The music world's best-kept secret.
The music world's best-kept secret.
Nash-Vegas. This campy stretch of neon lights and cowboy paraphernalia draws tourists and bachelorette parties from all over the country. Comprised mainly of Broadway and Printer’s Alley, this slice of Nashville is mostly reserved for out-of-towners. As a local, I avoid coming here like the plague. It was fun to get drunk here the first couple of times, but now Broadway is a chore reserved only for accommodating visitors.
Needless to say, that’s NOT what this article is about – sorry! This is about the other Nashville, the new Nashville.
Nashville’s quaint reputation as being the country-western capital of the world is pretty well established, but there’s more to this town than meets the eye. Nashville’s music scene outgrew its country roots about a decade ago, and has since become a mecca for young musicians the world over. Operating in the shadow of Nashville’s cash cow, the country fame machine, the Nashvillian indie scene is one of the music world’s best kept secrets.
Nashville already plays home to every country artist you can think of. But on top of that, this city is also called home by the likes of Jack White, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, The Civil Wars, Paramore, Cage The Elephant, JEFF The Brotherhood, Mat Kearny, Old Crow Medicine Show, Wild Cub, The Dead Weather, Alabama Shakes, Brooke Waggoner, Seryn, Cherub, The Kills, Ben Rector, Diarrhea Planet, The Great Palumbo, Steve Moakler, Andrew Ripp, Colony House, Judah & the Lion, Moon Taxi, Dave Barnes (and etc.) and those are just a few of the famous ones. There are literally thousands of other amazing artists working their way through the ranks here every day. On top of all this local talent, there are a host of other artists now associated with the LA music scene got their start here, including pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, and Meghan Trainor.
Beyond that, it’s safe to say that 90% of the rest of the music world (in relevant genres at least) will pass through Nashville at some point or another in a given year. On top of the fact that everybody in the music world has friends living here that they visit from time to time, artists the world-over will base tours out of Nashville because the city is well equipped to meet their touring needs, and the convenience of its location is nearly unparalleled. Nashville is within a 3-hour drive of no less than 7 major metropolitan areas. Atlanta makes 8 at 3.5 hours.
However, just because artists visit Nashville regularly doesn’t mean that all of them are itching to play shows here. Of course many of them do (hardly a night passes where there isn’t a great show happening somewhere in this city), but many others avoid it. Why? Because the level of talent in this city is off the charts, and that kind of talent in a concert hall often translates to a tough crowd. I can sympathize with this, but in the words of Harry S. Truman, “If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Many other music professionals from New York and LA are also beginning to relocate to Nashville if they have the ability to do so. Why? Because music does not pay well and living here is cheap! The fact that Tennessee has no state income tax is a 20% salary-bump right off the bat. Housing prices are on the rise now, but it’s still cheap even compared to Austin, which is perhaps Nashville’s only competition in its weight class.
Still, Nashville can be a hard city to get a read on. It’s defined by the juxtaposition between old and new, conservative and liberal, country and indie. It’s a blue city in a red state. You can find “Trump” signs on the same block as “Feel The Bern” signs. You can find confederate flags and green party flags flying side by side. Nashville has more than enough nightlife that caters to each of these respective demographics, but if you can’t tell, I’m on the far-left end of the spectrum. Living here, I take the good with the bad because it’s worth it.
When most people visit Nashville, they inevitably end up being swept away in a raging torrent of cowboys hats and Elvis impersonators. [CRINGE] So I’m writing this guide to (1) let you know there’s more to Nashville than that, and (2) make Nashville’s indie side accessible to you.
Alcohol only. No music.
Alcohol only. No music.
Address: 2225 Bransford Ave. Nashville, TN 37204
Hours: [4:30pm – 2:30am | 7 days per week]
Santa's seems like as good a place to dive in as any! That's a pun, because this place is a total dive. Although it was named one of Maxim Magazine’s “Best Dive Bars In America,” Santa’s Pub is actually sort of a step below “dive” bar; it’s literally in a trailer. The bar is cash only, and they do Karaoke every night. With his impressive white beard and pony tail, Santa (as the owner is lovingly called) has been part of Nashville’s indie under-belly for decades. Somehow this little shit-hole outlasted its competition to become something of a local legend.
