Today’s post is the first from another new writer, my sister Rachel. She lives in Athens, Georgia, but loves exploring the South. She enjoys coffee, music, and all things cultural.
Like so much of the South, what you see on TV or gather from the lives of its inhabitants (Paula Deen, Mark Sanford, Honey Boo Boo) does not provide an accurate picture of the states that create my home. While you may think that Nashville has nothing more than country music, bar-crawling along Broadway, and fictional characters from a dramatic ABC show, this Southern city has so much more to offer. I travel to Nashville not only to see my family and friends who call Music City home but also because Nashville is a city with a vibrant food and arts culture situated along the Cumberland River. Hip, young locals might feel as at home here as they would in cities like Portland, Austin or Brooklyn. But it all comes down to knowing which neighborhoods are worth visiting.
If you had spoken to Nashvillians a few years back, they would have swiftly directed you away from this side of town. But thanks to small business owners who decided to invest in this neighborhood, you’ll find East Nashville to be a place pocketed with vintage clothing shops, farm-to-table style restaurants and markets, and refined coffee shops all frequented by the artists and musicians that call this neighborhood home.
Every true hipster knows that if you can find the best coffee shops in a city, then you can find the best of everything else: music, art, and food. Luckily, Nashville is home to some of the South’s best coffee shops, like the award-winning CREMA, a specialty coffee shop near Broadway, and one of my all-time favorites, Barista Parlor. A destination in itself, Barista Parlor began in 2011 at the hands of owner Andy Mumma, a Southerner who started Barista Parlor as a culmination of the best of the country and his city. He selected the top US-roasted coffees and detailed his shop with artisan creations of Nashville, such as the hand-carved wooden menus by local print artists and bar stools and tables fashioned out of locally reclaimed wood.
While specialty coffee shops can be intimidating, rest assured that Barista Parlor isn’t what you might expect; the baristas here are friendly, as all good Southerners should be, and the shop has an open-bar system. This means that most tables face the counter and brewing station, fostering an open environment to not only enjoy the shop’s coffee, espresso, breakfast sandwiches, and desserts but also to learn how your favorite morning cup is made. Stop by Barista Parlor early before the line reaches the door. This way, you’ll get your drink sooner, a definite perk for a crisp winter morning, and be able to people-watch as local artists, families, and retirees enter through the former garage’s open doors. Step up next to the old motorcycles that frame the theme of the shop, matching Barista Parlor’s racing flag logo and sailing ship artwork, and take one of the unique hand-carved menus. As the counter barista pauses to flip Iron & Wine on vinyl, take note of the macarons, pastries, and cookies displayed in the front counter’s glass casing. While you’re there, pick up one of the gourmet chocolate bars from Olive & Sinclair, a brand of delicious chocolate stone-ground in Nashville.
Along with your espresso, try the Southern Frenchman, a unique breakfast sandwich consisting of a crumbly buttery biscuit, bacon, egg, and jelly. Served on handmade wooden plates, Parlor’s breakfast sandwiches are both creative and delicious. I tried the Ham & Swiss on a crispy brown bun with homemade pickles and a sweet, savory honey mustard sauce.
After enjoying your quiet morning cup, don’t forget to pick up a 12-ounce bag of one of the many roasts that Barista Parlor sells in stores, such as Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, Verve, Sightglass, Handsome, and Stumptown, or invest in some brewing equipment to make great coffee at home. Barista Parlor offers brewers like the Aeropress and Chemex, porcelain pour-over cones, electric kettles, glass decanters, and filters so that you can take your Nashville coffee experience home with you.
