Nashville is booming, strumming, and humming. Unlike many declining towns in the South, it’s on an upswing and its air is flavoured with optimism and the positive assurance of good times to come. Every day, the unofficial star and namesake of the hit show Nashville welcomes around 81 new inhabitants to its leafy suburbs, where craft-style houses are still affordable, locals enjoy a growing restaurant scene, and the vibrant city centre provides endless entertainment.
Loews Nashville: A modern luxury hotel with old-world service and Southern grace
The slick, recently renovated downtown Loews Vanderbilt is full of warm textures, modern lines, and happy, friendly, team members. Whereas hotels are often accused of feeling anonymous or looking the same – “we could be anywhere!” goes the harried cry of the seasoned traveller – visitors to Loews Vanderbilt know they’re in Nashville. Despite the sophisticated modernity of the upscale establishment, when I asked my husband what came to mind when he thought of the hotel, he immediately started mentioning the names of staff members with whom we had engaged. While my initial instinct was to say, “Come on… but what did it look like?” I realised the profundity of his recollections. And that, really, is the full story.
While I could tell you about the open workspace in the hotel’s impressive reception area, reel off details about various meeting rooms, say that the hotel is only ten minutes from the city centre or wax lyrical about the comfy bed and upscale interiors, they aren’t really what makes this place, well… special. It’s the people.
This, however, is no happy coincidence, put-on charm for the visitors’ sake, or General Manager Tony Phillips and his team work to ensure that the hotel’s staff is as happy as its guests, with appreciation programs. Traditional back of house, so often overlooked in lieu of shiny, front-facing venues has been renamed “heart of house”, and the efforts of staff members to ensure guest comfort is not overlooked. The friendly, happy service and ease with which staff members work together as friends, then, reflects pride in the Loews team and satisfaction at work.
Escape Day Spa: Get away to one of the best spas in the U.S.A. and return to life feeling pampered, healed, and refreshed.
Aptly named, a visit to Escape Day Spa feels like a break in everyday life and a complete reset. Once through the doors, you won’t want to leave for hours! While the spa offers the usual, expected list of treatments – facials, manicures and pedicures, massages, and so on – Escape understands that a spa experience is not merely what happens during a treatment, but starts at the front desk. In the various public chill-out spaces and lounges, lights and music are left low and scented rooms lull you into relaxation (and for some, sleep, for which the spa provides blankets and comfy daybeds and loungers).
I opted to visit for a pedicure, and the result was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve experienced. Now, I’m wishing I had also booked in for a massage – the spa is known for its professional and penetrating massage treatments, and is much-frequented by Nashville’s athletes. Escape’s mantra, “exceptional service, luxury environment” is one which is lived by owner, Tami Hall, who works to further research and education, and sees her most important role as a cheerleader to the 70 professionals who work with her. However, you don’t have to take only my word. Escape, voted best spa in Nashville for nine consecutive years, has also been called one of the best in the U.S.A. by Vogue, and has been reviewed by Gwyneth Paltrowon her lifestyle blog, GOOP.
The Mason Bar, with its astonishing mason jar chandelier, is a good place for working and coffee during the afternoon, and an even better place for pre- or post-dinner drinks in the evening. Across the Loews Vanderbilt lobby from the restaurant of the same name, the large space forms a natural meeting place, and buzzes with energy, laughter, and craft cocktails during most hours of the day and night. Its adjoining restaurant, while similar in style, is far more secluded and ideal for romance or large parties of friends.
Executive chef Silvio Rosalen works with his team of chefs to produce the type of modern, spiced-up Southern food that has launched the revival of Southern cuisine – devilled eggs with bacon marmalade, short rib, shrimp and grits, pork chops and scallops all appear on the menu. The restaurant has the distinction of being the only one that has turned my dislike of Brussel sprouts into a craving for them (but as they’re made with bacon, chillies, peanuts, and currants, who can blame me?).
Although Southern food isn’t generally known for its health properties, Chef Silvio has worked with ‘personal trainer to the stars’ Erin Oprea to design healthy, light dishes and a cocktail – as part of the hotel’s “Balance with Erin Oprea” program – that contain less calories (and guilt) than the comfort offerings on offer.
In Germantown, famed chef Tandy Wilson’s City House is situated in an old artist’s studio. Although tough to get a table without a booking, turn up for the Italian / Californian restaurant’s best meal of the week – the ever-changing “Sunday Suppers”. Pizza is a staple here, and you’d be silly to eat at City House without trying it (I wouldn’t have believed it either, but the bare-looking broccoli pizza may be the best you’ll pizza ever have). However, don’t stop there – Sunday Suppers are all about whatever’s freshest and what the chefs feel like making, so order various plates of different seafood and meat on offer, and dole it out, family style. As you can order most wine anywhere, either opt for one of the rarer Italian varietals or put your trust in the bartender’s hands and go for the establishment-original herby cocktails.
UP lounge, a rooftop bar:
UP lounge is not the kind of place you’ll stumble over – it’s a local’s secret and they’re wisely keeping it to themselves. Located on the rooftop of an unprepossessing hotel in Nashville’s up-and-coming Gulch community, the views are worth the visit alone. They’re made even better, however, by the professional mixologists, humongous bar selection and plates of sharing food – to fit in like a local, try the sliders, and ask the bar staff to recommend a local bourbon.
Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel:
Located in the achingly-beautiful and historic Hermitage Hotel, Capitol Grille and the adjoining Oak Bar could easily be a place that was only visited as a museum piece, out of curiosity of restaurant meals gone by.
However, the restaurant maintains its status as one of the city’s best in the 21st century. While best known for its dinners, we visited for brunch – perfect eggs benefit, freshly-squeezed orange juice and tea served properly (an American anomaly).
Don’t leave the building without looking around, and ask a staff member to show you to the most famous men’s bathroom in the country, where various presidents and showbiz celebrities enjoyed the gorgeous art deco styling and the bathroom amenities (while visiting, you could get your shoes shined and your hair cut!).
Locals may bemoan it or disown it in the style of the Vegas strip or New Orleans’s Bourbon Street, but you haven’t really been to Nashville until you’ve walked up and down Broadway Street. Even on a Sunday evening in Spring, where streets only two blocks away were deserted, as we topped the crest of a hill we looked down into a seething mass of country music-worshipping tourists and partygoers. Most city’s touristy streets don’t usually contain the town’s best live music, and while Nashville is no exception it would be a mistake to assume that you won’t find good music on Broadway.
Head to the three differing floors of Tootsies if you must, which offer acts that vary wildly both in style and quality. For honky-tonk, the locals go to Robert’s, but we enjoyed The Stage the most. Luckily, they’re all within a few yards of each other, so bar hop until you find an act you like, and then stay and dance. If you’re hungry, you could do worse than visit BBQ Jack – it’s not fancy, but it’s authentic, and the food is delicious, or Acme Feed & Seed on the river-facing, quieter end of the street.
Visit 12th South for quiet and hip boutique shopping, great coffee and cute cupcakes. The residential street contains a stretch of fun places, such as Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James flagship store (full of Southern quotes, ice tea, and fresh, summery clothing), Whites & Mercantile – a treasure trove of hipster-approved gifts and homeware, and a Sprinkle Cupcake ATM.