The stories that come out of Santa’s Pub are out of this world. Let's start with the fact that Santa has been known to open up for the day and close up for the night with a shotgun in hand. But don't worry—you're safe here! You're actually likely to be in very good company. Amidst all the tales of drinking with famous artists like Kings of Leon and Miley Cyrus, one story, which surfaced a few months ago, stands out in my mind: Kid Rock drunkenly singing his own song, “Picture (feat. Sheryl Crow),” on karaoke.
At the end of the song he supposedly said “I wrote that,” and then dropped the mic.
Yup, that’s Santa’s!
Address: 407 Gallatin Ave. Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [5:00pm – 3:00am | 7 days per week]
Recently having celebrated its 4-year anniversary, No. 308 is one of my favorite bars in Nashville. It’s doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside this place is a real gem. With a stylish dark color-scheme, the decor is somewhere between southern gothic and classic rock & roll. They are nearly always screening a string of random movies from the 1980’s on the back wall, and they have DJs that play most nights of the week.
This place gets pretty packed on the weekends, but on weeknights it’s usually a nice chill spot to grab a drink. There’s outdoor seating in front of the bar, which is nice in the summer, and I am also an appreciator of the fact that they serve Singapore’s Tiger Beer because it gives me nostalgia for my time living in Hanoi. And as an added bonus, No. 308 is next door to Dino’s, a great late night food joint which I’ll get to soon.
Address: 2907 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216
Hours: [5:00pm – 3:00am | Monday-Friday]
………...…[1:00pm – 3:00am | Saturday – Sunday]
Mickey’s takes the cake for being my favorite bar in Nashville. It’s a cozy little bar like any other, except that all those little things that bother you about other places have been fixed here.
In addition to all of that, there are no DJs, bands, trivia nights, karaoke, or BS. Mickey’s is about as chill and un-pretentious as it gets. What’s not to love? It’s just a good ol’ American dive bar, and it’s always filled with cool people. Also, some people say that Mickey’s has the best jukebox in Nashville, if that’s a selling point for you.
Address: 2905B, Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216
Hours: [5:00pm – 12:00am | Monday – Thursday]
……...……[5:00pm – 2:00am | Friday – Saturday]
………...…[Closed | Sunday]
Opened September of 2017, The Fox is a relatively recent addition to East Nashville's burgeoning indie scene. Located on the same block as Mickey's, tucked away beneath an indie clothing store that doubles as a music venue called the Bowery Vault, you'll find a polished wooden door that looks like it belongs in a Scottish hunting lodge much more so than this random urban corridor of Nashville, Tennessee. But as soon as you push that door open, things will make a lot more sense. The only other indicator that you are in the vicinity of The Fox is the mural shown below (created by Brian Wooden), which doesn't make much sense out of context. So I think it's fair to put this place in the "speakeasy" category.
Once you are inside, you'll see that the space itself is quite small—just a little nook—but it manages to feel like a world all its own. The Fox is decorated in the Art Deco style, and uses reclaimed wood from old buildings and houses around Nashville as materials for their barstools, booths, and bookshelves, designed by 1767 Designs. Make no mistake; The Fox is a cocktail bar. If you come here, you'll want to pick something off of their cocktail menu, because this is where they shine. However, they also serve beer, wine, and some tasty snacks. It should also be noted that they run a happy hour from 5pm to 7pm Monday through Thursday, so if you're looking to give this place a test run before introducing it to your friends and family, that would be worth checking out.
Address: 1308 McGavock Pike, Nashville, TN 37216
Hours: [11:30am – 12:00am | Sunday – Thursday]
………...…[11:30am – 1:00am | Friday – Saturday]
I have a soft spot for this place because I’ve had some good times here, but I’ll put my warm feelings aside and give you the facts. The Village Pub, within my circles at least, is known for their wide array of Moscow Mules, which are half-price at $3.13 on Monday nights. I'd recommend a variation called "The English Ass." They also serve a mean soft pretzel with cheesy sauce. The story goes that on their first night, they ran out of everything other than pretzels. Pretzels have been a specialty ever since!
There’s plenty of seating, both indoor and outdoor, and the staff is about as friendly as it gets. This bar also carries a large stock of boardgames, which never fails to entertain. Tucked away down the leafy back roads of East Nashville, Village Pub is freakin’ chill. This is what the real Nashville looks and feels like.