Next in East Nashville, head over to one of the many vintage clothing stores and upgrade your hipster wardrobe beyond the extensive amount of flannels, beanies, and desert boots that have found their way into your closet. Try the Hip Zipper Vintage, which offers affordable and properly selected vintage pieces. For the ladies, you’ll find tons of vintage shoes, bags, and jewelry to round off your new outfits, which the friendly staff will be happy to piece together with you. Gentlemen, fight off those first bites of winter with a fresh letterman jacket. Other options nearby for vintage include Old Made Good, whose owner helped decorate the antique-y interior of Barista Parlor. Here you’ll find clothing, home goods, and quirky gifts, like vinyl records that your parents heard live or locally made jewelry for your girlfriend who eerily resembles Zooey Deschanel. You may also want to shop at stores like Hey Rooster General Store, which offers handmade goods and gifts on nearby Gallatin Avenue, before heading over to one of the top-rated restaurants in town, The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden. This locally-loved burger joint and beer garden provides the perfect ending to a casually cool day in East Nashville. But if you’re not in the mood for a burger, stop by the popular Marche Artisan Foods, a casual cafe and market serving three meals daily, or their sister restaurant, the upscale Margot Café & Bar, offering simple, seasonal takes on European dishes.
Aside from East Nashville, a neighborhood I recommend for your hipster weekend in Nashville would be Hillsboro Village near Belmont and Vanderbilt universities. Located south of Music Row and right next to Midtown, Hillsboro Village is a youthful neighborhood, blending the residences of music producers and the Belmont music students who want to befriend them. Near historic homes and small music studios, you’ll find affordable restaurants, interesting shops for clothing, books, and gifts, plus another one of my favorite coffee spots in Nashville called Fido. This former pet store not only features house-made muffins, cakes, and specialty lattes in addition to its coffee; Fido has an all-day menu, making it the perfect place to stop for a bite no matter the time of day.
I’d recommend stopping by Fido after a casual dinner at the nearby SATCo, or the San Antonio Taco Co, where you’ll rub elbows with Vanderbilt students. This low-key, cheap taco spot is a delicious, quick choice when you’re on the west end of the city. Head into the door on the right side of the neon SATCo sign, grab a pencil and fill out your favorites on the tear-off Tex-Mex menu. Try the fish taco with guacamole and a side of their creamy Velveeta-y queso dip. San Antonio Taco Co. is perfect for after a long drive (or ride on the Megabus) or to cure a hangover after a rowdy night on Broadway.
Also in Hillsboro Village, you’ll find Pangaea, a small store loved by locals and visitors alike because of its clever collection of gifts, clothing, and jewelry. My favorites from Pangaea include a “What Would Jesus Wear?” magnet set, Dios De Los Muertos decorations, and vintage-inspired compasses.
While you’re in the area, head over to Local Honey, another vintage shop that is perfect if you’re traveling as a couple to the city. Wind your way through the old house-turned-hipster-haven, where they have a selection of vintage and redesigned clothing for both men and women, all at fair prices. Don’t worry, gentlemen, you’ll find more than embarrassing Hawaiian print shirts here. Local Honey’s men’s section, curated with cool factor and wearability in mind, is designed by the gentlemen who are now Local Honey’s new owners.
The Best of the Rest
Besides shopping, coffee, and the best restaurants, Nashville is nothing without live music. While I’ve only been to a few of Nashville’s live music venues, there are plenty of places to go after exploring one of Music City’s hip neighborhoods. If you’ve got the time to plan ahead, try to catch a show at the Ryman Auditorium, a former church, the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry, and “the Carnegie Hall of the South.” Not only have famous feet stepped on the stage of the Ryman, such as those of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, but the stunning acoustics of this Nashville landmark makes it one of the best places in the country to see live music. Another venue that has recently gained popularity is the Bluebird Cafe, a small listening room that features original songwriters, many of whom have gone on to write for Nashville’s biggest country music stars. If you can’t score a reservation at the Bluebird during your time in Nashville, try the Exit/In for a bit of contrast. This rock venue has also hosted many big names in the national music scene, such as Bon Iver, Willie Nelson, and The Ramones. If you’re looking for something a bit different during your trip to Nashvegas, then try the Listening Room Cafe or 3rd & Lindsley Bar & Grill, both of which will give you a true taste of the Nashville music scene.
No matter which neighborhood you frequent in Nashville or how Instagram-worthy your trip, you can bet on this city giving you a unique Southern experience. From the modern twists on classic Southern recipes to the city’s quintessential country music blended with new folk-rock influences, Nashville encompasses the true face of the new South: keeping the best of the city’s history and coupling it with the creativity of a new generation.
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