It took 12 South more than a few years to establish its identity as Nashville’s go-to trendy neighborhood, an identity that has been shaped and reshaped by the storefronts and eateries that stretch from one end of the eight-block neighborhood to the next. As Nashville natives know, prior to the early 2000s, 12 South wasn’t a destination you’d frequent for trendy tacos, custom jeans and fresh-made ice cream. Today, it is just that: a neighborhood where Nashville newbies are introduced to the city outside of Broadway. Come Saturday each week, the streets are packed with tourists amazed that Dolly Parton’s rehearsal studio is sandwiched between a taco spot and a chicken joint; impressed by the cool-kid vibe imogene + willie offers; seduced by the smell of barbecue; and enticed by the offerings of a gas station-turned-gift shop owned by none other than the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. And we can’t blame them. As locals, we are amazed, impressed, seduced and enticed all the same. The only difference? We avoid 12 South on Saturdays.
While longtime Nashvillians will remember places like Becker’s Bakery, Katy K’s and Granny’s Flower Shop, these businesses — early definers of 12 South’s identity — have been replaced with upwards of 4o new businesses that sell everything from Lebanese cuisine to locally made jewelry. The oldest names on the block are Serendipity and Las Paletas, which serve up gifts and apparel and frozen treats, respectively. This year alone, those two businesses have been joined by Firepot Tea Bar, Christie Cookie Co., Mill Creek Taproom, White Bison, Crue and Outdoor Voices (that’s six new businesses, if you are counting).
The biggest boom for the neighborhood happened between 2001 and 2015, when nearly 20 businesses opened — including crowd favorites like Edley’s Bar-B-Que, Urban Grub, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Josephine, Taqueria del Sol, Emerson Grace, White’s Mercantile, Epice, The Flipside, Judith Bright, bartaco, Embers Ski Lodge and Draper James.
Once thought of as an “emerging neighborhood,” we think it’s safe to say that 12 South has officially emerged.
Let’s look back on these openings and explore 12 South as you’ll find it today.
12 South became a shopping destination in earnest with the opening of imogene + willie, a neighborhood pioneer serving up custom denim designs in a former gas station. But the shopping does not end there. As mentioned, Serendipity is another neighborhood pioneer, one which is celebrating nearly 20 years in business. Over the years, a handful of shops have joined the street.
Emerson Grace and Hero opened on the same block and within a year of each other. Both women’s boutiques, which feature everything from beautiful cashmere sweaters to playful accessories, are quite different yet equally fashionable. Across the street, Judith Bright brings handmade jewelry to the neighborhood, and since the store’s 2014 opening, the brand has garnered a cult following that stretches across the South. MODA Boutique is another women’s shop with fashionable wares and gifts — plus a purple exterior you cannot miss. Savant Vintage stands alone as the neighborhood’s only vintage shop. The small structure is almost overflowing with wearable vintage, some of which comes at a pretty high price point.
Ceri Hoover introduced locally made luxury leather goods – including handcrafted bags and shoes — to the neighborhood in 2016, with her tasteful design shop that thoughtfully displays the simple yet stunning designs. Also in 2016, we met the crowd favorite Nashville-based boutique, Vinnie Louise, which moved into their new home neighboring Hero last summer. Prior to that, Reese Witherspoon wowed us all with the opening of Draper James, a store and clothing line showcasing the celebrity’s affection for Southern fashions. And Crue and Outdoor Voices joined the neighborhood’s fashion community just last year.
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In addition to fashionable finds in the form of clothing and accessories, 12 South offers a craft shop, bike shop, outdoor furniture store and shop for your dog. Halcyon Bike Shop owner Andrew Parker set up shop in the neighborhood in 2008, and Halcyon became the “headquarters for Nashville’s two-wheeled revolution” (as the Nashville Scene named them in 2008). Craft South is a hidden gem among locals and offers a wide range of classes, including sewing, embroidery and knitting, and sells quality yarn, fabrics and threads.
Albeit not hidden, White’s Mercantile is another neighborhood gem. One of the city’s hottest hubs for gifts, White’s Mercantile opened under the direction of Holly Williams in 2013 with stylish home goods and gifts. On any given day, White’s Mercantile is filled with locals and visitors alike, all looking for the perfect gift to take home. Shelves are stocked with Southern brands that make everything from candles to edible goods.
