50 states in 52 weeks: the cool side of Nashville

Sunshine Flint
08 January 2016

Don’t tell the rest of the Brooklyn-worshipping world, but East Nashville just might be the hippest, coolest, most authentic neighbourhood on the planet right now. Here Sunshine Flint shares where to eat, shop, stay, and play

East Nashvillians seem to have an unlimited supply of time. How else could they open so many quirky little shops and restaurants, or organise the endless rotation of food, farm and music fests? Men’s hairstyles are pomaded to Peaky Blinders perfection; price tags on ceramics are works of art in themselves, with pen-and-ink drawings of each mug and plate; organic tea leaves are weighed, bagged and stapled by hand. No one’s in a rush, and the music is pretty darn great, too.

This cooperative, handcrafted atmosphere is something that more and more visitors to Music City are crossing the Cumberland River to experience for themselves. Read on to find out how to join them.

East Nashville has a number of mini-neighbourhoods, but Five Points is the main, walkable district. Get your bearings on the Walk Eat Nashville tour, where you’ll get samples from local restaurants and breweries, as well as historical tidbits. Nashville’s foodie rep is well-served at Little Octopus – the latest concept from restaurant incubator POP Nashville, which serves inventive small plates with global flavours. A few blocks away, Lockeland Table turns downhome fare like crawfish, crispy pig ears and fresh cornbread into upscale cuisine, while the chicken tortilla soup, grilled corn and tacos at Mas Tacos Por Favor are simply some of the best around. When you need a caffeine fix, the best pour-over in town is at Barista Parlour – a coffee shop in a reno’ed garage, where beards seem to be taken as seriously as the Mazzer Major flat burr coffee grinders. If instead you want earthy, pony-tail types brewing organic concoctions, head to the apothecary-like High Garden Tea.

Seekers of vintage clothing and vinyl will find nirvana at shops like Goodbuy Girls and Hello Boys, Fond Object and The Groove, while those wanting products from Nashville and Tennessee makers (think cutting boards, chocolate and cocktail mixers) should head to Old Made Good and Hey Rooster General Store. Small things come in good packages at Olive & Sinclair chocolate-makers, specifically their bars of stone ground chocolate and boxes of duck fat caramels. Even the books at East Side Story are local — the owner only sells tomes written by Nashville authors.

There’s probably a law that says you can’t visit Nashville without seeing live music. The Five Spot is the kind of place where a customer asks, ‘What’s the cheapest beer you’ve got?’ (Answer: a $3 Michelob.) But the sound system is crystal clear and the bands are an exciting mix of established musicians and rising talents. Around the corner, Duke’s is a casual bar serving no-nonsense drinks and great tunes, or stop in at The Treehouse for stellar cocktails on their back patio. They have a late night menu of comfort-food-with-a-twist dishes, like poutine made with veggie gravy and feta.

East Nashville lacks hotels, but Urban Cowboy Nashville BnB opens later this winter across the street from Lockeland Table. Expect hand-printed wallpaper in the music parlour, ten bedrooms, a restaurant and bar. In 2016, an outpost of Chicago’s boutique hostel Holiday Jones is set to break ground. In Nashville’s Gulch neighbourhood, The 404 has just five industrial-chic rooms, while Midtown’s Hutton Hotel has 300-plus comfortable rooms with stylish touches.