By Johanna Read
Nashville, Tennessee is so much more than music. If you’re into music, of course, you’ll be well entertained. But there are so many other options for a weekend in Nashville. Here are our recommendations for a weekend that celebrates the city’s art scene and its history, including Nashville’s role in women’s suffrage.
For your weekend, we have two choices of sustainable hotels:
The Hermitage Hotel, in downtown Nashville, has 122 large and luxurious rooms. Opening in 1910, the Beaux-Arts building has been a popular meeting place for generations, whether for an informal coffee or cocktail, or for national events. The Hermitage Hotel was the national headquarters for both the pro- and anti-suffrage movement, and has had everyone from presidents to gangsters to music stars meeting and staying there.
The Hermitage Hotel has a commitment to The Land Trust for Tennessee, a trust which protects natural and historic landscapes in the state. The hotel purchased a 250-acre farm, Double H Farms, in 2012 in order to have a better source of locally grown foods. The menu at the hotel’s Capitol Grille features food almost exclusively grown on the farm and one of The Land Trust for Tennessee’s gardens.
The Loews Vanderbilt, near Vanderbilt University in the West End, is another accommodation option. Loews Hotels participate in the Good Neighbor Program, called “the hospitality industry’s first comprehensive community outreach program.” The program supports literacy, provides opportunities to minority- and women-owned businesses, and provides food donations to food banks and shelters via partner Feeding America.
After you’ve checked in and explored the neighbourhood, you’ll be hungry for a sustainable dinner. Try The Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grille for a seasonal menu of ingredients, including their heritage beef. Le Sel, in midtown, is another good choice. Le Sel features a menu of “thoughtfully sourced ingredients,” mainly transformed into French-inspired dishes. There’s also a diverse raw bar and creative cocktails. Closer to Loews Vanderbilt is Chateau West, another sustainable option that will make you feel like you’re in the south of France without the need for carbon offsets. Mason’s, inside the hotel, has a seasonal menu using local ingredients.
After dinner, watch singer-songwriters perform at the intimate Listening Room Cafe. Here, the music is of utmost importance and the audience is requested to not talk during the performance.
For breakfast, stop by Nashville’s Farmers’ Market. You’ll have lots of choices here. Wild & Local, for example, features lots of local products, as well as wild game and fresh seafood.
Today you’ll spend time just outside Nashville, seeing several historical estates. Visiting them supports the protection of Nashville’s history as well as its green spaces.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art is a private estate once owned by the Cheek Family, who brought Maxwell House coffee to fame. The 55-acre estate has several gardens, including the original Wildlings garden, a literacy garden, a herb study garden, a state-of-the-art rain garden and a sculpture garden. There’s even an endangered stinking cedar tree. You can also tour the mansion, now an art museum. The artist-in-residence program brings new works to the estate and facilitates interactions between visitors and national and international artists.
If you head back to town early, you might prefer to eat at Fido in Belmont / Hillsboro Village. Affiliated with Bongo Java (see below), Fido is said to buy more regionally produced foods than any other Nashville restaurant. The Nashville Scene awarded them “best place for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
After your lunch at 360 Wine Bistro, you’re a short drive from Belmont Mansion, an elaborate pre-Civil War antebellum estate built in 1853. You can tour the 36-room mansion with a historical interpreter and learn more about the times, as well as about Adelicia Acklen, an art collector and philanthropist and first owner of the mansion.
Finally, stop at the former home of President Andrew Jackson, known as the People’s President because he was the first president not a member of the establishment and born of wealth. The Hermitage is considered to be the most accurately preserved early presidential home in the country and is a national historic landmark. The vast estate has over thirty historic buildings, including the president’s residence. As you walk toward the mansion, see if you can figure out the shape of the path you’re on and its connection to modern Nashville.
Head back to town for dinner. The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden, in East Nashville, makes most of their products by hand, including their own condiments. They use 100% cane sugar in their sodas and 100% Tennessee beef in their burgers, and grind, stuff and smoke their own sausages.
A more formal choice is Husk Nashville, in an 1895-building overlooking downtown. Chef Sean Brock cooks heirloom ingredients from the restaurant’s gardens and from local farmers largely outdoors.
Start your Sunday with nature by taking a paddleboard lesson with Nashville Paddle Company. You can even take a yoga class from atop a paddleboard. They operate from a boathouse on J. Percy Priest Lake within the Hamilton Creek Recreation Area, a short drive from downtown. The lake is calm and the beautiful scenery will certainly contribute to the zen you’ll get from standup paddling and yoga.
If you’d rather start with brunch, Biscuit Love Brunch is a sustainable eatery in the Gulch that should be high on your list. You may see their food truck, Biscuit Love Truck, around town too. If you’d like both SUP yoga and brunch, go to Biscuit Love Brunch’s grab-and-go pastry counter.
Next check out Nashville’s art scene.
Nashville’s downtown was revitalized because of art. Several galleries are clustered around 5th Avenue and, if you’re in Nashville on the first Saturday of the month, join the Art Gallery Crawl. On Sundays you can still check out all the galleries.
Anne Brown, of The Arts Company, was the first to open a gallery in what was then a derelict neighbourhood. She leads numerous initiatives to ensure the arts are prominent in Nashville. Her gallery features sculpture, painting and photography. Down the street is The Rymer Gallery, the largest contemporary gallery in the area. Here don't miss Herb Williams’ fantastic crayon sculptures — they might inspire you to get creative when you get home. Next door, the Tinney Contemporary Gallery specializes in modern art and hold works by both local and international artists.
For art on a grander scale, check out Alan LeQuire’s recently unveiled Monument to Women’s Suffrage sculpture at Centennial Park. It features five southern women who were instrumental in the movement, including J. Frankie Pierce and Anne Dallas Dudley of Nashville. Having finally secured the right to vote, Anne Dallas Dudley later became the first woman to be selected as a delegate-at-large at the Democratic National Convention. Also depicted in the monument is the national leader of the suffrage movement, Carrie Chapman Catt, who directed the movement from downtown Nashville in The Hermitage Hotel.
On Tuesdays to Saturdays you can also pop into Alan LeQuire’s gallery and studio to see models of the suffrage monument and his other works.
More art is available at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, which opens at 1:00 p.m. on Sundays (10:00 a.m. if you’re here on another day of the week). Exhibits here rotate regularly, and regardless of what’s on display you can admire the building, an art-deco former post office. The cafe opens at noon, so this would be a great spot for lunch too.
Be sure to stop by the Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery, which has 30 interactive stations where you can learn different art techniques and create your own original work. Best of all, it’s not just for kids.
Before you head back to the airport, grab a latte from Bongo Java. “How stuff is produced, purchased and served” is important to them and they buy as much organic and regional products as possible. Their creative baristas use locally-made specialty syrups to invent fantastic and delicious drinks. They serve all-day breakfast and lunch, and have a great sense of humour too.
Editor’s Note: The writer was hosted by Nashville's Tourism and Convention Bureau, but all opinions are her own.