Address: 102 E Palestine Ave, Madison, TN 37115
Hours: [5:00pm – 1:00am | Monday – Thursday]
……...……[3:00pm – 3:00am | Friday – Saturday]
………...…[3:00pm – 1:00am | Sunday]
Far from the increasingly stifling hustle and bustle of East Nashville's central intersections, Dee's Lounge operates in relative anonymity, hosting a devoted crowd of regulars, ranging from members of Nashville's impoverished musician-class to true "townies." It's actually owned by the same folks who run Mickey's—a fact that should be surprising to nobody who has visited both establishments. While Dee's certainly holds a certain back-woods/country charm, it caters to more or less to the same demographic as Mickey's, having secured a similarly prominent role in Nashville's indie scene.
Setting out from the center of Nashville, Dee's is definitely the longest drive. Driving northeast down Gallatin, once you get past East Nashville, you will get to a large leafy neighborhood called Inglewood. This sprawling area functions more or less as an extension of East Nashville, as evidenced by cardinal signs of gentrification clearly recognizable on every street corner. However, once you get past Inglewood, you will arrive in a neighborhood called Madison, which is still exists in a pre-gentrified state. It can be a sketchy area, but it is earning a place in the heart of those being priced out of East Nashville, and here, behind a Jiffy Lube and huge yellow porn store, you'll find Dee's. Trust me when I tell you, it's worth an extra 20 minutes in the car.
Address: 935A Woodland St, Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [11:00am – 7:00pm | Monday – Friday]
……...……[11:00am – 6:00pm | Saturday]
………...…[Closed | Sunday]
Okay, this one actually doesn't serve any alcohol, but it DOES have a bar. It's a Kombucha bar. That's as much excuse as I need to include High Garden on this guide, because High Garden is one of the coolest places in Nashville, in any category. But it's a different kind of "cool" than any other establishment on this list, because High Garden has nothing to do with music, fashion, or social status. High Garden is cool in the way elaborate zoo exhibits are cool. Walking into High Garden is like stepping into Harry Potter. There are weeds, herbs, and branches hanging from the ceiling making the whole place feel like something out of Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox, wherein claymation animals live in and under trees. It's a super cool vibe.
There are 3 big rooms in High Garden. The front room is a tea emporium where you can buy almost every kind of tea under the sun. It's all kept in big glass jars, stacked on the shelves from floor to ceiling. You can open any of them to take a sniff, and when you've found one you like, they'll measure out exactly the amount you want to take home with you. The back room has a small Kombucha bar, decorated in the same style, with branches hanging from the ceiling, and the middle room is a seating area. If you are at all into drinking tea, you will NOT want to miss this place.
Address: 411 Gallatin Ave., Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [4:00pm – 3:00am | Monday – Friday]
…………...[12:00pm – 3:00am | Saturday – Sunday]
Dino’s claims to be the oldest dive bar in Nashville, and I believe it. It’s a dingy place, to be sure, but it holds a special place in the heart of many East Nashvillians. It’s really more of a diner that serves alcohol than it is an actual bar though. Offering the usual assortment of diner food until 3am has earned Dino’s a reputation as the “after hours food place” for most nights out in East Nashville.
Dino’s might look pretty janky, but the food is actually pretty good. Sometimes the lines to order that food get a little ridiculous, but I’d say that it’s worth fighting the crowds for some 2:30am-bacon-and-eggs. Seeing as he stopped through last time he was in Nashville, I'd bet that Justin Bieber agrees with me. I don't know if that's a pro or a con, but it's a fun fact at the very least. So if you’re hungry in East Nashville in the wee hours of the night, Dino’s has your back. They also do late brunch on weekends.
Address: 3914 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216
Hours: [5:00pm – 1:00am | Monday – Saturday]
…………...[Closed | Sunday]
First off, let me explain what Inglewood is, since it's not going to get mentioned anywhere else in this piece. Inglewood is a giant, leafy (and decidedly less-gentrified) extension of East Nashville. It's actually quite a bit bigger than East Nashville as well, but it's hard to tell exactly where one ends and the other begin. For this reason, Inglewood is often clumped together with East Nashville in conversation. Sitting out in the farthest reaches of Inglewood, Inglewood Lounge looks like a 1960s relic from the outside. I drove by this building hundreds of times before actually coming in for a drink, and I had been picturing a small, smokey room, with a few old-timers in Hawaiian shirts drinking Piña Coladas. That's not the prettiest of pictures, but it piqued my curiosity nevertheless.
