For our first college spring break, one of my best friends and I wanted to take a road trip. Back in November when we came up with the idea, it didn’t matter where we went. When we really began thinking about it, our Google Map pin landed on Nashville, Tenn.
Why Nashville? Well, being the newly 21-year-olds that my galpal Sar and I were, and our passion for music, Nashville was a place that we thought we’d be able to explore and had always wanted to as legal aged adults, seeing how most of the music takes place in bars. Sar had a connection to the city through her parents prior stint in the music industry, and I had an interest through my brother who previously lived there for a year.
Sar and I are both communication students who literally do not stop talking and have a knack for planning just about anything you can think of. So this trip was going to be jam-packed with intensely researched and recommended go-to’s before we even left the state of Wisconsin, as well as the goal of making as many new friends along the way as we could.
Our focus for this trip was to just do everything that encompasses Nashville: the touristy spots, live singer/songwriter shows, the music in general and local favorites. But we planned on putting emphasis on hitting the local spots and doing local things to get a full Nashville experience.
So if you’re looking to make Nashville a stop on your next journey, or have been there before and are want to see new places – the rest of this post is everything we did during the four days Sar and I conquered Nashville with Milwaukee/Chicago class.
Photo courtesy of the man taking the selfie.
The Parthenon. The place where Sara and I went to naps, relax, sunbathe and watch old men show off their frisbee playing abilities. It’s a giant park on the northwest side of Vanderbilt that was right near our hotel that has a replica of the Parthenon. It’s gorgeous. People were so active here, running, walking their dog or playing frisbee. Every chance we had free time, we headed towards the Parthenon (or Parth as the locals call it…not really- only me and Sar called it that). Not to mention, we took the best picture ever-thanks to this local. (see right)
Vanderbilt University. Tour it. It may be one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve ever seen. The old brick buildings, the traditional sorority/fraternity row and the winding paths that intertwine a huge campus make this university picturesque. But the best part of Vanderbilt is the people. And by people, I mean the friendly and welcoming fellow Chicagoan we met our first night who recommended half of the things we did on our trip and the super fun down-to-earth/comedian friends she introduced us to the night we met her at a Vandy-frequented-on-Monday-nights bar. We had made a new friend within the first three hours of arriving in Nashville.
Cafe Coco. The local cafe we had our first night’s meal at. It’s open 24-hours, serves breakfast for all 24 of those hours, offers live music at times, is a study spot for Vandy kids, serves beer and is the most hipster place I’ve ever been to thus far in my life. They are hipster from the tables to the workers. Sar and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast before we hit the town for the first time. Our waiter, Peyton, loved our Milwaukee beer connection and recommended a place in Nashville to get some of that Milwaukee cheap beer that we ended up adding to our itinerary. This cafe is a cooler version of the Brew for my Milwaukee readers. A great place for food and just hanging out.
Broadway. This was the tourist portion of our trip. We decided we were going to only head to Broadway Avenue one night during our trip because we wanted to adventure the local spots for the rest of our time in Music City. Thank goodness we decided to do this because the beers were $5 and the streets were full of tourists. However, we had an absolute blast! We went to a three-story bar: Honkey Tonk Central, bar-hopped to other popular spots including Tootsie’s, Legends and The Stage. It was a perfect first night of the trip.
We listened to amazing local artists cover everything from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Garth Brooks to All Time Low. Boy, did we sing our hearts out. The performers wanted to play songs that the audience knew so they would sing and tip to play more songs. Performers at these bars only make money if the audience tips, so they try their hardest to give their crowd a great performance so they can have a ball singing and dancing to their music. However, not one performer we saw on Broadway showed their songwriting ability that all of the local bars encouraged and mostly only offered as entertainment. On Broadway, you can go into any bar and probably know the song playing or have at least heard it before. That what makes this part of town so fun. By far the best part though, NO COVER. Thank you, Nashville, for helping us poor college students save a few bucks.
