nashville travel tips

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 2)

Monday March 21st, 2022

On Monday, the birthday-day!, our first stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame. We walked up and down aisles of country music history, recognizing some faces, and learning about others. My mom has always been a fan of country music, so it was fun to hear songs that she’d played for me throughout my childhood, and to see her face light up in recognition of those that reminded her of hers.

Music history is special. It weaves its way into all of our lives, defining moments we will remember forever. As we walked among the crowds, I liked to imagine all of the shoulders being tapped, and hushed stories being shared, saying things like, “this reminds me of ____” or “I first heard this when ___.”

Even though we might not notice, we all have soundtracks that define our lives and unlock memories that we might not even remember we still have. I know for me (in the country music world at least) I have fond memories of Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Amy Grant, and Crystal Bernard, and hearing them helps me connect with that little girl that heard them for the first time—be it in my mom’s car on the way to school or on the cd player in the living room—twenty years ago.

On our way out, my mom and I designed this country music *star*, designing her persona from her shoes to her hair. Personally, I think she looks like the love child of Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift, which sounds like an absolute dream of an artist.

From the Country Music Hall of Fame, we made our way to Yee Haw Brewing Co. for a drink and some lunch. I ordered a watermelon margarita and some tacos, and while I remember them being good, they were supremely overshadowed by the pretzel that we ordered. It was gigantic, it was delicious, and I will probably think about it for the rest of my life. That being said, it was so good that it was about 75% gone before I even considered taking a picture. So you will just have to go to Nashville to try one for yourself.

In the same building as Yee Haw Brewing is Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, so after lunch a big group walked over to do a moonshine tasting. I sat it out, but happily leaned on the bar to watch everyone’s mouths pucker and eyes water—especially after tasting the 128 proof moonshine known as Blue Flame. Among the other offerings—some of which we brought home with us—were moonshine pickles, moonshine cherries, and Mountain Java moonshine, which I heard tastes a *little* like chocolate milk, and makes an excellent addition to your morning coffee if you need an extra strong start to your day.

Around 6:00p.m that evening, we walked from our building to Bakersfield, a Mexican restaurant hosting Tanner’s birthday dinner. I should also note that earlier in the day, we were all given matching hats that said “TS 3/21”. The TS being Tanner’s initials and the date obviously being his birthday. With our group, that was essentially the size of a baseball team, we turned quite a few heads in our matching gear. The red, white and blue coloring of the hats made us look like we might be campaigning for an upcoming election, though I think a few people looked at us fearfully as if we might be recruiting for a cult. Either way, we loved them, and we rocked them for the remainder of the night.

After dinner, we headed to Luke Bryan’s bar (Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge), which had a very mellow vibe. A pair of gentlemen stood on stage singing classic country songs we all knew, and we happily sang along, occasionally dancing, and constantly pointing at Tanner in the hope that they might sing happy birthday.

We then walked over to Kid Rock’s bar (Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse). It was nice out, so we headed up to the rooftop and sat, sipping on our drinks, taking the occasional shot, and singing along to the band playing 80’s music.

After a little while, we decided it was time to move on, but then they played “Time of My Life”from Dirty Dancing, and so we all took off towards the stage and danced our Patrick Swayze hearts out. I then realized that—because I am the mom of the friend group—I’d packed snacks in my purse earlier in the day. So I pulled out a pack of fruit snacks which, at 11:00pm, with alcohol sponsored energy, felt like the greatest thing to ever happen. There is a video from that night of me dancing with my hands over my head. One fist is tightly closed because I am keeping my remaining fruit snacks intact for continued snacking. #snackdedication

When we finally did walk downstairs, we only got as far as the second floor (there are five total). Because on the second floor, you can look out over the first floor, which had people dancing on top of the bar, a live band singing while a bartender poured a beer on someone, and people cheering, singing and raising their glasses all over the room.

At first, I think we all stopped just to watch. They were playing good music, but it was also perhaps some of the best people watching around. But then, the music got us. We started dancing and then we kept dancing. The bar started to empty and we just kept on dancing. We jumped and we sang and we tipped our Tanner themed hats. We put our arms around each other and belted out notes into our empty cups. We stomped our boots and clapped our hands. It felt like a celebration for Tanner and a celebration of music. We twirled and laughed and took pictures that would forever bring us back to those moments. The world felt normal—or at least this new kind of normal. I felt appreciative of this night, as I knew how far we’d come to be able to have it.

We walked home, talking a mile a minute, already reminiscing about this night, about the night before, and everything in between. My FitBit buzzed, letting me know I hit 10,000 steps—two hours into the day—and my feet—this time in tennis shoes—kept dancing while I brushed my teeth, not stopping until I again collapsed into bed.

Tuesday March 22nd, 2022

Tuesday morning was a bit of an earlier wake up call. Especially when you consider that we’d been out dancing only a matter of hours beforehand. Our group walked over to meet everyone at their AirBnb just up the street, as a bus was picking us up to drive us to Lynchburg.