After you’ve had your fill of shopping, grab a bite at any of the many restaurants in the neighborhood. Starting on the north side of the neighborhood, you’ll stumble upon Franklin Juice Co.‘s fresh juice and açaí bowls, and Taqueria del Sol, where we guarantee you’ll find creamy queso that pairs perfectly with tangy margaritas. There is likely to be a line of folks on the other side of the street waiting patiently to get their sweet fix at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which is neighbors with Josephine, a restaurant that opened with a bang in 2013 and has been impressing diners with contemporary eats ever since. 12 South Taproom has been a staple since 2006, and thanks to the newly covered patio, it is more popular than ever. MAFIAoZA’s is a go-to on Sunday and Monday nights when slices and beers are served two for the price of one. Next door, Embers Ski Lodge is happy to remind you that après doesn’t only happen in ski towns; and across the street, The Flipside is proving that chicken never goes out of style — and tater tots are better loaded.
Set just off the main drag, Five Daughters Bakery is a must for anyone who visits Music City. The donut destination rose quickly in popularity, and they now serve donuts at three locations across the city, including 12 South, with another coming to the soon-to-open L&L Marketplace on Charlotte Avenue.
As you continue down the street, you’ll stumble upon Urban Grub, one of the neighborhood’s more sophisticated spots, and Frothy Monkey, a breakfast, lunch and dinner cafe that has been in the neighborhood since 2004. Next up, bartaco brought fresh flavors to the neighborhood and has been serving small tacos that pack big flavor since 2015. Bartaco is also home to one of the best patios in the neighborhood, making it wildly popular during the temperate months. Portland Brew is another option for coffee drinkers, and this spot is typically less crowded than Frothy Monkey, making it a good place to set up shop and work the day away. Finish up your 12 South adventure with something sweet from Christie Cookie Co.‘s new bright red storefront beside Draper James (a spot you might remember as the former home to Sprinkles Cupcakes).
On the corner of 12 South and Halcyon, another winning patio is the place to enjoy barbecue and a Bushwacker. Edley’s Bar-B-Que is a Nashville darling that smokes their meats fresh daily — and the flavor is unmatched. Edley’s neighbors The Filling Station, an almost-hidden spot for beer lovers. Spend an afternoon sipping draft brews and playing board games, or fill up a growler to take home.
At the south end of the neighborhood, Burger Up, Mill Creek Taproom, Firepot Tea Bar, Epice and Las Paletas round out the neighborhood’s culinary offerings. A favorite in the bunch, Epice is neighborhood bistro eager to share the experience of authentic Lebanese fare amidst a contemporary setting. The aesthetics are stunning — a balance of modern and rustic furnishings that mimic the understated elegance of the food. Fresh garden vegetables, soft lettuces, delicious spreads and house-made cheeses comprise the list of starters, while cured meats, fresh fish and lentil specialties are some of the more substantial menu components. With a reputation for exceptional service and innovative cuisine, Epice remains a destination for Nashville’s epicureans.
Related: A Favorite New Spot: Firepot Tea Bar
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Salons and pilates studios are not to be overlooked in the neighborhood. The handful of health and beauty options draw locals for more than shopping and dining. Element Salon, Green Pea Salon and TRIM Classic Barber & Legendary Beauty each have established locations in the popular neighborhood and offer casual, chic and friendly spaces for boutique hair styling services. The same level of service is offered at Liberation Yoga, Marathon Fitness and Marathon Pilates, where expert trainers will quickly whip you into shape.
At each corner, a photo opportunity awaits. Between the many murals, adorable storefronts and regular sightings of Amelia’s Flower Truck, 12 South is a picture-perfect destination. The neighborhood continues to grow, as the character and businesses bleed over onto Belmont and 10th avenues. This is a destination ripe for exploration, whether you are visiting as a local shopper or host to visiting friends. As a local, you are likely to run into fewer crowds during the week, but we have been known to brave the street when weekends with good weather come along. Regardless, you will always find us in 12 South on Tuesdays in the summer for the 12 South Farmers Market.
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