As the weather warms up, travelers eager to return to honky-tonkin’ Nashville can expect to not only find things the way they were before the pandemic — Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Legends Corner, and Robert’s Western World are still having fun along Lower Broadway – but also a dizzying array of new restaurants, hotels and music venues. They’ll also find one of the most impactful music museums to open in decades: the National Museum of African American Music.
There have been losses, sure, like the closure of Douglas Corner, the well-known concert hall, and the Rotier restaurant, but revered country music draws like the Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry House and the small but mighty singer/songwriter’s venue, The Bluebird Cafe, was successful, like most restaurants in Nashville.
Indeed, according to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. (NCVC), the city added a staggering 197 new restaurants, bars and cafes; some jazzy retro bowling alleys; and 23 hotels in 2020 and 2021.
“I think we are one of the few destinations that has continued to build while everything was closed,” said Deana Ivey, president of the NCVC. “We have more music, more restaurants, more hotels and a booming art and fashion scene. If the first numbers we received for March are correct, then March will be the best month in the city’s history. As an indicator, she said, the preliminary number of hotel rooms sold in March 2022 was 7.6% higher than in March 2019.
Currently, according to the NCVC, vaccination and masking requirements are left to businesses, and a number of concert venues require proof of a negative Covid-19 test, so visitors should contact those venues directly.
Culture and rejoicing
Nashville’s newest cultural gem, the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), opened last year at 5th + Broadway, a complex of restaurants, shops, offices and residential spaces across from the Ryman Auditorium. The museum aims to tell the full story of the influence of African-American music on American culture. The museum’s designers have done a stellar job showcasing the intersectionality of different genres in the 56,000 square foot installation where videos of musicians are constantly rotating.
Many artifacts on display include BB King’s “Lucille” guitar, George Clinton’s wig and dress, and a microphone used by Billie Holiday. The storytelling is divided into six main rooms, five dedicated to specific genres, including R&B, hip-hop, gospel, jazz and blues, with rock ‘n’ roll mingling throughout. The main gallery, Rivers of Rhythm, ties it all together in the context of American history. The museum also informs visitors that Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, and Etta James all spent time singing and performing in Nashville.
In the way of celebrations, Nashville now has two halls with a common theme, the Brooklyn Bowl Nashville, in the neighborhood of Germantown, and the Eastside Bowl, in Madison. Both boast a stylish 1970s decor and vibe that combines bowling with a restaurant/bar/music experience. The Brooklyn Bowl Nashville Concert Hall, based on the original Brooklyn Bowl in, well, Brooklyn, seats 1,200 people. Jimmy Fallon took the stage in February to join local Grateful Dead cover band The Stolen Faces, and new Grand Ole Opry inductee Lauren Alaina recently performed; Neko Case is scheduled for August.
In Madison, Eastside Bowl, which seats 750 people, also attracts respected talent. Singer-songwriter Joshua Hedley performed in April and rockers from the Steepwater Band are scheduled for May. Eastside Bowl has regular bowling and “HyperBowling”, a cross between pinball and bowling with a responsive bumper used to navigate the ball. Food includes the much-missed shepherd’s pie from the Family Wash, an Eastside institution that closed in 2018.
eat and sleep
Nashville fans returning to the city for the first time in two years will find a dining scene that continues to pick up at breakneck speed with chef and Husk founder Sean Brock doing some heavy lifting. In 2020, he opened Joyland, a burger and fried chicken restaurant, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Continental, an old-school fine-dining restaurant in the new Grand Hyatt Nashville. Recent dishes have included tilefish with crispy potatoes, leeks and watercress, and an unforgettable whipped rice pudding with lemon dulce de leche and cream of rice wrapped in a sweet crisp. Last fall, Mr. Brock launched his flagship restaurant, Audrey, in East Nashville, which focuses on his Appalachian roots; upstairs, his high-concept restaurant, June, is where he hosts “The Nashville Sessions,” which showcases tasting menus created by renowned chefs.
Other renowned chefs are finding a place in Nashville. French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten developed the concept for the new Drusie & Darr restaurant at the newly renovated Hermitage Hotel, and James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini brought New York outposts to Music City The Dutch and Carne Mare, both at the newly opened W Nashville hotel in the Gulch district. Others add; RJ Cooper, also a James Beard winner, launched Acqua, next to his chic Saint Stephen in Germantown last month.
For locals and travelers, the opening of a second Pancake Pantry downtown relieves fans of having to line up at the Hillsboro Village location for the shop’s made-from-scratch pancakes (their heavenly sweet potato pancakes with cinnamon cream syrup come to bother). Likewise, the much-loved Arnold’s Country Kitchen on 8th Avenue South now has a night and weekend schedule to accommodate the usual meat-and-threes fan crush. The historic and colorful Elliston Place Soda Shop, back after moving to 2105 Elliston Place, is livening things up in the West End Corridor. The ice cream shop has been in business for over 80 years next door and now offers a fine menu, full bar and, you guessed it, a stage for live music.
Certainly, there will be no shortage of accommodation for visitors anytime soon. The city has added 4,248 hotel rooms over the past two years. The avant-garde 130-room Moxy Nashville Vanderbilt is the first hotel to open in the cozy village of Hillsboro, and the massive new luxury monolith, the Grand Hyatt Nashville, downtown has one of the tallest bars on the roof of the city, as well as seven Restaurants.
Travel trends that will define 2022
Looking forward. As governments around the world ease coronavirus restrictions, the travel industry is hoping this will be the year travel comes back strong. Here’s what to expect:
On the extreme luxury side (think a “curated pillow menu” and original artwork in every room), the Joseph, which started taking reservations on Korean Veterans Boulevard in mid-2020, brought in star chef Tony Mantuano to oversee the food at the Yolan Hotel restaurant.
Nashville’s gains over the past two years have not come without some collective gasps at the losses. The popular Sutler Saloon in the Melrose district announced its closure in March. The closure, also in March, of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, a country music institution on Lower Broadway, came as a surprise to the city, as did that of Douglas Corner after 33 years of helping launch some careers (Trisha Yearwood and Alan Jackson, for starters). The beloved Rotier’s Restaurant, which had operated on West End Avenue since 1945, will also be missed, and the George Jones Museum, which had only been in operation downtown for six years, closed in 2021, citing the pandemic . Finally, after being a generator of family memories for generations, Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theater ended its operations in 2020.
Still, it seems like every day in Nashville there’s fresh news about a restaurant, cafe, or honky-tonk opening its doors. This month, Garth Brooks announced he had purchased a property on Lower Broadway and teased the name of his future bar on Twitter with a video of his new three-story building and letters slowly spelling out “Friends in Low Places one of Mr. Brooks’ best bar anthems.