Singing a new song

Here’s why trav­el­ers are call­ing Nashville the new Austin

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TRAVEL - PATTI NICK­ELL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “Nashville is the new Austin.” It was a com­ment I heard nu­mer­ous times dur­ing the re­cent week­end I spent in Mu­sic City. Af­ter about the third time, I asked the per­son say­ing it why he thought so … was it the thriv­ing mu­sic scene (not ex­actly a new ad­di­tion) or the bur­geon­ing res­tau­rant scene (some­what of a new ad­di­tion)? Per­haps it was the in­flux of young pro­fes­sion­als con­tribut­ing to the city’s en­er­getic vibe — my nephew Scott be­ing one of the re­cent trans­plants, mov­ing here a few months ago, iron­i­cally, from Austin, Texas.

It turns out the an­swer was: all of the above.

There is a beat to Nashville now that has noth­ing to do with the boot-scoot­ing boo­gie; a panache that ex­tends way be­yond Print­ers’ Al­ley. You’re likely to see just as many peo­ple wear­ing three-piece suits and de­signer frocks as dusty jeans and boots, and just as many car­ry­ing brief­cases as car­ry­ing gui­tar cases.

There’s a new song on the Nashville charts and it has noth­ing to do with un­re­quited love or un­ful­filled dreams.

I was in town for the re-open­ing of the Sher­a­ton Grand Ho­tel, fol­low­ing a $35 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion. That ren­o­va­tion, en­vi­sioned with a fo­cus on de­sign, has earned the prop­erty the “Grand” des­ig­na­tion (one of only five in the United

States and 14 world­wide).

Among the unique de­sign fea­tures are a 25-story blown glass chan­de­lier and float­ing wooden stair­case in the lobby, and an aquar­ium con­tain­ing 150 jel­ly­fish at the en­trance to Skye, a spe­cial events venue on the 28th floor, where the jel­lies might play sec­ond fid­dle to spec­tac­u­lar views of the sky­line.

To cel­e­brate the re-open­ing, the Sher­a­ton had pulled out all the stops, from a honky-tonk even­ing at the Wild­horse Sa­loon to a pri­vate con­cert by Earth, Wind and Fire in the Grand’s Plat­inum Ball­room.

When I wasn’t par­tak­ing of all the ho­tel fes­tiv­i­ties, I was check­ing out the Nashville res­tau­rant scene, which th­ese days is a lot more than just bar­be­cue.

Union Com­mon is de­scribed as a “retro-mod­ern steakhouse with craft sips,” al­though I thought it could serve as a set­ting for Sex and the City, the South­ern ver­sion.

What was once a dry-clean­ing es­tab­lish­ment on the split be­tween Broad­way and Di­vi­sion Street is now a palace of Art Deco splen­dor, lur­ing hip din­ers with its rich color scheme of cop­per, red and black and its shim­mer­ing decor of metal, mar­ble and glass (floor-to­ceil­ing win­dows al­low you to see the ac­tion on both streets).

As noted, steaks top the menu, from a 6-ounce petite filet mignon to a 28-ounce porter­house, while the lively bar of­fers li­ba­tions far be­yond the Sex and the City girls’ fa­vorite Cos­mos. For so­phis­ti­cated din­ing in a hip set­ting, this is the place to go.

From hearty steaks to small plates is not much of a stretch in Nashville’s ur­ban din­ing scene. At Hen­ri­etta Red in the trendy Ger­man­town area, the fo­cus is on the lat­ter, es­pe­cially if they in­volve oys­ters and other types of seafood. There is a full raw bar se­lec­tion as well as an ex­ten­sive menu of craft cock­tails.

Of course, this be­ing Nashville, es­tab­lish­ments of­fer­ing bar­be­cue (try Martin’s, known for its whole-hog pit­fired BBQ) and South­ern sta­ples are not to be missed. For the lat­ter, it’s worth mak­ing the 20-minute drive out Ten­nessee 100 to Loveless Cafe, near the bridge lead­ing to the Natchez Park­way.

While Loveless Cafe of­fers din­ner, it is the per­fect brunch spot, with heap­ing help­ings of coun­try ham, fried chicken, coun­try fried steak with white gravy, fried green tomato and pi­mento cheese sand­wiches and bis­cuits.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Nashville doesn’t lack for at­trac­tions, and de­spite its hip new per­sona, many of them have been around for quite a while. Here are some of the city’s “must-see” sites:

■ The Her­mitage. One of Nashville’s top at­trac­tions is the home of Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son — af­ter the White House, Mount Ver­non and Mon­ti­cello, the most vis­ited pres­i­den­tial home in Amer­ica. A Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, it tells the dra­matic story of Jack­son and his beloved wife, Rachel. In the for­mal din­ing room, the cou­ple en­ter­tained dig­ni­taries and Ten­nessee back­woods­men, with­out re­gard for their sta­tion, and in a placid lo­ca­tion be­hind the gar­den are their graves.