In time, I would come to find out the Inglewood Lounge is actually one of the cooler (albeit, lesser known) bars in Nashville. There reputation is built mainly on one thing: live jazz. Inglewood Lounge hosts live jazz every night they are open, and the musicians who play here are the real deal. Their menu includes cheap beer but quickly jumps into expensive cocktails and better-than-you'd-expect bar food. It's not a spacious bar, but it's definitely worth scavenging for seating. There is indoor and outdoors seating available, so don't let the weather hold you back—check this place out!
Address: 1603 Woodland St, Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [4:00pm – 11:00pm | Monday – Thursday]
………...…[4:00pm – 12:00am | Friday – Sunday]
Urban Cowboy is the most recent addition to this article, as well as the East Nashville nightlife scene. It hasn't been around long, but it already feels like I've been waiting for a bar like Urban Cowboy my whole life. But Urban Cowboy isn't just a bar—it had actually been operating solely as a bed and breakfast for quite some time before opening up their Public House in the lot sitting directly adjacent. This B&B operated in a gorgeous victorian-style home in the heart of Lockeland Springs, caddy-corner from Lockeland Table (which you can read about in the restaurant guide). Indeed, it's hard to drive by this house without slowing down to get a good look at it. But this is about the bar—let's get back on track...
The bar is mostly open-air, which makes it more of a summertime hot-spot. It can get cold in the winter, but thanks to the massive bonfire roaring in the center of space, they manage to draw a solid crowd year-round. They also have a small indoor area where the most devoted patrons can huddle on particularly cold nights. It can be pretty hard to move around in there when it gets crowded, but a less busy Tuesday night will reveal a seriously cool place. It's a classy, modern take on the wild west, complete with the biggest pair of bull horns you've ever seen mounted over the fireplace. Don't leave Nashville without trying this place (provided the weather is decent.)
Address: 1200 Villa Pl., #103 Nashville, TN 37212
Hours: [Closed Monday]
……...……[12:00pm – 1:00am | Tuesday – Saturday]
………...…[12:00pm – 12:00am | Sunday]
I’ve been to a lot of bars in my day, in a lot of different parts of the world, but Old Glory might actually be the coolest. Or, it’s at least in the top 5. It’s hard to do this place justice solely with photographs though because the ceiling is a few stories above ground level and that vertical space is an important part of the bar’s dynamic. It’s like your drinking in the ruins of some giant industrial chimney.
A recent addition to Nashville’s nightlife, Old Glory is brought to you by the same folks that opened No. 308 in East Nashville some 4 years ago. Situated on the west side of town between Vanderbilt and Belmont, it’s primarily a cocktail bar, although they do serve some food. Old Glory’s finely tuned drink menu cast against the backdrop of edgy, industrial elegance is a great combination. It’s a ways away from East Nashville (which is my favorite part of the city, and sort of the focus of this guide) but it’s 100% worth the trip.
Address: 2211 Bandywood Dr, Nashville, TN 37215
Hours: [4:00pm – 3:00am | 7 days per week]
The name pretty much says it all. It's like they knew that no matter what they named this place, everybody was just going to call it "the Greenhouse Bar" anyway, so they made it official. As the name suggests, this is literally just a bar in a greenhouse, which is an awesome concept. Before I came here, I had it in my head that this was going to be an upscale drinking experience, but it turns out that it's literally just a sports bar that happens to be inside a greenhouse. Out back there is a an awesome outdoor seating area beneath layers of Christmas lights, that looks like a Hookah Lounge and park bench had a baby. It's great to bring your drinks back here when the weather is nice, but during the winter months, you'll want to stay inside.
Greenhouse Bar is the one, lone establishment in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood that I am going to ordain as being "cool." Best known for its lavish shopping mall, insane rush hour traffic, and having the only Whole Foods in Nashville, Green Hills doesn't have much in the way of nightlife. The buck pretty much stops here. Greenhouse Bar serves a full list of wine and cocktails, but there are also plenty of sandwiches and sides to balance the scales.
