The world, it seems, came to a grinding halt earlier this year, and so many travel plans and life events were put on hold. In Nashville, arguably one of the South’s most sought-after vacation destinations, the impact has been felt in measurable ways. And while the tourism industry — the city’s biggest money-maker — all but dried up, the city itself has been busy — new businesses, hotels and restaurants moving forward with their plans, the openings of which have recently begun unfolding.
Here are the many new things to explore once we’re on the other side of the pandemic.
WHERE TO STAY
Even during a period when tourist travel is down, construction continues across the city to welcome future visitors. The Nashville International Airport is in the midst of a $1.2 billion renovation and expansion plan, which will add new gates, more than a dozen security check lines, additional parking, expanded terminal wings, new baggage carousels, dining and shopping opportunities, an international arrival facility and a modern new Hilton Hotel on-site by 2025.
Closer to town, though, three major new hotel projects have actually opened since the pandemic began. The first was the sexy new Virgin Hotels Nashville in the heart of Music Row, with its already-popular rooftop pool club and riotous decor playfully built around musical themes. The Joseph, though less playful than the Virgin, is no less dedicated to beautiful decor and a first-class guest experience. Art can be found everywhere at The Joseph, including in the carpets and in the guest rooms, where pieces commissioned from local artists decorate the walls. The new and modern Grand Hyatt looms over the railroad gulch just up the hill from the honky-tonks of Lower Broad and pays homage to the city’s history as a railroad passenger hub with dramatic art installations in the public areas of the hotel that feature elements of railroads past.
WHERE TO EAT
With these new hotels come new restaurants, and all three of these properties have brought major additions to Nashville’s dining scene. The Commons Club at the Virgin is the social hub of the property, with lounge and bar areas and a restaurant showcasing the global cuisine of Chef Ryan Lachaine, who shares his passion for his European heritage as well as time spent cooking Gulf Coast seafood and downhome Southern dishes. The Joseph lured James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano to town from Chicago, where he formerly helmed the kitchen at Spiaggia and earned multiple Michelin stars. At his new upscale Italian restaurant, Yolan, Tony offers up regional specialties while his talented wife, Cathy, manages the top-shelf wine and drinks program.
The Grand Hyatt reached out to a local hero, Chef Sean Brock, to create a new dining concept for its flagship property. Sean, who earned a vaunted reputation when he was younger cooking at The Capitol Grille at The Hermitage hotel before opening Husk in Charleston and Nashville, has gone old school cool with The Continental. Sean wants to return to the days of elegant hotel dining with modernist takes on classic cuisine featuring luxurious menu items such as pâté, caviar, prime rib with horseradish cream and decadent desserts prepared by talented pâtissiers. It’s a blast from the past that truly is a blast to eat.
Sean looked to the other end of the spectrum for his first project to open during the pandemic with Joyland, his salute to his love for the perfect fast food cheeseburgers, biscuits and fried chicken. At this casual East Nashville eatery, Sean and his team offer prototypical versions of the Mississippi gas station staple of fried chicken-on-a-stick, the perfect griddled burger and country ham on buttermilk biscuits. It’s comfort food served exactly when we all need it the most.
Chef Sean isn’t stopping with just two new projects as construction continues on Audrey, an upcoming shrine to the Appalachian cuisine of his youth. His future flagship restaurant is enormous, offering inventive versions of rural mountain food to diners on the main floor plus an intimate chef’s table for special dinners upstairs. The facility also includes a food lab to experiment with new dishes, an art gallery and a podcast studio.
Another renowned chef who is in the middle of opening three new Nashville restaurants is Ford Fry, leader of the team at Rocket Farm Restaurant Group, which operates more than a dozen concepts across the South. Already ensconced in Nashville thanks to his upscale cantina in The Gulch, Superica, Ford recently opened The Optimist‘s second location, sort of an elevated fish camp experience within a dramatic remodeled industrial building in Nashville’s Germantown neighborhood. Delivering seafood dishes of a quality and ingenuity previously unknown in Nashville, The Optimist is large enough to encourage lots of socially distanced patrons to take a culinary trip to the coast. In the same building, Ford also works toward opening two other new concepts: an upscale cocktail lounge named Le Loup and Star Rover Sound, his take on a modern honky-tonk and cantina with live music and the promise of one of the city’s finest margaritas.
