Everyone has their love story. I fell in love in a window booth in a bar when I was thirteen years old. That bar was the iconic Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. As I sipped Shirley Temple's, sitting next to my dad, listening to music that seemed to flow through my veins, I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life in Music City.
The memory of that moment forever smells like beer-soaked wood. It looks like a million black and white photos stapled to the wall, illuminated in the afternoon sunlight. It tastes like cherry sprite. And it sounds like a guitar, a rattling drum kit shoved into a window, change dropping into a plastic tub passed around as the tip jar, country twang vocals, and a fiddle that I seemed to feel, more than hear, pulling across my heartstrings. I sat in awe of the place where country music greats stumbled in through the back door from the alley between the backs of the bars and the Ryman (original home of the Grand Ole Opry). A few of which, I was told, enjoyed their time in Tootsie's so much, they completely missed their stage slot on the Opry, and played there instead.
For some people, it's love at first sight. For others, love grows out of a friendship. There are those that go looking for love (sometimes in all the wrong places) and those that love sneaks up on when they least expect it. But, I think for the most part, people fall in love with one person at a time. I fell in love with an entire city all at once. I didn't expect to stumble into a relationship that has lasted nearly a decade when I was thirteen.
It all started in the eighth grade. I heard of this magical fairy tale land called The Smoky Mountains. I had visited it once before when I was four years old, but my memories of it were few and fuzzy. (If you know me well, I'll give you the full story on what sparked my curiosity years later;) )The point is, I learned that this beautiful place I thought only existed in my day dreams was real; mountains, rolling fields, waterfalls, wildlife, country music, and cowboy boots. I begged my family to take me there for about a month. My mom planned the trip and the day after I got out of school for summer, my family hopped in the car and headed east for the Smoky Mountains. On the journey to this mystical land, we spent two nights in Nashville. In the couple short days spent here, it captured my heart.
I went home and told everyone I was moving to Nashville for college. I didn't know which college I was going to end up at at the time. I could not have even have dreamed of all the memories and friends I would make here. I just knew that Nashville was where I was going. It was where my heart was. I spent the next few years learning everything I could about Nashville. I watched CMT religiously, never missed an award show, and read every article Southern Living ran featuring Music City. I kept up a long-distance relationship with Nashville for nearly four and a half years. I continued to fall in love through television screens, magazines, and interviews with country artists who call my city home.
I've been here almost five years and every time I see the skyline, I have to catch my breath. I spent a good part of the first two years waking up with heart fluttering excitement at the thought "I live here!" I still do sometimes. But what is it that makes me catch my breath and thank the Lord for bringing me here? So so so many things. The people, the food, the music, the culture, the scenery, etc. etc. Nashville is my place in the sun. I've been so happy here, I believe it is my job to help everyone else love it as much as I do. So if you're planning a trip, looking for restaurant recommendations, or want to know who's playing where, shoot me a message through my contact page. I'd love to be your guide! I can never get enough of this city. The more I learn, the more I discover, the more stories I get of its past, and the more it grows and changes, the more I find to love.
Every love story takes place somewhere. I've found there are particular landmarks in every love story I've ever been told. The party that neither of my grandparents really wanted to go to (but there was nothing else going on), where their eyes met across the room. There's the sidewalk in front of my mother's store, where she and my dad would talk for hours after closing time. Every time I pass Jackson's here in Nashville, I think of my pastor and his wife. This is the restaurant they got engaged at, following a seriously delicious cookie dough egg roll. For me, there are a million places in Nashville that have captured pieces of my heart. But these are some of my absolute favorites; the ones that bring me comfort, excitement, the feelings of joy and of being at home, places that make my heart race and melt. These are the places that brought me truth of knowing this place was made just perfectly for me.
Fido is a place I could hole up for hours––and I have! One of my first college professors recommended it to me at orientation. These days, I make my "corner office" at one of the barstools lining the windows. I'd take my view over my teacup looking out onto 21st Ave before any high-rise corner office in any city in the world. I take comfort in the warm atmosphere. There is a broke-in, well worn, but well-loved feeling. Like your favorite pair of boots. It's casual, artistic, eclectic, and accepting of your business meeting best and your no-makeup Saturday desperate dashes for quality caffeine. Then the food. Wow. Don't get me started on the simple elegance. My recommendations: for breakfast, Sweet Potato French Toast; lunch, Turkey and Brie sandwich (I basically lived on this my Freshman year); dinner, Steak and Hash; anytime, anything on the specials board; to sip, one of the seasonal drinks, tea punch, or cinnamon chocolate hot tea. Everything coming out of that kitchen is healthy, a labor of love, full of imagination, and free of pretension.