Address: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [4:00pm – 2:00am | 7 days per week]
My absolute favorite thing about East Nashville is looking at all the classic Southern homes, street to street. The wrap-around porches, low-hanging roofs, and white pillars embody the essence of the Nashvillian condition. It took long enough, but somebody finally converted one of these homes into a bar. It's called "Rosemary," and it is a new addition to the 5 points area. However, it might not be immediately obvious where it is because it blends in with the neighborhood.
Looking at it from the street, Rosemary doesn't look like a bar; it just looks like another house. There is no sign. There is no open door. There are no lights. It's a speakeasy, whose only "tell" is the bouncer sitting on the front porch. Inside, however, Rosemary is packed an noisy. However, for all it's weekend rowdiness, it manages to maintain the feel of being somebody's home, thanks in part to the still-furnished reading room on the left side of the bar, behind the bookshelf. It feels reminiscent of the house-bars of Austin's Rainey Street. Outback, there is a patio with hanging lights and a food truck. And another level behind that is Beauty Queen. What is Beauty Queen? You'll just have to find out for yourself when it finally opens...
Address: 1000 Clear View Ave. Suite 103, Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [12:00pm – 3:00am | 7 days per week]
Just a stone’s throw from 5 Points, Duke’s is the most pleasant “hole-in-the-wall” that you’ll ever have the pleasure of drinking at. It’s a relatively arrival in Nashville’s bar scene, having opened for business in 2015. The prices are reasonable, the drinks are great, and its aesthetic is clean and stylish without trying too hard, but it's got more to offer than just alcohol. There’s also a better-than-you’d-expect sandwich shop that operates out of this place.
It should also be noted that the people who run this place are pretty well connected in the local and national indie music scene. If the Dawes show just got out and you're wondering where you have a decent shot of bumping into Taylor Goldsmith, my money is on Duke's. But for all of its indie clout, Duke's manages to stay relatively low-key during the week. When Friday night rolls around, Duke's will be crowded, but not nearly enough to dissuade me from coming here. I love this place, and my guess is that you will too. Very few people would feel out of place here.
Address: Houston Station, 434 Houston St., Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: [Closed | Monday]
………...…[5:00pm – 2:00am | Tuesday – Sunday]
Bastion is an awesome little gem, tucked away in the old, unkept industrial parks that sit to the immediate south of Nashville’s downtown. It’s located in the belly of Houston Station, which is one of Nashville’s many warehouses-gone-office spaces. However, even amongst its contemporaries, Houston Station is a bit unique because its office space is devoted almost entirely to organizations working with the visual arts. It makes for an interesting walk-through if you’re up for some exploring! But I digress…
Sitting at street level, behind the brick walls of Houston Station, Bastion has struck a great balance between gritty and classy. It looks exactly like what it is: a big empty room from an industrial warehouse where somebody decided to put a bar. Between the christmas lights strung overhead, the lawn chair/living room seating area, they’ve managed to make Bastion feel pretty homey. So check it out! Bastion has never not been a great time.
Address: 8 Mcferrin Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [5:00pm – 3:00am | Everyday]
Attaboy is the newest addition to East Nashville's thriving nightlife, but its roots are actually planted much further north. The original Attaboy is in New York City, with heavy ties to the indie deities that kick-started the cocktail revolution with legendary establishments like Milk & Honey. However, it's new satellite location opened its doors in July of 2017 to a warm Nashvillian welcome. It's already generated substantial buzz around town from outlets like Nashville Eater, The Tennessean, and The New York Times, as one of Nashville's hippest new bars, but Attaboy's aura of secrecy makes it more of a speakeasy than a bar. Here's how it works...
The door is always locked. You'll have to knock and wait for somebody to let you in. (They'll be watching you with cameras out there, so be on your best behavior!) When somebody comes to the door, they may not have room for you, but if you ask they should be able to let you know when space opens up. Also, Attaboy has no menu. You will be asked a series of questions about your unique set of tastes, and then the bartender will improvise a cocktail accordingly. The Attaboy staff are more chemists than bartenders, so expect your drink to be amazing. Everything on the menu is a flat $13.00. However, if you want to explore their top shelf, things can get a bit more pricey.