Despite the difficult business conditions, Ford remains bullish on Nashville. “The pandemic has affected everyone around the globe, but Nashville is a notoriously headstrong city filled with a lot of life and great energy,” he says. “Our roots may be new(er) to Music City, but we’re now calling Nashville home, so we are committed to safely serving our guests and hopefully creating more opportunities for the community. We are working hard to contribute to the perpetual growth we know this city is capable of.”
Beloved Nashville chef Deb Paquette has also recently opened a third link in her chain of successful restaurants along with Etch and etc. in partnership with 4Top Hospitality Group. Taking over the convenient Midtown space that previously housed another 4Top property, Saltine, Deb has opened Jasper’s, a fun and casual restaurant named after her Jack Russell terrier. When she announced the new concept, Deb explained how she was inspired by her pup’s personality: “Jasper’s food and atmosphere will convey a similar attitude — fun and playful,” says Deb. “In that spirit, we want Jasper’s to be a lively neighborhood spot to catch the game and enjoy some great food and drinks.”
While the menu at Jasper’s is filled with classic comfort food like chicken wings and fried chicken sandwiches, you can expect that Deb turns up the flavors with her global palette of spices and cooking techniques. Jasper’s also offers a convenient grab-and-go market for carrying out prepared foods and desserts from the pastry team.
One thing that Nashville has been slightly behind on has been a great food hall experience where patrons can choose from multiple concepts in a shared dining space. The city is about to catch up big time, though, when Assembly Food Hall opens up as a linchpin of the massive Fifth + Broadway complex rising from the ground across the street from Bridgestone Arena. The multi-story 100,000-plus-square-foot dining facility will host new outposts of some of Nashville’s favorite restaurants, including Desano Pizzeria, Hattie Jane’s Creamery, Prince’s Hot Chicken, Steam Boys, Thai Esane, Von Elrod’s Beer Hall & Kitchen, The Donut + Dog and The Pharmacy Burger. Assembly Food Hall will also feature concepts new to Nashville, such as Hōru Sushi Kitchen.
Other restaurant tenants of the Fifth + Broadway complex will occupy larger spaces outside of the two dozen stalls in Assembly Food Hall. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Shake Shack and Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria have contracted for standalone restaurant space inside the sprawling building.
WHAT TO DO
In addition to ample dining opportunities, Fifth + Broadway will also offer plenty of “shopportunities” via its retail outlets. But perhaps the most anticipated and most important tenant in the complex will be the new National Museum of African American Music.
Since 2002, Nashville planners have organized efforts to bring this museum to Music City to recognize the contributions of Black musicians and to honor and celebrate the influence they have imparted upon many musical genres. Once the city offered up space in the former Nashville Convention Center in 2015, the project steamed ahead as part of Fifth + Broadway. When it opens, the museum aims to be a world-class destination for music lovers to discover the roots of their favorite art form. Nashville was chosen as a logical location for the NMAAM because of the city’s heritage of notable African American performers stretching back to the Fisk Jubilee Singers and of supporting acts like Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard and Ray Charles early in their careers.
In addition to music, Nashville is also becoming well-known for its sporting events, which continue to attract visitors, with the Titans and Predators shining a spotlight on the city through their successes on the gridiron and ice. Also, construction continues on a new soccer stadium for Nashville SC, the local Major League Soccer team, which just completed a very successful first regular season in the highest level of professional soccer in the U.S. The team hopes to welcome up to 30,000 cheering fans to its new facility in time for the 2022 season.
The Music City Bowl football game returns to the sporting calendar with a new naming sponsor in the form of Transperfect; the game is slated to be played at Nissan Stadium on December 30. And finally, a new event has recently been announced, which should excite racing fans: the Music City Grand Prix will bring the IndyCar circuit to Nashville to race in the streets surrounding Nissan Stadium and across the Cumberland River and back via the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge. Ticket packages will soon be on sale for the long weekend of racing slated for August 6-8, 2021.
Get excited about all of these new things to experience and explore in Nashville … when the time is right!
This article is sponsored by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.