Nashville...as a Tourist
Maybe a lot of you reading this had no idea that I once called Nashville (the area south of Nashville) home for a combined 15 years. It was where I worked and lived and I loved the area dearly. But then wonderful fate intervened and life and love has taken me to the northeast part of our Country. And I am loving my life now as a northeaster (even though I still have somewhat of a southern twang).
But since so many friends still reside in Nashville, I am able to stay up on what's happening in the "Athens of the South." Growth is what has been and still is happening. MAJOR growth is what I was hearing. But trust me when I say I truly did not comprehend the magnitude of that growth until my wife and I paid Nashville a visit a couple of weeks ago...now from a tourist's perspective.
So let me lay out of the details of our quick trip to what many call "Nashvegas." If that doesn't make sense to you, then its obvious you have yet to visit Nashville (I will come back to that in a moment). We came into town for only 2 nights with plans to see friends, eat some good food, drink some good drink and see Mumford and Sons in concert at the Bridgestone Arena. A very quick 2 night stay that became even quicker once our flight was delayed getting there by over 4 hours. But that is the nature of air travel these days.
Our hotel of choice was the Kimpton Aertson which is not far from Downtown and within walking distance to West End, the Gulch as well as Hillsboro Village. It was a great location. But its not like we had a lot of choices either. One thing you should understand quickly about Nashville...its full almost every weekend, even though it seems new, high-end hotels are popping up regularly. Between the professional sporting events (NFL, NHL), the constant ability to see and hear great music (music of all genres) and almost weekly bachelor and bachelorette parties (one of the reasons it is referred to as Nashvegas), the hotels and restaurants almost constantly seem to be at capacity. Nashville, or Nashvegas, is only 2nd to Las Vegas when it comes to being the preferred destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties. So yep...its quite the popular party scene now.
So couple the fact that Nashville is amazingly popular, with us not planning our trip until about a month out, we had very few hotel choices to choose from and the Kimpton happened to have some availability. And here goes our review of the Kimpton. Our honest and fair review.
The Kimpton's location again was fantastic. No need for a rental car. So many things to see and places to eat & drink that were within a mile or two of the hotel. If we weren't walking, we were taking a very short and inexpensive Uber or Lyft ride. So the hotel gets a A for location. The room was a premier king room on the 2nd floor. We had a nice street view and a smidge of a view of Vanderbilt University's campus, but nothing Instagram worthy for sure. Size of the room was actually very similar to what we see up here in NYC. Not too spacious when it came to the bed area. The bathroom was huge and came with a very large walk-in shower, which was nice. But then they had this odd, barn-like door that closed it off from the rest of the room. While it looked sort of cool, its function was lacking since it only closed off some visibility into the bathroom but did not seal off anything else, if you know what I mean. So the look again was "artsy" but functionality was lacking, which was the overall theme of this room. The room had a very modern, urban exposed concrete ceiling that may have looked more artsy had it not still had areas where it looked like they had to do some repairs. Then the room had this one small table and one chair. Which might be fine for single travelers, but completely lacking in use for two people. If we had ordered room service, one person would have had to stand up while eating or we might have been able to drag the table over to the bed so at least the second person could sit while eating. So again...looked modern and hip, but overall a useless table except for storing things on. Room came with a large TV, but the remote was missing when we checked in and we had to ask for one to be brought to us the next morning. But a real negative to the room was its very strong odor of cigarette smoke. The room was non-smoking (as was the entire hotel), but either a previous guest ignored that or the previous guest's clothes were so smoke saturated that they stunk up the room. Either way...for us non-smokers, it was not a nice welcome to the room. Oh..and one more room peeve. It did NOT come with a coffee maker. The hotel offers complimentary coffee downstairs in their bar/restaurant every morning, but for those that like a cup in their room before starting their day, that was for sure not convenient. They had a sign that said you could ask for a coffee maker to be brought to your room. You have to ask????
So with all of that...the room gets a D bordering on a D-. I give it that low of a grade because when you are charging NYC room rates, the same rates you find at a lot of 4 1/2 to 5 star properties across our Country, you had better deliver a 4 1/2 or 5 star experience and the room was anything but that. Luxury goes well beyond the decoration style of a room. And just so you know, most luxury hotels now have a very nice, small Nespresso machine placed in their rooms with a variety of coffees or teas to choose from. Seriously Kimpton? You want us to ask to have that brought to the room??
The hotel staff was friendly and helpful, especially their lead concierge. Front desk staff was also friendly and professional. We did not eat in the hotel's restaurant/bar so we can't grade it other than to say it looked great from an aesthetic viewpoint. But we do give the staff an A as well.
The public areas were clean, modern and trendy looking...similar to the Quin or Viceroy up here in the NYC. And as about as small as you see lobby and public areas up here as well. So its obvious that the Kimpton Aertson is trying to stay in the boutique hotel category which is great because it was just that. But for those of us who have stayed in luxury, boutique hotels, this one left things to be desired and we will most likely choose another hotel in the future. And overall...the hotel gets a C. It was ok...but not good enough for a return.
