If cowboy boots and honky-tonks come to mind when you think of Nashville, that’s just fine. They’re everywhere. However, if they’re the only things that come to mind when you envision Tennessee’s capital city, well, that’s a problem. Nashville has welcomed 21st-century ideals and philosophies with the same enthusiasm as any other progressive Southern metropolis; it just does it to the beat of Faith Hill and Luke Bryan tunes. Heck, you’re just as quick to see a new tech firm pop up in town as you are a barbecue joint these days. Music City is the home to world-class entertainment options, top-shelf cuisine and Star-Rated hotels. When it comes to highlighting everything our Forbes Travel Guide editors love about today’s Nashville, some of the places mentioned are new to the conversation. Others are celebrating more than 100 years of business. All of them are worthy of a tip of the Stetson hat from us.
Once a train station that served as the city’s industrial heartbeat in the early 1900s, the building that currently houses Union Station Hotel, Autograph Collection underwent a transformation back in 1986. After another painstaking, $11 million renovation in 2007, the property was converted to the brilliant display of Romanesque architecture it is today. When you visit the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel in the coming weeks, you can experience the place in all its Christmastime splendor, with holly hanging everywhere and local musician David Andersen playing seasonal classics on his guitar. Union Station officials say that 95 percent of the original structure’s essence was salvaged in the changes, and once you finish counting the rooms (125), stained-glass panels in the ceiling and windows (128), and wrought-iron railings (too many to measure), you’re inclined to believe the figure. Behind the reservation desk, a massive preserved train schedule conjures a sense of place. Eighteen-foot ceilings in the fifth-floor units offer a sense of dimension. In the bathrooms, C.O. Bigelow toiletries, the oldest apothecary in the U.S., spark a sense of time. If it weren’t for lightning-quick Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs all over the place, you’d swear you were transported back to 1920.
Should you pull yourself away from your room, you’ll find Union Station’s signature restaurant, Prime 108, in the lobby. A bit of an epicurean detour from a city famous for hot chicken and biscuits, this Four-Star establishment puts an elegant spin on Southern standards. On a recent visit to the quaint dining room with 22-foot ceilings and a gorgeous limestone fireplace, we found ourselves torn between shrimp and grits (specifically, garlic-sautéed Florida prawns and a Boursin-grit soufflé) and braised lamb osso buco (accompanied by saffron-Parmesan orzotto, chard and carrots). For Thanksgiving, the restaurant will serve a family-style prix-fixe menu of seasonal items such as hickory smoked turkey breast, caramelized pineapple and sweet potato casserole, and green beans amandine. On Christmas Day, a multi-course meal of favorites like turducken, smashed red bliss potatoes, and bacon cheddar bread will scent the storied halls.
As another gastronomic gift to area foodies, Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, one of Nashville’s foremost restaurateurs, recently took on two new endeavors that folks will appreciate this winter—her Community Hospitality restaurant group opened the Mediterranean steakhouse Prima and took over ownership of beloved watering hole Dino’s. The former has turned heads since its November 8 opening in the Gulch neighborhood because of executive chef Salvador Avila’s braised rabbit and upscale décor centering on Bruce Munro’s stunning light installation. Should your evening run less formal, Pontes’ 2-year-old Burger Up—you can’t go wrong with the Woodstock burger (Benton’s bacon, white cheddar, Jack Daniel’s maple ketchup) and truffle fries—or a barbecue spot called Edley’s—really, who doesn’t love smoked meats, macaroni and cheese, and beer in a Mason jar?— is the way to go.
Football season isn’t going over too well in Music City. The Tennessee Titans and Vanderbilt Commodores are a combined 5-17 right now. For some reason, though, that news hasn’t put much of a damper on sports fans’ spirits. We’re guessing that has something to do with the current play of the Nashville Predators, the city’s first-place NHL team that’s skating circles around their Central Division rivals. When you check into Union Station Hotel, you’ll be just five blocks from Bridgestone Arena, where you can find the home team playing five games in December.
Not five minutes from the arena, you’ll hit Pinewood Social, a sort of game room, bowling alley, restaurant and karaoke hall in an old trolley barn. The brainchild of brothers Ben and Max Goldberg, Pinewood Social has morphed into the go-to hangout spot for drinking, playing and singing along to Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water” since opening earlier this year. But if an adult version of Chuck E. Cheese’s isn’t your cup of sweet tea, you can’t go wrong with a nightcap at Oak Bar, the sharp, beautifully restored spot at Five-Star The Hermitage Hotel. Open until 11 p.m. every night, the lounge is a smart place to wind down a cool day with a glass of bubbly or whiskey.