Off the Beaten Path in Nashville

Merchants. Nashville

If emerging hip cities were like the new kids at school, then Nashville would be the fascinating girl with the cool outfit who shows up at homeroom. With its vibrant music scene, emerging foodie status, streets full of the young and bearded and very own TV show, Nashville is the place to be. Or so we discovered when we decided to take our Christmas vacation there and everyone we told said, “We’ve been meaning to go to Nashville.”


The 10-hour drive is relatively painless for those of us from the DC-metro area (straight out on I-66, left on I-81, right on I-40), so it’s a good way to spend an I-don’t-want-to-fly vacation. I did not become an expert on Nashville in our five days of touring, eating, drinking and copious napping. But we did discover some neat out-of-the-way sights, scenes and drinks that will appeal to us aging cool kids.

1. The Parthenon at night


Our first evening in Nashville, we strolled over to the Parthenon in Centennial Park. During the day, I’m sure it’s amazing to see this leftover relic from the 1897 Centennial Exposition and the art inside. But at night, it was spooky and regal and lit with Christmas colors. We wandered between its concrete columns and told stories of time warps. You never get a monument all to yourself in D.C.

2. Johnny Cash Museum


We decided to skip the Country Music Hall of Fame for the Johnny Cash Museum, which had more sentimental value for me because I love the love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. The small museum packed in a lot of tourists when we were there, but we were still able to spend all the time we wanted listening to his music, watching his videos and looking over an interesting and intimate array of stuff from Johnny’s life. I didn’t see the love letter Johnny wrote to June after she died, but my husband did. With my tendency to cry in public, he thought that was best.

3. The Escape Game. Driving to this out-of-the-way building, I started to think that maybe I’d been suckered into a dumb activity that only tourists do. Wrong. The Escape Game location is in an amazing artist enclave, little homes for recording studios and a pie shop and a really fantastic coffee shop. And the game itself – where you and your compatriots are locked in a room for an hour and must solve puzzles to escape – is totally awesome. And no, we didn’t escape. Boo.

4. Third Man Records. The Nashville outpost of Jack White’s recording studio is tiny and weird and quirky, selling almost entirely vinyl. It’s worth a visit if you’re a fan. And ask if the studio is open. Walking through it, with its Astroturf barbecue area and big blue wall and ginormous overhead fan makes you feel like a rock star.

5. Haircut at Monty's


If there is anyone in your party who could remotely use a haircut, take them to Monty’s in the Arcade. The open-air corridor of shops covered with a roof is cool; art galleries ring the second floor. And Monty’s is everything you want a cool-guy barber shop to be: the barbers are friendly and tattooed, the Galaga is free, the pomade is plentiful and there’s a Playboy in the magazine rack. 

6. Dancing on a Monday at The 5 Spot. As we sat on our stools at The 5 Spot and watched the couples begin expertly jumping and jiving to the first beat of the first song on this soul and swing night, the couple next to us leaned over and asked, “Do you know what’s going on?” We’d come to dance. But this was DANCING: swinging and spinning and what have you. Fortunately, after a couple of whiskeys with picklebacks, we were right in there and it was blast. Get there early. When we left at midnight, the line stretched halfway down the block.

7. Corsair Distillery 


Visit this distillery in the old Yazoo brewery. You can sip a beer beforehand in the Corsair taproom, check out the 100-year-old pre-Prohibition-built still on the tour, pet the bowtie-wearing cat that lives in the distillery and sample some killer rye during the post-tour tasting. Extra bonus: Anyone in your group not interested in the tour can hang out at the Soda Parlor down the hall.

8. Arcade and comic books. On New Years Eve, I made the males in my family decide the itinerary. And boy, did they. We spent two hours at a great $7/hour-$10/day video game arcade on the non-tourist side of Nashville. After an hour, I bailed and went to the nicest tea shop next door. Then we went to a comic book and used album store, where the cash register guy made me feel very good about my depth and breadth of Arrow knowledge.

9. Galax, VA


No, the city of Galax, VA is not in Nashville. But it is the best place to stay for the night if you’d rather drive two five-hour stints than one 10-hour marathon. Galax is home to the historic Rex Theater which, every Friday night, hosts a live bluegrass show broadcast on WBRF 98.1. Obvious regulars come out for the lively show – they jump up for every song and politely sit down and fan themselves in between. Do yourself a favor and fuel up at the Galax Smokehouse beforehand.