My friend has a wiry, six-inch beard growing from half his face, the other half covered in freshly shorn stubble. He’s grinning, wearing only shiny chrome shorts and drinking Jameson from an oversized axe-shaped koozie he built himself. Nearby, a blonde in a red dress is stumbling with laughter while she holds up an electric trimmer caked with tumbleweed clumps of facial hair. The scene unfolds sometime past 3 a.m. just outside the lobby doors of our hotel.
This is Hour 54 of a bachelor party’s three-night bender in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee.
First, the conceit – you can’t really do Nashville in 61 hours. Our bachelor party – 10 guys from Columbus, Portland, Toledo, and Phoenix – sacrificed nearly all sleep in our effort, and we didn’t even come close to doing everything. Which is good news for anyone looking to visit Nashville this summer, for a bachelor party or any other excuse. What follows is our experience; it begins with Hour One, Friday night, approximately 9:15 Central Standard Time.
We arrive at the Holiday Inn, which butts up against the Vanderbilt football stadium, about two miles from Nashville’s main drag on Broadway. The hotel runs free shuttles anywhere within a three-mile radius until 11 p.m., so it worked out well. It’s plenty nice for an excursion like ours, and apparently the gazebo in the rear is a rules-free zone in which nothing you do at any volume will get you in trouble regardless of the time.
We’re antsy and very thirsty when we arrive so we catch the last shuttle of the night to Broadway, and 10 minutes later we’re standing in the middle the Memorial Weekend celebration. When you think of the Nashville scene – the honky-tonks and saloons and crowds of drunken revelers – you’re thinking of Broadway and its network of avenues and back alleys: a wild, sloshing mixture of faux cowboys, country western gals, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and jaunty music spilling out from every doorway.
First, we duck into Layla’s Bluegrass Inn. The sign above the door reads “Nashville Hillbilly Music,” and a band on stage plays some version of the freewheeling genre. Live music is ubiquitous downtown, mostly a mixture of country, folk, honky-tonk, blues, and classic rock that all blends together until only a constant euphoric hum echoes through your brain.
Not long after we bring the first buckets of beer out to the back patio, in dashes a long-lost friend, Curtis Apwisch, the lead singer of Hotel War and a Columbus ex-pat who lives in Nashville (for more of Curtis’s places to check out, see page 83). After sharing a beer and catching up for a bit, he stumbles off with his group toward the boot store-cum-bar Robert’s Western World, and we hop in the other direction to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
If Broadway is the stereotypical representation of Nashville condensed into one district, then Tootsie’s is the stereotypical representation of Broadway condensed into one bar. It has three levels, with a band playing on a small stage downstairs while another band plays on a far bigger stage upstairs. There’s a sprawling rooftop patio that overlooks the rest of the Broadway scene, and it’s packed all night long.
The bartenders are quick, the whiskey is whiskey, the music is loud, and the crowd is jubilant. It’s never a bad time.
After cabbing back to the hotel, we commandeer the gazebo in back and continue the festivities until the wee hours.
Day Two begins not nearly long enough after Day One ended. It’s Hour 17, and we’re in Corsair, a fairly new but well-regarded distillery in the North Gulch neighborhood that touts “hand-crafted, small-batch, ultra premium booze for badasses.”
We’re all drinking beers (mostly from local brewer Yazoo) while Corsair ambassador Will Atkinson discusses the operation’s centerpiece – an antique-looking copper still that’s more than 100 years old and has enjoyed both legal and illegal status across North America. He explains the distillation process, the sins of some of the bigger distillers, and the qualities of good, righteous distillers (like Corsair, of course).
“We literally sell less than the angel’s share of Jack Daniel’s,” Atkinson says.
After a stop in the humid, dimly lit barrel room where the whiskey takes on the flavors and colors of charred oak, it’s on to the tasting room where a bartender dispenses mini shots of each of the primary types of Corsair’s whiskeys, including one made from quinoa. With the exception of the Triple Smoked, which is too much like scotch for me, the rest are smooth, delicious, and packed with flavor. The bartender concludes with a set of artisan cocktails, and the group retreats to the courtyard in the rear to drink, bask in the sunshine, and play cornhole.
Across the Gulch neighborhood, the trendy, polished Whiskey Kitchen restaurant is bursting with customers at 7:30, Hour 23. There’s an hour wait for our tables, so everyone grabs drinks, and we occupy a communal countertop on the patio with a low blue flame licking out from the stones in the center.
The food is worth the wait. First, amazing, crispy, spicy Jalapeño Fried Pickles – every other restaurant has been doing this appetizer wrong. Then my dinner – the Low Country Pulled Pork Sandwich, a sweet and savory dish that is everything barbeque and sandwiches should aspire to be. Once everyone is satiated, it’s off to the bars…
The bar is Swinging Doors Saloon, a divey, dancey joint with someone always on stage playing live music, typically covers. Nashville is called Music City for a reason – there seems to be at least one musician playing at every single bar in the downtown area at all times. It may not always be mind-blowing, but it’s always entertaining, so if your goal is to see live music you don’t have to look very hard.