Music Row. This was our Monday daytime adventure. We walked here, just like we did almost everywhere during our trip, even though it was a bit too far from our hotel. Music Row makes up the heart and soul of Nashville, but it’s not actually known or promoted in this way. It’s not a tourist destination or packed with out-of-towners. It is simply two streets that house recording studios and publishing houses in literally, houses. These recording houses and publishing houses are where the songs on the radio are created and crafted into Billboard Top-100 hits and award-winning music. Literally the heart and soul of Music City. I loved seeing the secrecy and anonymity of the places that put some of my favorite songs on the radio. Outside of these houses and buildings, you can see signs awarding songwriters from that publishing house for writing songs that other artists record that reach a top spot on the charts. Definitely a cool aspect of Nashville to see.
On stage under the neon bluebird light. Photo courtesy of Elliot, a manager of the cafe.
Bluebird Cafe. A popular joint in Nashville’s outskirts that is known for being the place that legendary artists got their start. But, as ABC’s Nashville avid watchers, Sar and I know it as a frequently featured cafe that singer/songwriters on the show display their craft and work at for a part-time job. It is literally in a strip mall far from the downtown hype, which is not what I expected at all. We wanted to listen to the open mic night that is on Mondays, but when we pulled up forty-five minutes before the doors even opened, the friendly police officer notified us that the long line waiting outside the cafe made it impossible for us to attend the event. But that did not stop us from somehow getting let in to the cafe before the doors opened to the public to snag a picture on the legendary stage under the infamous neon bluebird light and talk to one the cafe’s manager, Elliot. I swear, just ask questions and people in Nashville will really be the kindest people.
Taco Mamacita. The hip taco restaurant that is down near Music Row that we were able to get dinner at Monday night after our Bluebird adventure. (Yes, Monday was a packed day). It was a beautiful night so we sat on the rail (the ledge facing out towards the street). It is similar to Bel Air Cantina for my Milwaukeean’s out there in both the decorations but also the taco specials. In my opinion, Taco Mamacita is better though. But that’s probably because it had a sloppy joe taco. Yes, I’m serious and yes, it was delicious. We sipped sangria and learned that our waiter, a fellow Illinois native like ourselves, was an aspiring singer/songwriter living in Nashville hoping to make it big one day. Hopefully we’ll hear him on the radio in the future.
Whiskey Jam at Winners. While in Nashville, we wanted to meet up with a fellow MU student who had been interning all semester there. She suggested going to this local bar on Division Street called Winners (it has a sister bar named Losers that is identical and right next door to Winners) that has a Monday night special called Whiskey Jam. Whiskey Jam is an event that began in the 615, according the t-shirt, that features singer/songwriters. Each group/singer gets a three-song setlist, well, at least they did when we were there. The show’s two hosts are such great people who just want the audience to have fun listening to great music. The hosts also play an intro piece to get the night started which is hilarious. During the show, you may find them passing out shots of Fireball to the crowd. Not to mention, famous artists tend to frequent this event. Dan + Shay were there the night we were. Whiskey Jam was one of my favorite parts of our trip and I highly recommend attending. (I hear everyone heads to Losers afterwards). My Chicago people, they sometimes do it at Joe’s Bar!
5 Spot. On the opposite side of the city in East Nashville is 5 Spot. We were told to check out this bar on Monday’s because it’s “Motown Monday.” Note: Everything fun seems to happen on Mondays. This was the only bar that had a cover, $5, but it was so worth the hour of swing dancing and meeting hipster restaurant employees. There was a sheet hanging on the wall that was playing a projection of black and white videos. Music was coming from a DJ but it was all oldies. It was a total blast and I highly recommend it. The one bummer: it was super packed!
Flying Saucer: Finally, we have made it to our last stop on Monday night. The Vanderbilt-frequented bar that our new best friend we met recommended and mentioned that she’d be there. This bar was more open than all of the ones we had been to thus far. It was rows and rows of tables and picnic tables in the porch-ish area. It was near the train station, so the brick was all old and beautiful. Flying Saucer’s walls were covered in saucers. We learned later that if you tried all of their 200 craft beers on tap (that were $2 on Mondays- fantastic) a saucer was put on the wall in remembrance with your name on it. Sounds like an adventure to me. On Mondays you will find it full of college students. Well, at least we did. And what do you know, we ran into our new best friend! We met her awesomely hilarious friends as well and had the best time. Definitely a cool local college thing to do.