The Pedestrian Bridge Is the best place I've found to stop and gaze longingly at the skyline. I catch my breath every time I drive in from a trip and my heart aches every time I watch it disappear in my rearview mirror. However, it is not exactly possible (or safe) to stop on the highway, no matter how gorgeous that skyline is to stare at. My advice, catch your breath with a scoop of Mike's Ice Cream over the Cumberland. I've walked the bridge at sunrise, mid-day, sunset, and the dark of night. It is always beautiful watching it stretch up to the sky and down across the river.
Downtown Franklin is the small town I've always wanted to call home. It is like stumbling into Stars Hollow, Connecticut or Bluebell, Alabama. It is picturesque, historic, dog and family friendly, and they celebrate every holiday with charming festivals (Pumpkinfest and Dickens of a Christmas are two of my favorites). Meridee's Breadbasket, Puckets, and Ivey Cake taste like southern love. Does that make sense? They're sweet and classic. And I cannot visit Downtown Franklin without going to Philanthropy. It is the coolest shop, beautiful inside and out, and full of Jesus (their prayer wall is amazing and they give back to several charities). Quaint houses line the streets just off Main, young couples push strollers, and old couples read the newspaper over coffee in Meridee's. Live music and old movies play in the Theatre. The whole area is a place to daydream about the future while enjoying the magical first sparks of right now.
The Dives and Bars hold a special place in my heart. Possibly because I fell in love in one. Whatever it is that draws me to these places attracting the lonely, the hungry, the thirsty, those celebrating, and the broken hearted, here are two of my favorites.
Brown's Diner - A roommate and I once tried to become regulars here. We still frequent the place, but have yet to get on a first name basis with the waitress who has been there since the 80s and sticks her finger in our (very delicious) burgers to warn us of the toothpick holding it together (every time). Brown's holds the oldest liquor license in Nashville, has burned down twice, and has been written up for their burgers. And it's reasonably priced! It was a great fix for starving college kids, too tired after finals to cook anything.
The 5 Spot - It's one of my favorites. Drinks are half till 9pm and are cheap to begin with. It's also the home of Motown Mondays, which means swing dancing till the wee hours of the morning. It may keep you up all night, but it's worth it.
Belmont was my first home here. It was what got me here and the place that so many of my best friendships began. Many of them started in the iconic gazebos, which are some of the oldest structures in the South. I spent nine months in a multimillion dollar on-campus apartment building over looking the city my sophomore year. Every night I got to lay down my head watching the city lights until I closed my eyes. The school itself is a bit like Hogwarts, in that is is full of wildly talented people, it's full of history and hidden passageways (if you know where to look), and they go all out decorating for Christmas. Belmont introduced and allowed me to explore so many new loves. It allowed me to close the long-distance chapter in my story.
Big Band Dance in Centennial Park is straight out of a movie. I remember stumbling upon it and thinking there is nothing more romantic than this. The event takes place under the pavilion in the park, to live music, during the summer nights (June through August, 7pm-10pm). Everyone from small children to college kids to grandparents dance the night away. Food trucks park in the grass and you'll have to search for a parking spot, but it is one of my most favorite things to do in the summer. Events like this and the Scene's Movies in the Park epitomize the big city/small town feel that Nashville has. There's a sense of community, love, and good old fashioned fun.
Music Venues are endless in Music City (duh). Every couple has "their song." Or if you're like Taylor Swift and realize that you "don't have a song," you write one and launch a music career. My love story is filled with millions of songs. I have my own never ending sound track. I live in a city where every season, every moment, there is a song being written to capture it. Being a story teller, I obsess over lyrics. Music has the power to convey a story through notes and lyrics that make the listener feel what the writer felt in a moment and let those who it strikes home with know that they're not alone. I'll never grow tired of writers' rounds, music festivals, shows small and sold out. Some of my favorite places to listen to others share their hearts include Belcourt Taps, the Listening Room (I saw Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini here at a Tin Pan South show right before they got big), Bridgestone, the Riverfront Stage at CMA Fest, CMT Cross Roads tapings, the Grand Ole Opry, and Puckets. Oh, and of course, forever, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.
Once upon a time (nearly ten years ago), in a land far, far away (Nashville), I fell in love. In the last ten years, so many things have changed. There are so many places that have been monumental in my relationship with this city. They're full of memories and reminders of why I am so glad to call Nashville home. And tomorrow, I'm sure I'll find something new around the corner that will give me that first-sight butterflies feeling, because this city is growing and so is my love for it.