Heading back to the midwest for the holidays, I had the pleasure of driving from Orlando to Chicago. The trip more or less required an overnight stop along the way. (Emily and Zoe flew, and we’ll hopefully have a review of Spirit’s Big Front Seats up soon.) I chose Nashville, which had a good location, and which was also an entirely new city to me. Here’s how I spent my night in Nashville…
Hotel – JW Marriott Nashville
We’re big fans of the JW Marriott chain, having stayed at their hotels in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Cusco when we were traveling the world. The after-tax rate, $397, was a bit high for a single night alone, but I like the location and always appreciate the chance to review a luxury hotel.
The route Google Maps took me to the hotel from I65 was a bit more industrial than I expected. The location of the hotel is actually pretty perfect, just a few blocks off Broadway near the Music City Center convention center and Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators.
I opted for valet parking (typically something like SpotHero would be my go-to, but I hadn’t really planned ahead at this point). Valet parking cost $45 for the one night, plus $4.16 tax, plus tips. The valet service was very efficient despite a fully loaded driveway. I was able to retrieve my car within just a few minutes by texting a number on the ticket the next morning.
Check-in was smooth. I skipped online / mobile check-in in favor of swinging by the desk (again, mostly just didn’t plan ahead). The hotel was pretty bumpin’ when I arrived at about 6PM.
King Room at JW Marriott Nashville
The room opened with a short hallway that led to both the bathroom and bedroom. A Keurig and a few cups were provided (for free) as were two small bottles of water.
The JW Marriott uses a weight-activated mini-bar, meaning if you lift anything off of it you’ll be charged. I wound up eating a $10 pack of mini cookies after my night out.
The bathroom was plenty spacious and included individual bottles of body wash, conditioner, shampoo—all by Aromatherapy, and mouthwash by WhisperMint.
The bedroom was less spacious, at least relative to typical bathroom/bedroom sizes in hotels. There was a desk under the TV (not well-positioned if you like to work and watch TV, though).
The small pieces of music-themed art were the only real Nashville touches, though I suppose the leather headboard has a sort of “music scene” vibe.
My room overlooked the pool, which would definitely be a nuisance on a busier night. On this chilly night there was only one small group out there, but it was pretty easy to hear them.
The internet was good (I should measure speed, I know, but I did fine watching Netflix before bed). I get free premium (or whatever it’s called) internet as a Marriott Gold member.
The lobby was huge and had plenty of seating. Cumberland Bar, in the lobby, was pretty busy when I headed out for the evening, and the hotel has a few dining / drinking options. On a multi-night stay, or if I was planning a long night, I might have made time to check them out, but I wanted to spend as much time out in the city as I could.
Wandering Downtown Nashville
My walk to Broadway was a little wayward because of some streets closed down for the CMA Awards and construction. I walked past Bridgestone Arena—host venue for the CMA Awards—and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum before taking a stroll up the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
The bridge is stunning in its own right…
…and provides a nice skyline view of Nashville…
…a view of Nissan Stadium (home of the Tennessee Titans)…
…and a view of Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge.
I was immediately taken with how close together so many major things in Nashville are. I haven’t spent enough time in mid-sized American cities, to be fair, but having an NFL stadium, NHL arena, convention center, nationally recognized nightlife district, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum all within a few minutes walking had me feeling spoiled (even being from Chicago, which has impressive activity density downtown as well).
Of course, geographically Nashville isn’t small—at 526 square miles and a population of about 700,000, its density is about a tenth of our hometown Chicago’s (with a size of 235 square miles).
Nashville’s cost of living is in line with the national average. A 740 square foot apartment on the 22nd floor at “The Place”—a luxury building in the heart of downtown—will run you about $2200 per month as of this post, not an outrageous price for a new high-rise in the heart of the action.
Sights and Scenes of Broadway
I’d never been to Nashville before, but I’d been told to expect “lots of dive-ish bars with live music” on Broadway. And that’s basically what I found. There was fair variety among the bars, with a few smaller / cozier establishments, some focusing on whiskey, some with cocktail vibes, and a few “mega” bars that trade on a dive-inspired aesthetic that doesn’t fool anyone.
What struck me most about Broadway is that it isn’t pedestrianized. This is no doubt related to the low density of the city, where many residents (and tourists, too) are arriving by car. Of course, when the main activity of a street is drinking maybe drivers aren’t the people you need to cater to.