Address: 1711 Division Street, Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: [5:00pm – 1:00am | Sunday – Wednesday]
………...…[5:00pm – 3:00am | Thursday – Saturday]
Last but not least, the Patterson House. It doesn’t get much classier than this. Expect there to be at least a short wait on any given day of the week, but expect the wait to be worth it. They serve an upscale selection of cocktails starting at $13, as well as small food plates. They also have a few beers available, but come on. Go for a cocktail, stay for the atmosphere. You can check out the cocktail menu for yourself here.
It’s a pretty cool place. But maybe don’t come here on a first date—it could be a little over the top. But that’s up to you. The Patterson House manages to be intimate and elegant without crossing the line into pretentiousness. Indeed, it has the kind of nonchalant refinement to it that you can only find south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It's establishments like the Patterson House that make Nashville the southern gem that it is.
This is where the magic happens.
This is where the magic happens.
Address: 823 Woodland St., Nashville, TN, 37206
Hours: [5pm – 3am | 7 days per week]
The Crying Wolf is as much a bar as it is a venue. They host local events pretty frequently, from local music to movie screenings. The whole place is decorated with animal skins and mounted animal heads putting a spooky twist on Americana. However, the Southern Gothic decor isn’t the only thing Crying Wolf has going for it (although it was enough to win me over).
In addition to an awesome vibe and reasonably priced bar, they also serve a pretty solid selection of burgers. With a pool table and an outdoor patio, it’s also a great spot in the summer. And even at it’s busiest, it’s never too difficult to move; it’s the right amount crowded. Overall, it’s just a great place to go for a drink.
Address: 1006 Forrest Ave., Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [8pm – 3am | Monday – Tuesday]
…………[5pm – 3am | Wednesday – Friday]
…………[7pm – 3am | Saturday]
…………[6pm – 3am | Sunday]
GQ Magazine awarded the 5 Spot’s “Motown Monday” as the “Most Stylish Party In America.” This happens every Monday night, and things get pretty crazy, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The 5 Spot is definitely more suited to function solely as a bar, but this doesn’t stop them from hosting live music every week.
In addition to playing host to bands from all over the country when they tour through Nashville (a recent highlight is The National Parks), The 5 Spot also has regular events put on by local organizations. For example, Cold Lunch Records, a recently founded Nashville-based record label, holds showcases in the 5 Spot most Wednesday nights nowadays, so that would also be a cool event to check out!
Address: 626A Main St, Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [7am – 12am | Monday – Saturday]
…………[9am – 3pm | Sunday]
The Family Wash is an interesting fixture in Nashville’s music scene because it doubles as a coffee shop. Garage Coffee occupies the front third(ish) of the space, while the Family Wash operates a full service bar (including food), along with performance space towards the back. This combination sets The Family Wash apart as the venue with the longest operating hours in Nashville, doing business from 7am to midnight every day.
As a venue, The Family Wash is one of the cozier listening spaces in Nashville. Because it serves food, coffee, and alcohol, the tables that are set out divide their events into sitting/standing room only. Decorated with colorful art, christmas lights galore, and vintage American propaganda, The Family Wash has a cool edgy vibe well-suited to facilitate gatherings of Nashville’s music community. If nothing else, it’s fun place to see a show.
Address: 1604 18th Ave. S #330, Nashville, TN, 37203
Hours: [Varies depending on events schedule | typically holds 2 shows/night at 7pm & 9pm respectively]
Underneath a little record shop called Grimey’s is a shabby little venue called ‘The Basement.’ This is not to be confused with ‘The Basement East” (although they are owned by the same folks). The Basement East is much bigger, and feel much more like a full-on concert hall, whereas The (original) Basement really is a basement. But don’t be fooled by its modest facilities...
Once every month the owner of Grimey’s, Mike Grimes, hosts and curates “New Faces Night” where he will invite small up-and-coming artists that he likes to perform short sets. This would be a good thing to check out if you want to get a taste for Nashville's music scene. Slots on this night are highly coveted, because Grimes has become something of a tastemaker in the music world. Over the years Grimes has hosted then-obscure, now-famous artists such as Amy Winehouse, Mumford & Sons, and others. The first time I ever attended this event I saw a band called Barnaby Bright, and was literally moved to tears by their music... which was a first. As of now it’s also an ‘only’ as well. But if you miss “New Faces Night,” the Basement functions as a venue the rest of the month too, so be sure to take a look at their lineup! Every once in a while big bands will come through and play secret shows in this tiny venue, Metallica being a (relatively) recent example.