■ Belle Meade Plan­ta­tion. “Queen of the Ten­nessee Plan­ta­tions,” it was, dur­ing the an­te­bel­lum pe­riod, the lead­ing Thor­ough­bred farm in Amer­ica. So much so, that its owner, Wil­liam Giles Hard­ing, wrote a let­ter to the ed­i­tor of the Amer­i­can Turf Registry ex­tolling its virtues as a breed­ing es­tab­lish­ment.

“Blood stock here is all the go,” he penned. “To be with­out it is to be out of fash­ion and des­ti­tute of taste.”

The Civil War and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing con­scrip­tion of Belle Meade’s Thor­ough­breds by Union and Con­fed­er­ate armies se­verely af­fected its sta­bles. Some of the finest horses were spir­ited away to Wood­burn Farm (now Air­drie Stud) in Wood­ford County, Ky., for safe­keep­ing, thus giv­ing a boost to the Blue Grass state’s own Thor­ough­bred in­dus­try.

■ Cheek­wood Botan­i­cal Gar­dens & Mu­seum of Art. This pri­vate 55-acre es­tate, once the home of the Cheek fam­ily, founders of Maxwell House cof­fee, now houses a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of fine art and an in­ter­con­nect­ing se­ries of theme gar­dens.

The mu­seum houses Amer­i­can and Bri­tish dec­o­ra­tive art, con­tem­po­rary art, and a Wood­land Sculp­ture Trail, show­cas­ing the work of in­ter­na­tional artists.

The gar­dens are spread across the en­tire 55 acres, and fo­cus on many styles of gar­den de­sign — from English-style box­wood and Ja­panese gar­dens to wild­flower and sea­sonal gar­dens.

■ The Parthenon. Lo­cated in Cen­ten­nial Park, it is the world’s only full-size re­pro­duc­tion of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Com­plete with a statue of Athena, god­dess of wis­dom (in this case the work of a lo­cal sculp­tor that took him eight years to com­plete), the set­ting is as el­e­gant as it is in­con­gru­ous. ■ Ryman Au­di­to­rium. Known as the “Mother Church of Coun­try Mu­sic,” the Ryman was the orig­i­nal home of the Grand Ole Opry. Al­though th­ese days the Opry is head­quar­tered at Gaylord Opry­land Re­sort, oc­ca­sional per­for­mances are still held at the Ryman. What is per­ma­nent is the ghostly pres­ence of the many stars who have graced its stage.

If all of this seems a bit too staid, there are less con­ven­tional ways of ac­quaint­ing your­self with the city. You can take a scav­enger hunt through down­town or hop aboard a golf cart for an art tour of neigh­bor­hood mu­rals.

You can walk (on a Taste of Nashville food tour) or crawl (to var­i­ous dis­til­leries, brew­eries and pubs). You can Seg­way through down­town or pad­dle­board on the Cum­ber­land River.

For the ul­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence, you can see Mu­sic City on a pri­vate tour with a work­ing singer/song­writer.

I won­der if they of­fer that in Austin.

Cour­tesy of Nashville Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Corp.

Con­certs are a con­stant in Nashville, Tenn., a city with deep mu­si­cal roots whose mu­sic scene is draw­ing even more at­ten­tion.

Sher­a­ton Grand Nashville Down­town

The newly re­opened Sher­a­ton Grand ho­tel in Nashville fea­tures a 25-story blown glass chan­de­lier hov­er­ing over the lobby.

Cour­tesy of Nashville Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Corp.

The Parthenon in Nashville is the only full-size replica of the orig­i­nal in Athens, Greece. It’s just one of the many tourist sites in the Ten­nessee cap­i­tal.

Nashville Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Corp.

Since open­ing in 1889, Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son’s Her­mitage has wel­comed more than 15 mil­lion guests. Just min­utes from down­town, it’s one of Nashville’s top tourist at­trac­tions.

Caitlin Har­ris Pho­tog­ra­phy

The Cheek­wood botan­i­cal gar­den and art mu­seum of­fers 55 acres of land­scaped gar­dens and world­class art ex­hi­bi­tions. Built in 1929, the es­tate is one of Nashville’s “must sees.”

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