Obviously most entertainment streets in the US aren’t pedestrianized, so this is absolutely not a unique feature of Broadway. Not every city has to turn its tourist street into Khao San Road…but maybe some should.
That said, Broadway terminates at the Cumberland River, right near the end of the main bar strip. It isn’t a thoroughfare at this point, so there seems to be great opportunity for pedestrianization here. Coincidentally, it turns out Nashville has been trying this intermittently.
The signs of Broadway bring some beautiful color, and I absolutely love the buildings. I walked up and down the street a few times, taking it in.
Second Avenue, which I’m given to understand is meant to be a part of the nightlife strip too, was mostly shuttered and nearly devoid of people when I walked down.
There were more unhoused people panhandling on Broadway than I expected (I have no idea why my expectations were what they were). The most recent point-in-time count found 2,016 individuals experiencing homelessness in Nashville, a rate that would place it pretty high among major American cities. I chatted with one guy who, among other things, was interested in whom I voted for.
Walking Broadway the windows of most venues are open and music fills the street. It made for a very lively environment even on a chilly night. In lots of cities on a night like this the streets would probably be pretty quiet while everyone enjoyed themselves indoors.
The open windows also provide a good opportunity to stop by and sample the music before stepping in. This also allows people who can’t or don’t want to spend money in the bar to enjoy the scene, too. I was happy that even on a chilly night, the windows of most bars were wide open.
Layla’s and Mellow Mushroom
My first bar for the night was Layla’s. It was trendy—with merchandise for sale, a distinctive color scheme, and license plates lining the ceiling—but without the bro-ish / commercialized feel of many of the mega bars. I had two Coors Lights for $6 each, PBR was $4.50 I think.
Sitting at the bar I didn’t have as good a view of the band. Happily, the music filled the entire bar without a problem. There was a decent mix of tourists and a few people who seemed to be regulars.
At 9PM after the show ended (another band was starting later), the band came around collecting tips. Walking by bars I heard a few bands mentioning Venmo as a tipping option, too. I definitely think you should come prepared with one or the other and plan to tip a few dollars.
With the show done, the bar pretty much cleared out. I took this as my signal to hop to another bar, preferably with good food options since I hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
Mellow Mushroom looked like a good option, mostly because their pizza menu appealed to me. I ordered a mushroom pizza that was pretty good but covered in a sauce that was a bit too salty.
The bartender let me sample two local beers, some sort of IPA and a Jackalope, I believe the Bear Walker brown ale. I opted for the brown ale since it was a bit chilly outside.
Even with a band going, Mellow Mushroom was a lot less crowded than Layla’s, and the vibe was much more chill. I saw plenty of places like this that night as I walked Broadway. If you wanted to enjoy a show away from crowds, you had options.
I still had a long day of driving ahead of me, and even without Zoe in tow I knew I’d wake up early, so I called it an early evening.
I’d never judge a city by a single evening in a tourist hotspot. One local follower commented on instagram that the city seemed particularly quiet the night I was there. If so, then I’d love to see it on a busier night! A lot of bars had plenty of space this night, but if you wanted a packed house, you still had a few good options.
Morning Walk and Coffee at Elixr
There is a coffee shop inside the JW Marriott (Stompin’ Grounds Market), but I wanted to take a walk. I found the relatively new Elixr Coffee Roasters on the map and headed there.
Nashville is a “scooter” city, with three companies operating electric scooter rentals. I saw some people using them to get around the previous night.
Nashville laws require scooter riders to behave similarly to bicycles. In particular, you’re not to ride scooters on the sidewalk in business districts. I’m not sure exactly how this applies to Broadway or what enforcement looks like.
My last stop of the trip was Elixr, which is located in an indoor/outdoor complex at Fifth and Broadway. I would have liked to have seen it the night prior, but I must have missed it in passing.
Elixr had plenty of seating (I didn’t check outlets) both indoor and outdoor. The somewhat limited pastry selection looked delicious. Seasonal lattes were available, but the barista indicated the flavors were limited beyond that. I went with a trusty cold brew, which was pretty good. A lot of coffee shops wind up with really plain cold brew, but that wasn’t a problem at Elixr.
I was excited to finally check Nashville off my list. There’s still so much more to see in the city and I hope to return some day. That said, it also made a fantastic one-night stop. Being able to pop into a bar for a few drinks and catch some of Music City’s great entertainment was a major treat.