken sandwiches and hand pies. They also make honeysuckle tea and serve beef and chicken raised by nearby farmers. All the staff has access to a wellness room with massage, yoga and reiki. It’s good stuff.
I didn’t get to try Brock’s other restaurants, but put them on your list, too: The Continental, Audrey and the newly opened June, a tasting menu-style restaurant that “curiously explores the possibilities of products indigenous to the American South alongside the best ingredients in the world.”
In Austin: Comedor chef Philip Speer is also notably sober and driven to change the industry’s wellness standards. (See also, James Robert: Fixe.) Speer and Robert coordinate a run club that encourages a shift to a healthier lifestyle, and Brock ensures that his staff gets access to yoga classes and even massages.