Arrington Vineyards. Tuesday we spent the absolutely gorgeous afternoon at a vineyard 30 minutes outside of Nashville. This particular vineyard is owned by Kicks Brooks of the country duo Brooks and Dunn. I had never been wine tasting so I was extremely excited. Our taster-lady (no idea what they call the people who help you taste wine) was fantastic! We were able to try eight different wines for free and we ended up choosing to buy a few for ourselves and parents. The vineyard “house” so to speak was atop a hill, with the vines at the bottom. They grow their own grapes and only on certain wines do they import from California. My favorite wine was the Pinot Noir. Outside of the house, there were picnic tables that you could bring a picnic lunch/dinner to enjoy. So Sar and I bought a white wine and enjoyed our sub sandwiches in the 80-degree sun. I completely recommend checking this place out. It’s gorgeous and offers awesome events like “Music in the Vines” Friday-Sunday. Also, it would be a great place to host an event, say like a wedding? Find out more.
Belcourt Taps. Tuesday night, we met a family-friend of Sar’s at Belcourt Taps on the south side of Vanderbilt’s campus near Hillsboro. It was this quaint, house-looking restaurant/bar that was hosting a songwriters-round that night. This place is such a hidden gem. Four songwriters were on stage sharing their music and just having a blast. It showed us the hard work and dedication that songwriters go through to get his or her music heard. If you’re in Nashville and have an opportunity to check out a writers-round, do it!
Red Door Saloon. After Belcourt Taps, we didn’t have much planned. So we decided to head back towards Division Street. Red Door Saloon was a place that was recommended to us, so we decided to go. It was a Chicago-themed bar (which us Chicagoans loved) that was huge. We were there at an early time so it wasn’t completely packed, but for a Tuesday night, I’d say there was a decent turn out. Sar and I sat at the end of the bar just chatting to the bartender because he was awesome. The funniest part of the whole trip happened on this night. Every time the bartender asked us a questions, we answered the exact way and the exact time. So not only were we similar before we left Milwaukee, we had officially become the same person. He said eventually, “Do you guys ever not answer at the same time?” Two guys down the bar bought us a drink which we later realized was because we were asking the bartender how to order fancy drinks that weren’t our go-to beer choices. Clearly, we were new at this whole 21 thing. Apparently, there’s a spot at Red Door where you have to look through a hole in the floor and you’ll see something creepy (a skeleton) but Sar and I didn’t know that at the time. Definitely a cool place to check out if you want to bar hop.
Patterson House. Okay, this place is a MUST if you’re in the 615. It was recommended to us that night by my brother’s girlfriend. She said that we had to go grab at least one drink there because it was a little pricey but an experience. We had no idea what to expect so we said, we’re in the area, let’s just do it. Patterson House is right near Music Row and Red Door Saloon on Division Street. There’s no big sign on the outside of the building signifying that it is in fact the place we were looking for. The only way to know it is there is if you caught a glimpse of the white lettering on the window of the door or if you had been there before. We walked past it twice before we found it. And we didn’t know this before, but they want it that way. This restaurant/bar is almost like a speakeasy from prohibition era. In the waiting room for our seat at the bar, there was a curtain between us and the restaurant. There were rules we had to follow that dealt with behavior and types of drinks that were available to be ordered. For example, they didn’t have martinis. That part was very cool.
