A couple of things happened last fall that are noteworthy. First, a group of people Katie went to school with at one time or another were all in one place shockingly simultaneously. (Not coincidentally, these people make up some of Katie's closest and dearest friends and are also the people that she might have to kill if she ever becomes famous for anything. They know too much.) Second, and perhaps more pertinent to the purposes of this blog, that place was Nashville.
Plopped down in the middle of the long, skinny state of Tennessee, Nashville is a reasonably small city of 1.5 million people that are rumored to have beers at Tootsie's at two in the afternoon and walk around wearing boots and cowboy hats. We are here to report that neither of those things are true. Please do not wear boots and a cowboy hat. You'll just look silly and offend the locals.
What is true is that in addition to a thriving, highly entertaining country music scene, Nashville holds a rich mix of art, culture, history, retail, dining and other options on which to spend your sight-seeing time. We opted for a mix of all of the above including some southern staples, some modern classics and a few tasty treats.
Our Favorite "What the *&#% is That?" Tourist Attraction
No, seriously, what is an ancient Athenian acropolis doing in the middle of downtown? Did an episode of Doctor Who just land in the middle of the Bible belt? In fairness, this one is not quite so ancient. Built in 1897 for Tennessee's Centennial Exposition, this is a life-size replica of its much older twin in Athens. Nashville was, at one time, trying to market itself as the "Athens of the South" (which is particularly strange as, as our friend Todd pointed out, the south already has an Athens...Athens, Georgia) so this might just be one of the most extensive and expensive marketing campaigns of all time. (We're just guessing. We haven't run the numbers or anything.) Nevertheless, it now serves as home to the city's permanent art collection which you can view, along with the giant statue of Athena, for a modest fee of $6 per adult. Or you can just take goofy photos outside for free which was pretty much what we did.
Best Ice Cream Treat
Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream
Oh holy wow, how did we live without these flavors previously? Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet! Salted Caramel! Bananas & Honey! Loveless Biscuits + Peach Jam! Jeni's makes their ice cream by hand and helpful staffers will explain the inspiration for each flavor as they hand you a sample spoon full of creamy goodness. (Can't have dairy? Don't worry - they offer a couple non-dairy alternatives which are 100% tasty.) A "single" thankfully comes with two scoops so you don't have to limit your ice cream goodness to just one choice.
Best Backstage Tour
The Grand Ole Opry
Without a doubt the most famous show in country music, The Grand Ole Opry is the world's longest running live radio broadcast. Beginning in 1925 until the present, the Opry shares the best of country music's past, present and future with fans across the world every Friday and Saturday night during on WSM-AM 650 (and, because it is the twenty-first century, online and via XM Radio). The best way to see the Grand Ole Opry at its finest is to book tickets for a live show but for those who want a close-up view of the weekly workings of this legend, select the backstage tour. The tour itself lasts about an hour and includes a couple of short videos sharing the history of the show and its stars, a look at Studio A home to Hee Haw and many scenes from the ABC show Nashville, a glance backstage where you can snap your photo in front of one of the numerous dressing rooms and a chance to go on stage where you can purchase souvenir pictures of you and your friends behind the Grand Ole Opry microphone. (Photo sets are $25 but include a digital copy of your photo which we were pretty happy about. It beats the theme-park printed-photo-only deal at any rate.) Tours are $19 per adult for a standard every-day tour and they offer some options to go backstage after and during the show itself for an additional cost.
Best Place to Grab a Pint & a Burger
12 South's Burger Up almost edged out this East Nashville favorite but The Pharmacy takes top billing due to the terrific bun that perfectly compliments this tasty burger. We love the variety of sides on offer, the German-style beer garden out back and the handmade sodas. The Pharmacy also serves sausages (yum, cased meat!) and sports an excellent beer list. Expect big crowds and a bit of a line...reservations are not accepted at this local favorite.
Favorite Small Town Main Street
Just fifteen minutes south of Nashville, this charming little small town provides unique dining and some lovely independently-owned shops. Stop in the restored movie theatre which dates back to 1937 for a film, shop your way down the street and end your afternoon with some custom cocktails and a ridiculously tasty dinner at Gray's on Main (a renovated 1876 pharmacy turned southern specialty restaurant that's a hit with locals and visitors alike). It's the best combination of Mayberry and modern small town living.
Best BBQ Joint
Tasty meats cooked low and slow
This is not Nashville's most famous BBQ shop but it's our favorite here at the Run Away! blog. Meat is smoked daily (so order quick - when they're out, they're out!) and served in either delicious sandwiches or via platters with multiple sides. The potato salad and the Mac-N-Cheese are not to be missed nor are the bushwhackers (although, be forewarned, they're strong). The ordering system is a little funky but the friendly service and the quality of the food outweighs any inconvenience. The best part? Lunch or dinner for about $12.