Address: 2511 Gallatin Ave., Nashville, TN 37206
Hours: [5pm – 3am | Monday – Friday]
…………[12pm – 3am | Saturday – Sunday]
The Cobra is somewhat unique in this list because it is literally split in half – bar/venue. Well into East Nashville, The Cobra is just a good ol’ fashioned grungy music club. The bar side of The Cobra has pool tables, dart boards, and an extensive outdoors area for the summer. With a reputation for serving extra strong drinks, this bar often plays host to the after-hours crew from The 5 Spot’s Motown Monday. The Cobra’s venue side, however, hosts quite a few events of its own.
As a venue, The Cobra plays host to small, cool shows almost every night of the week. However, unlike fixtures like The 5 Spot, nobody comes to The Cobra by accident. People in The Cobra are typically there for a specific event, and for good reason: The Cobra is actually a great venue! In the past, The Cobra was called Foobar, but it has since been renamed (and re-decorated), so you should consolidate those 2 names in your mental library.
Address: 114 12th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: [Depends on event schedule]
12th & Porter is a modestly sized venue but it has the facilities of a much larger space. This makes for the acoustics of high-level show combined with the intimacy of a listening room. That's the draw of 12th & Porter, in a nut shell. It occupies a brick building in the industrial limbo between Downtown and West End, which can sometimes make parking challenging, but after business hours, this area empties out relatively quickly. Having been in business for more than 30 years, 12th & Porter has seen now-huge acts such a Kieth Urban, Kings of Leon, Neil Young, and Dierks Bentley play shows for sold out crowds. It's got some history behind it.
The biggest complaint that I tend to hear about 12th & Porter is the frequency of corporate parties. Presently, their weekly schedule includes a lot of highly lucrative but non-musical events, which seems to be slowly chipping away at their credibility as a venue. For this reason, artists who will be unable to bring a massive crowd (a very difficult task in Nashville) often find it difficult to work to work with management here. It'd be a great space for a party, especially after their extensive renovations in 2015, but it's an even better place for a show. Check their schedule! You might get lucky and catch an artist you love coming through here.
Address: 1 Cannery Row, Nashville TN, 37203
Hours: [Depends on event schedule]
Now we're entering the big-leagues. This is my favorite enclave of venues in Nashville, because it really is an enclave. In a 3-story building just outside downtown Nashville, each of these 3 venues operates independently.
First Floor: Cannery Ballroom (biggest)
Second Floor: Mercy Lounge (middle)
Third Floor: High Watt (smallest)
They are all owned by the same folks and even Cannery Ballroom is relatively intimate. Each of these venues hosts an incredible array of artists from all around the world on a weekly basis. The past couple times I was there I saw Jess Glynne (at Mercy Lounge) and Shaky Graves (at the High Watt), both of whom rocked. Of course you’d be hard pressed to find them playing a venue that small nowadays, so I feel lucky to have seen them there when they were still small. Check their schedules because there are lots of up-and-coming artists that play here.
Address: 2208 Elliston Pl., Nashville, TN, 37203
Hours: [8pm – 3am | Monday – Saturday]
Having hosted a virtual “who’s who” of the greats, like Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Willy Nelson, The Ramones, and many more over the years, Exit/In is a Nashville classic. Older folks in Nashville laugh as they tell stories about sitting at the bar next to Neil Young ‘back in the day.’ Nashville was a lot smaller back then. (sigh)
It’s not quite the same today, but Exit/In still attracts bookings from world-class artists on a weekly basis, so if you have a few days in Nashville and you want to catch a show, this might be a good place to look into. The venue is big enough to hold a crowd, and small enough to keep it decently personal.
Good night & good luck!
Good night & good luck!
Yup, this is Nashville!
If you’re under 21, most of this stuff (aside from the secret & D.I.Y. shows) will be off limits to you unless you have a solid fake ID. Nashville has been increasingly tough on fake IDs, so swim at your own risk.
If you'd like to learn more about Nashville, I'd encourage you to check out one of our other guides on coffee shops and restaurants. This is a city with a LOT going on, but I've tried my best to break it all down for you.
I’ll finish out with a track from Mat Kearny, coming out strong singing about Nashville.
“Nashville is burning tonight // I’m feeling every song that this town could write.”