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3 Days in Nashville Soaking Up the Vibe: Walks, Museums, and a Bit of History Beyond the Music

Staying at the Thompson Hotel put us squarely in The Gulch and within walking distance of downtown and its various splendors: The row of honky tonks on Broadway, each of which blasted music out the doors to lure in patrons; the museums; sports venues; outdoor concerts (even with 20º temperatures!); and the general vibe of happy people just loving being out and about.

The hotel’s rooms were ample with a sweet bathroom suite with walk-in shower deluxe, a well-stocked bar, and some great mags to steer us in the right direction. Marsh House downstairs was our morning wake up, providing us with great service and a custom daily breakfast, plus a couple of nice cocktails one evening. The entire hotel had a unique modern industrial style that embodied the spirit of Nashville’s charm, with quirky photos, custom brass lighting, and a denim color scheme woven throughout. Highly recommend a stay here.

Highlights of downtown: lots of industrial brick buildings, especially near the river, remnants of a fort from the 1780s, Goorin Bros—a well-curated hat store, and the honky tonks: Nudie’s our first sip in town and Tootsie’s a historic spot that launched many a career.

Off the beaten track was The Listening Room Cafe featuring local musicians with original tunes. I never realized how much I like country music till I heard four men with guitars crooning about love, loss, and drinkin’ too much. Such a heartfelt show featuring (from l to r) Tyler Reeve, Jon Stone, John Gurney, and Jordan Walker plus a few surprise guests, including Chris Young who apologized for wearing sweat pants due to the fact that he had been on a farm picking up a puppy earlier that day. His voice was especially deep with a pure Southern twang that lent an even more appealing note to the whole night. Sweet. Oh, and you can eat there too.

Being a Pasty Cline fan, a visit to the museum was a must. Inside we viewed the booth where she served milkshakes which had been preserved by the owner, her actual dining room set with collection of salt and pepper shakers, many of her costumes, and posters from the day. A lovely tribute to someone who accomplished much in her short life.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is Nashville’s museum devoted to historical exhibits and current local artists work with shows changing every 6 to 8 weeks. It’s housed in what was once a post office in a deluxe art deco style. Towering marble ceilings and decorative iron grill work were preserved in the museum’s lobby. The exhibit on hand was a WWI retrospective which told the story of how the war went from being resisted by the United States to a full-blown promotion of our involvement. The most interesting part of the show was an animated black and white short film of the sinking of the Lousitania. The drawings were by American cartoonist Winsor McCay, stylized and graphic charcoal sketches, and the first bit of propaganda for the war. Heartbreaking story. (watch it here). The exhibit also included a lot of the famous posters you’d recognize and interactive quizzes.

Back in The Gulch lies The Station Inn a remnant of what used to be the norm in that newly burgeoning section of town and a haven for live bluegrass. We only caught the last two songs here, but the band was absolutely jumpin’. I found it hard to keep still, but the crowd seemed happy to just sit and listen. I sure wanted to dance! Beer only.

The Hermitage Hotel served as an early evening bubbly stop, and we were blown away by the architecture of the hotel, and the fabulous Oak Bar. The hotel is known for its sensational clientele—socialites, politicians from the nearby Capitol building, and early movie stars like Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. Bulit in the early 1900s for a million dollars, the lobby is still spectacular, with elaborately decorated high ceilings, stained glass, and a whole lot of grandeur (see our Nashville drinks post for more).

On New Year’s Day we paid a visit to the temple of country music: The Country Music Hall of Fame. We skimmed through the current and standing exhibits, one featuring Bob Dylan’s contributions to the art form—including the handwritten lyrics to Lay Lady Lay. Actually, there were lyrics written on napkins, loose leaf, and scraps of paper—with edits and words crossed out—throughout the museum, as well as costumes of the performers, and bedazzled cars of the stars. Great spot to kill a few hours and feel entertained.