I popped down to Nashville for this just-past Memorial Day weekend with my friend Emily, the Mainer, and Ashley, the mixmaker. Nashville is only an hour’s flight from Chicago (who knew?) and seems to be something of a weekend escape for weather-weary Chicagoans in the fall and spring (be warned, Blackhawk jerseys abound). And why wouldn’t it be? With music, food and Candid Camera levels of friendly everywhere you go, Nashville should be at the top of anyone’s list who is looking for a sure-thing adventure. We picked it because we’re on a “see America” kick – trying to get to places in this great nation we’ve yet to visit.
The most unexpected thing about our trip, was how our wolf-pack just kept expanding. Our party of three grew throughout the trip to include new friends we made along our travels – both locals and fellow road warriors. I mean, we had a couple of Lyft drivers we nearly invited to park and join us for dinner because they were so fun to chat with. This town just seemed like a place where everyone welcomes a new friend. One of our new friends was Wayne, a Rottweiler breeder who totes his seven adult “rotties” (“they’re just a bunch of big babies”) with him everywhere he goes in a van decorated with plates “RUFSIDE.” We met him at Monell’s, the no-menu, family-style restaurant where you get seated with strangers and served endless amounts of home-cooked southern food in a living room atmosphere for $14.95. Wayne gave us some very important life advice as he passed the banana pudding, “Always start with dessert first. Otherwise you’re gonna be too full to get to it and THAT would be a shame.” And so it was in that order that we filled our plates: banana pudding, salad, coleslaw, biscuits and gravy, great northern beans, baked beans, stewed apples, green beans, collard greens, corn pudding, cheddar grits, fried chicken, meatloaf and pork ribs.
Monell’s was a dining stand-out. And the communal dining element introduces new characters to your vacation show which is always good fun. The other dynamite meal we had was at a restaurant called Rolf and Daughters that had come to us via several recommendations. As a starter, we shared a marinated succulent salad (that’s right, CACTUS) and it was among the best tasting vegetables – or fruits? – in recent memory.
Attire for this trip was strictly, stereotypically, country western fare. Ashley, Emily and I packed short, flared summer dresses and bought boots down there (apparently you drop the “cowboy” before boots because it’s implied) to channel Lyla Garrity in all her glory. It must have worked because we let our hair down and danced with quite a few dashing cowboys at the honky-tonk bars on Broadway. Our favorite spot for music was Robert’s Western World where fantastic instrumentalists and singers revive old bluegrass, folk, and country classics from the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, The Band, and Jimmy Tater Dickens. On our last night, we arrived to find a long line into the joint. A young lady walked up to us and whispered “there’s a back alley right around the corner with entrances to all the bars on this block, no line”. Just good old fashioned kindness. So I’m paying it forward and passing the tip along to you all. If you head to Robert’s, check the schedule and try to catch the Dave Kelley Band. The energetic bassist, Slick Joe Fick, is a one man show with his hands flying around those strings faster than your eyes can follow.
I have to touch on shopping considering this is a style blog, and considering we did plenty of it. We stumbled upon a gem of a boutique in Germantown called Pieces where we scooped up summer dresses, adorable “Music City” themed graphic tees, and locally made candles and jewelry at unbelievably reasonable prices. The owner, Ashley, gave us recommendations for food, bars, music and shopping and spoke with an enviously endearing southern accent. Actually, I wanted excuses to keep talking to her. Kind of like how you’ll go to any museum Imax show as long as Morgan Freeman is narrating.
The “12 South” strip of home decor and apparel boutiques was also a shopping highlight and another place where we made friends with travelers and locals. Add it to your list.
Oh, and if you don’t know this yet, here’s a treat: in Nashville’s centennial park there is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens that you can walk on, in and around. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition and then fortified into a permanent version in 1931. Impressive as the exterior is, when you go inside, you’re in for an even more bizarre spectacle. There, standing 42 feet high and gilt in 8 pounds of gold leaf is a statue of Athena Parthenos. Wikipedia describes it as “a reconstruction of the long lost original to careful scholarly standards.” That may be true and all, but she was not dressed according to our long-weekend country western dress code standards and wasn’t giving off the friendly Tennessee vibe we had become accustomed to. She seemed out of place to say the least. Not ones to skimp on culture, we checked off Parthenon and Athena on our list and headed to Jack’s Barbecue for a late afternoon snack of “meat and three” (meat and three sides!).