So now that the negative stuff is out of the way, lets focus on the fun stuff. Again, this was a short trip so we did not have a lot of time to do a lot of tourist things outside of Nashville..like visit the Hermitage or take a drive down to Historic Franklin (where I used to live) or visit good ole Jack Daniels down in Lynchburg. We had basically time for 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch and 1 dinner and some shopping before it was time to head to the concert. But it was long enough for me to now get a feel of what it is like to see Nashville through a visitor's eyes.
And Nashville proved to me that it can rival any major travel destination when it comes to its cuisine. Breakfast was an easy choice because of where we were staying. Fido was a short walk and just happened to be my breakfast choice when I was a resident. I love their coffee and the atmosphere. You never know who you are really sitting next to in Fido. Could be a song writer, a music producer, a brainiac professor from Vandy or just some normal bloke like me. But its still a place where you find more locals than that pancake option a few doors down that always has a mile long line waiting to get in. And Fido is located in the "village" which also has some great locally owned shops for some post-breakfast perusing.
Then after walking off our breakfast (eggs, bacon toast and the awesome coffee) by walking into some of those shops, it was almost time for lunch so we started our walk back towards midtown.
Midtown Cafe is a long time staple of Nashville, but one I had never been to when I called that area my home. While the line at Hattie B's was down the street at lunchtime, there was NO wait to get into Midtown Cafe, which I must say made us a tad nervous. But we found the food to be tasty and fresh. Crab cakes were delish! Their polenta fries were also a hit. Wine selections were plentiful and the service was fantastic. There might have been a total of 15 people in there for lunch, including my wife and I and two of our local friends. Its not a shiny looking place from the outside and the name is not something trendy and flashy, but what was inside this restaurant was what counted and we were so happy.
From there we headed to Broadway to do a little shopping for some boots and a shirt which is just what you do when you are a tourist in Nashville. It must be because about every boot store on Broadway was stuffed to the gills at 3:30pm on a Friday. So we joined right in. No boots were purchased but a t-shirt was acquired at Acme, which is one of the many bar/restaurant/entertainment venues that you have to visit when in town. Shopping again proved to be a good calorie burner which allowed us to enjoy our early, pre-concert dinner at Liberty Common, one of Nashville's newest dining spots on 1st Avenue. It is off Broadway enough to give you a respite from the crowds and noise but still an easy walk from so many of the parking options downtown. We loved the bright, airy decor. It had more of a clean cafe look about it than a upscale dinner venue, but that gave it a relaxed charm. Menu was fairly diverse and really reflects what Nashville has become...a true foodie paradise. Their buttermilk biscuits are a must way to begin your meal. Their "Liberty Fried Chicken was delish as was their Duck Cassoulet. And they made a pretty mean Old Fashion as well which is how I judge the quality of a mixologist. The whole meal was superb. And couple that again with seeing two more great friends...the night was already awesome and we had not even made it yet to the concert.
So with the food and accommodations discussed, that leaves a little space for me to chat about what Nashville is and has become. Nashville is HOT (and I am not talking temps here). The amount of tourists walking the streets at 10am on a Friday morning was somewhat of a shock to me. It used to be a place that was busy on a Friday and Saturday night, but never too busy with tourists in the middle of the day on a Friday. My guess is Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays etc are just as busy midday as a Friday and a Saturday which again is why its called Nashvegas. It rivals Vegas for its midday frivolities. One Uber driver said that he has picked up many a tourist in Nashville who apparently had started their party activities around 9ish AM. We noticed that there were plenty of music and drinking establishments already open for customers by 10am and already getting quite busy.
But what really caught me off guard was the abundance of cheesy, makeshift mobile drinking vehicles. The number of peddle taverns has increased for sure in the past 3 years, but so has the emergence of "open air" buses and tractor-pulled trailers all set up for drinking and woo-hooing. While I am sure the locals hate these things as they slowly navigate the main and side streets of Nashville, they seem to be quite the hit with the tourist market. As a tourist now myself, did I see the appeal? Uh, absolutely not. They do not add to the landscape or the culture. They simply add yet another "vehicle" for all-day drinking and partying, which again is why Nashville is considered the Vegas of the south.
So here is what I hope now for the tourism side of Nashville; I hope visitors will go and enjoy Nashville for what it truly can be. It can be an amazing destination for those interested in our Country's rich history. It can be a choice for those who love art since you have two major museums right within the city limits (Frist and Cheekwood). It can be a great place to visit for those who love foodie tours. There is NO shortage of fantastic dining venues. It truly is a shopping paradise if you venture off Broadway. The Gulch, 12th South and Hillsboro Village all have great, small shops to spend your tourist dollars in. And for sure Nashville is the epicenter for music enthusiasts and not just Country. A Friday night walk up Broadway will show you the diversity that makes up Music City now. You can walk in one bar and hear everything from Grunge to Classic Rock to Country as you go from floor to floor. And the shocker is that these venues (for the most part) have NO cover charge. So you can walk in and hear good music basically for free if you are a non-drinker.
Those are the reasons That I hope keeps tourists coming to Nashville. From what we witnessed in our short trip, Nashville needs more of those and fewer of the woo-hooing tourists coming to Nashville just so they can start their partying about the same time as breakfast.
There is my tourist observation of one of the best cities in the USA. If you have yet to go...what are you waiting for?