So once our name was called, we walked through the curtain to this somewhat smallish area with booths surrounding a giant bar. The menu is a book. For people who had to ask the bartender at Red Door Saloon what to order, this menu was absolutely foreign to us. Our bartender Jimmy was the greatest. He is, like many, a musician. The bartenders wore vests and button down shirts that were very classy. Us in our flannel shirts and ripped jeans looked totally out of place but we did not care and neither did Jimmy. We chatted him up the whole time and learned so much about Nashville and Patterson House. Sar had a vodka drink and I had a whiskey drink. The ice cubes were a sphere which is becoming a new fad these days but comes from history where bartenders would chunk a piece of ice off a giant block of ice and use that to chill the beverage. It didn’t melt as fast as normal cubed ice cubes. I can’t say enough about this place. The hushed music and chatter, the dark lighting, the exclusivity the bar radiated. We even saw three characters from the show Nashville in the booth kiddy corner to us. (Fun fact: Hayden Panettiere had just left before we got there.) Our one drink was $12 each, but worth every cent. Please, please, please check this place out.
Delicious breakfast at Fido.
Fido. For my Milwaukeeans, this place is similar to that of a Colectivo coffee shop. Fido is a hipster coffee shop in Hillsboro that Sar and I had breakfast at after waking up early and checking out one of the biggest producer in Nashville right now’s recording studio, thanks to Sar’s family-friend. If you were unsure about the name, Fido’s logo is a dog. It’s a cool shop that Vandy/Belmont kids spend mornings studying and the cast of Nashville practices their lines. Unfortunately, no star-sightings while we were there but we still had a blast. I am somewhat of a coffee connoisseur (self-proclaimed) and I very much enjoyed my cup of coffee here. It’s in the hipster part of town with other street shops that we checked out.
Pangea. Sar’s favorite store. A Hillsboro street boutique that sells the funkiest, hipsterest and uniquest trinkets and clothing. If you’re in to those types of shops, check out this area of Nashville. There’s a whole street with them.
PM. An Asian-inspired restaurant that we went to on Wednesday night to meet my brother’s girlfriend. I am not one toeat Asian food, or new foods for that matter, but I loved eating here. I had a delicious wrap where I was introduced to edamame, my new favorite snack. The saltier, the better. Definitely a cool restaurant if you’re looking to try something new or grab some delicious Asian cuisine.
Santa’s Pub. The nation’s No. 1 dive bar, according our bouncer friend Carly. This place was recommended to us by Peyton (Cafe Coco cashier), Jimmy (Patterson House bartender), our Vandy friend and my brother’s girlfriend. Since we had no Wednesday night plans, we decided to give it a whirl. It was our last stop in Nashville before heading home and boy, was it the best way to end our trip.
Named after a Santa look-alike owner with a giant white beard that will show up now and again to the bar, Santa’s Pub is a doublewide trailer outside of Nashville that has $2 beers and karaoke. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you already, you clearly have no fun bone in your body. It was decorated like it was Christmas every day. The bartender, if that’s what you’d call the man standing behind the counter who gave us beers out of the kitchen refrigerator, Carter, was the best. He was so confused as to why we were there because clearly we were not locals. We told him we were recommended by many people to check this place out. We got our $2 cheap Milwaukee beer: Sar a PBR, myself a High Life, and grabbed a table to hear the sounds of locals singing karaoke. It was so great! The man in charge of karaoke was very selective on what songs would be played and who was chosen to take the stage (Sar and I were not chosen to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”). We heard music from Fleetwood Mac, Whitesnake and the song “Milkshake” which was a huge ladies hit. Locals and hipsters packed the trailer for the night of festivities. A local got Sar to dance. We met a guy who used to live in a neighboring town of mine that moved to Nashville. We
laughed and sang along with the karaokers. Seriously, it was one of the most fun nights. I swear you will not be disappointed after checking out Santa’s Pub.
Finally, we had to head back to Milwaukee. When we would tell people in Nashville what we had done so far, they were shocked by how much we did. They would say that people who had lived in Nashville for a year or so hadn’t even done the things we did. And I completely believe that by how exhausted we both were driving back Thursday.
But I’m so happy and thankful we did the things we did. We kept to our word and stayed local. I think we were able to see a well-rounded side of Nashville that not many people know is out there. But I’m sure that there are many more secret gems and hidden local spots we didn’t get to check out. Round two Sar?
If you’re in Nashville, don’t just do the tourist stops. Take our advice, and blend in with the locals. You will not regret it.