Next is Lonnie’s Western Room, a famous karaoke tavern in Printer’s Alley, another mini-district offshoot of Broadway that once served as the entertainment center for the Nashville publishing industry. It’s too crowded to find a spot anywhere inside, especially for 10 people, so we head back out to the alley, which has the atmosphere of a boardwalk carnival – neon lights and street musicians and people hollering from doorways.
We bounce from bar to bar, then back to the Holiday Inn gazebo, and the hours blend together, dripping off the edges of consciousness like a Dali painting, lost forever…
Awake – Hour 38. It’s the final day, and now our bodies are operating on a different plane entirely – a mixture of sleep deprivation, the last reserves of adrenaline, and the growing realization that we’re running out of time. The bachelor party is scattered. I find one other guy sitting by the gazebo like a lost animal, and we grab the next shuttle to Broadway.
We return to the Swinging Doors, and swarms of bachelor and bachelorette parties have overtaken the city. These pre-wedding, traveling sideshows are everywhere, at least this time of year, stomping between bars and circling the blocks on pedal taverns. Meanwhile, the singer on stage tears through a stellar version of “Ramblin’ Man.” He’s originally from Port Clinton, Ohio. Everyone in Nashville seems to be from Ohio, like an exile city of the highest order.
Next, we hit boot stores so one of the members of the party can buy his wedding gift for the future bride and groom. Broadway has several cathedrals to the urban-country footwear of choice, lined floor to ceiling with boots in every color, size, and style.
We finally find the right pairs in Nashville Cowboy on Second Avenue. The fancy-ass, pink-accented boots for the bride-to-be are a great way of saying, “Hey, sorry we ruined your fiancé’s brain. Enjoy forever.”
Our party bounces to a few more bars – Silver Dollar Saloon and Legends Corner – both of which are essentially empty in the oppressive midday heat yet still feature live music playing for the bored bartenders. Then we catch a shuttle back to the hotel to reconvene with the rest of the group and decompress by the pool for the final night of fun in Music City.
Hour 47 – A late dinner at Taco Mamacita in Edgehill Village not far from Vanderbilt. The place is packed, and again we have to wait for tables, and again it’s worth every minute and then some. It’s a casual but fashionable restaurant that would feel right at home in the Short North (and should open a location there, tomorrow). It serves up a wide array of cheap yet sensational modern Mexican tacos, though to call them tacos feels like cheating – the Korean BBQ, Caribbean Jerk, and Loaded Gyro are hardly traditional. But they are beyond delicious; I wish I could breathe the California Club Taco instead of oxygen.
Then, the bars. First is Flying Saucer, a “draught emporium” not far from the strip but light-years away in its focus on relaxed conversation over swagger and swill. The pub has a robust selection of microbrews and crafts, and we each have a few (the bar LIMITS each customer to six, max) before we head to Buffalo’s on Second Avenue, a large but mostly empty sports bar that boasts foosball, a common, longtime love of our group. We force the bachelor to don an “I WORK OUT” T-shirt that’s at least seven sizes too small, and we bestow a plastic WWE championship belt for his stellar performance thus far. Then we hit the brighter, louder pastures of Tootsie’s, where we have more drinks, meet more Ohioans, and with last call approaching, we head across the street to Rippy’s, which stays open an hour later.
We’re all sidled up around the bar, the last of the trip, listening to the last Nashville band, and it’s Hour 53, time for the last shot – Crown Royal all around – which the bartender over-pours by double. Nothing exceeds like excess.
We’re all back in front of the Holiday Inn, my friend fully shaven now, posing for photos with the lucky lady who agreed to play stylist. She’s a part of the umpteenth bachelorette party of the weekend, and our groups mingle in the starlight. Several hotel staff eventually share their disapproval of the scene, and we retreat back to our gazebo haven to while away the remaining time, but for now, 20-odd bachelor-bachelorette revelers, all high and joyful from the intoxicating energy of Nashville, tell each other stories from a wild celebration still in its waning hours.
Broadway may be the heart of the Nashville scene, but it’s not the whole of it. We planned to visit Yazoo Brewery and Jack White’s Third Man Studios but ran out of time, not to mention all the things we never even considered. Here, former Columbusonian and current Nashvillian Curt Apwisch offers his choices for the city beyond the strip.
Fond Object Records • Record store, obviously. Also: DVDs, VHS tapes, books, magazines, all kinds of clothing, jewelry, furniture, collectibles, and an outdoor performance venue/movie theater. And a rescued animal petting zoo. No joke.
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken • Southerners know their fried bird.
Imogene + Willie • Premium denim made onsite, sold next to vintage accessories, housed in a rehabbed gas station.
Barista Parlor (right) • In the Gulch, breakfast, brunch, and badass coffee brewed by the cup.
Grimey’s • A record store for “new and pre-loved music,” connected to The Basement, an awesome live music venue.
Carter Vintage • A favorite stop for musicians to buy, sell, trade, and appraise guitars, as well as basses, mandolins, banjos, and ukuleles.
Percy Priest Lake • A slice of boating, fishing, and camping heaven just 15 minutes from downtown.
Mas Tacos Por Favor • East Nashville’s place to eat tacos, mas tacos, then drink BYOB liquor with house-made agua fresco.