If you are a country music fan, the town of Lynchburg might sound familiar, even if you’ve never been to Tennessee. This is because it is the home (the one and ONLY home) to Jack Daniels whiskey.

Being a loyal Jameson family (sorry) and having toured the Jameson distillery in Ireland, we were curious to learn about this American whiskey that, while not our number one, is still a staple in our houses—especially the Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey.

In the end, we learned a lot about the making of whiskey, a lot about the man himself, Jack Daniels—who casually started working in a distillery at the age of eight—and a lot about the variety of whiskeys the distillery makes. I bought a Tennessee Honey baseball hat to support our trusted pal, but left with my loyalty to Jameson unshaken. (Sorry, again.)

By the time we got home that evening, our group was entirely too exhausted to even consider going out again. We’d been running on an average of 4-5 hours of sleep, and were set to fly home the next day. So, we robed up—embracing our last night as *penthouse people*—and ordered in some pizza. A rainstorm blew in and drenched the city, sending many people on the streets below running for cover. Wind whistled through the buildings and cars moved slow. We all went to bed early that night, and our bodies thanked us for it.

Wednesday March 23rd, 2022

On our last morning in Nashville, we ate a marvelous carb loaded breakfast at Another Broken Egg Café. I ordered the Bourbon Street Pancakes, which I felt was a good send off—not to mention delicious.

By 12:30pm we were out of our suite and in an Uber on the way to the airport, sad the trip was over, and even sadder that we had to go to work the next morning.

After the plane took off, I sat, looking out the window, hoping that the trip had been all that Tanner hoped it would be. For me, it was even more. The weeks prior to leaving had been chaotic and I was a little nervous I wouldn’t be able to unwind enough to truly enjoy the trip. But I’d had so much fun dancing and singing and jumping around like I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d loved wearing my hat (emblazoned with Tanner’s initials) backwards in a honky tonk, like a fraternity brother on spring break. I’d loved the city of Nashville and its quirky architecture and lively energy. I’d loved this break from reality, from everything that had been weighing me down at home.

Even though I was exhausted, and so excited to be reunited with my pillow—and my normal bedtime—I was going to miss this trip, and the people I took it with.

I was already dreaming up our next one, excited that someday, that dream would be a reality.

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 1)

About three years ago my cousin Tanner told me and my family that he wanted to celebrate his twenty first birthday in Nashville, Tennessee.  

Funnily enough, we were in Paris at the time, waiting for the clock to strike ten so that the Eiffel Tower—which we took to calling “Eif”—would light up. Our group of nine cheers-ed to the idea, both wishing it was closer, and praying that the trip we were already on would find a way to last a little longer.

Like everyone else, we didn’t know what was to come. And we had no idea that we’d spend much of the “countdown to Nashville” locked inside. But, when things started opening back up, and flights to Nashville went on sale, we booked, we prayed and then we waited.

On Saturday, March 19th, that waiting ended.

Saturday March 19th, 2022

As we made our way down 2nd Avenue, sitting in bumper to bumper Saturday night traffic in downtown Nashville, music played from seemingly every direction. A tractor drove by towing a trailer full of people dancing and drinking, pedestrians walked down the street in dresses, boots and cow print pants. Meanwhile, our Uber driver yelled, “I DON’T SEE MY DESTINATION!” at his navigation system, so we politely asked to get out, suggesting that we were close enough and could walk the rest of the way.

“This is us,” my dad said, pointing to a building.

As far as lodging went, I had no real expectations going in. I’m a bargain hunter by trade, and had done my part by finding us a great deal on flights, so I assumed my dad had found a hotel that he simply liked the look of.  But when the doors opened to the fourth (and top) floor of our building, and a key code let us into the Penthouse apartment that my dad had found a good deal on, we all walked in, absolutely speechless.

It was a fun space, with both eclectic and nostalgic design schemes. There was a piano, a pool table, an arcade machine, a lava lamp, coasters that looked both like floppy discs and records, a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth edited to give her piercings and neck tattoos, and lots of books ranging from Nashville themed cookbooks to Marvel based dictionaries.

There were 4 bedrooms (each of which had at least one cloth robe emblazoned with the building’s name hanging in the closet), four bathrooms, a living room with a couch and four comfortable chairs, a kitchen, and a wet bar. And did I mention we were only a block from Broadway Street?

My family has never been wealthy, or flashy, or really ever been one that regularly “splurges”, but like most people (perhaps more than some and less than others) we had been put through the ringer in the last two years, and so walking up and down the length of the suite, marveling that it was “all for us!!”, felt like a true testament to all that we’d made it though, and all that we’d come to celebrate.

After we unpacked, we walked over to Gray & Dudley, as we wanted to eat, drink, and meet up with the guest of honor.  Tanner was turning 21 on the 21st of March, making it his golden birthday, and it almost felt surreal to actually be in Nashville, primed to celebrate it. Our trip to Europe felt like 10 years ago, but now that we were here, in Nashville, taking this trip that had once only been an idea, made it feel like just yesterday we were sitting in that Parisian café, dreaming it up. 

With our group of seven, we made the group total 17. Tanner’s family, friends and cousins had also made the trip, and we all gathered around a corner of the bar, hugging, smiling and chatting.

Even though most of us knew each other already, it still felt like a bit of an ice breaker. We were all still in our plane attire, with our eyes a little heavy from the 5ish hours of travel and the anticipation of the trip to come. We would be each other’s community for the trip. The people you would look for if you got separated in a bar or a restaurant, the faces and voices you would recognize up ahead on the street or coming around the corner behind you. Tanner had brought us all together and now we’d all be a part of each other’s memories, writing stories on this weekend of our shared histories, and taking pictures that would eventually make us say, “remember when?”

We’d made it to Nashville and now it was time to enjoy it.

Sunday March 20th, 2022

At about 12:00pm on Sunday, we all made our way over to Centennial Park to see the Parthenon, which is a 90-year-old replica of the Greek structure originally built in 447 BC. (That’s 2500 years ago, y’all)

It is an imposing, beautiful structure that I can hardly believe just exists in the middle Nashville, Tennessee.

Immediately upon getting out of the car, I was taking pictures from every angle, knowing that none of them would ever really do it justice. It’s the kind of structure that makes you feel small, and when I asked my sister (who graciously obliged) to take off running down one of the cement pathways, I was reminded just how small we are.

Cute, but small.

From there, we made our way to the Belmont Mansion.

Located on the Belmont University campus, the Belmont Mansion is listed as the largest house built in Tennessee prior to the Civil War. Moving from room to room (and trying desperately to abide by the “no touching” rules) we learned about Adelicia Acklen and her crazy life, which included three husbands, ten children (six of which died young), and of course, this expansive property which, at the time of completion, included lavish gardens, and a zoo.

Next, we headed to the historic Ryman auditorium. After checking in for our tour, we were led into a side room to watch what I assumed would be a standard informative film about the building. Instead, it was a fun, creative performance that not only taught us about the history of the Ryman, but made me both excited and invested in its (hopefully) bright and prosperous future.

At approximately 4:00pm, we were more or less starving. It had been a slow onset of travel hanger that I think, if left unchecked for much longer, could have escalated into violence. Thankfully, we found the Assembly Food Hall that had (among other things) chicken, pizza, edible no bake cookie dough, and alcohol just in time.

While we ate, we made a game plan for the night ahead. Tanner’s birthday was the next day and we wanted to be out celebrating on Broadway by midnight. So, we decided that everyone would meet at our place, where we would pregame and play a few rounds of beer pong and pool before heading out on the town.

We walked out of our building at about 11:55pm, so right as we reached Broadway, we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to sing happy birthday loud and proud.

We then headed to Jason Aldean’s bar, with Tanner leading the way. He walked up to the bouncer, who checked his ID once, then twice, then said, “hey, happy birthday man” before letting him through, officially starting his career as a legal bar hopper.

Once inside, we were a little bummed to find that the second floor (the country music floor) was closed for the night, so we climbed the stairs all the way to the top floor, which was blasting hip hop music and was more reminiscent of a downtown LA club than I think any of us were hoping. We walked out onto the rooftop and cheers-ed our drinks, knowing that the night was young and there were plenty more bars to choose from.

Similar to Vegas, Broadway comes alive at night. The dark sky gives the neon a chance to really glow, asking you to “come in!” “try this place!” “check this out!” We did a slow spin on our heels, taking in all of our options, each of us willing to go wherever the birthday boy had in mind. He pointed at a bar across the street, but then decided to peek in Tin Roof first, as there was a live band playing and the lead singer had an incredible voice.

We walked in, ordered some drinks and then started dancing. Our big group made the once scant bar look like it was hosting a small wedding reception. We were high energy and already comfortable with one another. We took turns walking up to make requests until eventually the lead singer asked what had brought us all in.

“TANNER!” we all shouted back at her.

She squinted her eyes, looking for Tanner in the crowd, and then nodded, “you look like a Tanner. You look like every boy that broke my heart in high school.”

Seeing as most of us are related to Tanner, we all shook our heads defensively. “NO! Tanner is great! This is a NICE Tanner!!”

We continued to dance, our group bantering back and forth with the band. Then my aunt, Tanner’s mom, bought the band a round of shots, which prompted them to sing, “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, except they changed the lyrics to say, “Tanner’s mom, has got it going on!” which we all sang at the absolute top of our lungs.

At 2:30am, the band signed off and the bar started to close. We walked outside to find Broadway much quieter than we’d last seen it. We had danced for almost two hours, and I was limping like a baby giraffe in my heeled booties that had seemed like such a good/cute idea when we left the house.

A couple people stopped to get late night gyros, both to soak up some alcohol and to account for the hunger that we’d worked up dancing the night away. Then we all collapsed into bed. Ears ringing, (at least my) feet throbbing, and curiosity building for what adventures awaited us the next day—or rather, the same day, in a matter of hours.