There was a time when national publications didn’t recognize Germantown as Nashville’s hottest neighborhood and when America’s Best New Restaurant (named by Bon Appétit) didn’t sit cheek to cheek with local establishments helmed by James Beard Award-winning chefs. The once off-the-beaten-path neighborhood is as charming as can be and is now one of the most well-traversed destinations in the Music City.
Growth has given way to some Nashville’s most beloved food spots, making Germantown a culinary destination. Out-of-towners and locals savor oysters and a cool vibe at Henrietta Red, homemade pasta on the patio at Rolf & Daughters, egg-topped pizza at City House, Southern-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners at Monell’s, an unpretentious burger at Jack Brown’s, platters of brisket at Butchertown Hall, or a cup of coffee with a side of good vibes at Steadfast Coffee or Barista Parlor. And while its food culture is alive and well, the neighborhood also beckons visitors with brick sidewalks, historic homes dating back to the 19th century, a vast history worth diving into and a community of neighbors who care deeply about the place they call home.
Germantown was established by European immigrants as early as the 1850s to become the city’s first suburb (thanks to its proximity to downtown). Still, the area’s transformation into the bustling place we know today didn’t happen until much later. The 18-block span was always billed as a mixed-use neighborhood, something the district did — and continues to do — well, but much like other areas in the city, Germantown saw a decline in growth after its initial burst, later experiencing revitalization in the 1970s and was named a Registered Historic District in 1979. From there, the growth never seemed to stop.
As far as restaurants go, the now-shuttered Mad Platter was the first wave-making eatery to join the neighborhood in 1989, setting the stage for the vibrant food scene of today. Just shy of three decades in business, the restaurant closed its doors in 2016, much to the dismay of local diners. Thankfully, Mother’s Ruin, a New York City transplant that is part bar, part restaurant with the potential to be the neighborhood’s newest hotspot, opened in the space in early 2020.
Germantown Café joined the neighborhood in 2003, and Tandy Wilson’s City House followed suit four years later. Christie Cookie Co. invested in Germantown two decades ago by locating its corporate headquarters there and treating the neighborhood to the smell of freshly baked cookies. In 2012, Southern-inspired Silo and beloved Rolf & Daughters arrived as additional reasons to visit Germantown. That’s only a fraction of the neighborhood’s eateries, lest you thought the roundup of restaurants ended there. We quickly lost count of additional options appearing during an influx of newcomers, all eager to stand beside the neighborhood’s early adopters.
In sitting down with Historic Germantown Neighborhood Association President Richard Audet, he paints a picture of the neighborhood when he first arrived as a resident 12 years ago. “The most striking difference is in the number of people you see in the neighborhood. Before, you’d rarely see someone when you looked out the window,” he explains. “Now, there is a steady procession of people walking through the streets thanks to the influx of small businesses.”
Richard highlights the fact that Germantown has always been a tight-knit community with historic charm, crediting its community members with preserving its story during times of growth. Look to the Elliott School for a success story of neighborhood activists, who purchased the building after years of neglect from a development firm in 1989 with the goal of preserving it. Today, The Mainland Companies owns the building and is “committed to augmenting the school’s important role in the neighborhood’s ongoing transformation” by converting the former educational facility into a residential property. The three-story building built in 1916 celebrates 20th-century design and craftsmanship that remains on full display even as the structure is reimagined into 45 custom residences. Elliott Germantown will join the long list of more than a dozen other residential buildings in the neighborhood, including Werthan Lofts and Flats at Taylor Place.
Other neighborhood projects on the horizon include a large apartment complex along the Cumberland River and the Neuhoff Project, plus the development happening between Werthan Lofts and Flats at Taylor Place. Meanwhile, the neighborhood association plans to focus their attention on infrastructure: improved lighting, more brick sidewalks and additional historical markers.
Fully experiencing the neighborhood requires walking with your eyes wide open. In doing so, you’ll notice the many restaurants and stores, including Wilder, where you can find art-like décor; Pieces, where you can find fashionable items at approachable prices; Mayker Creative, which has stylish wares for the home; Abednego for gifts and clothing; or Little’s Fish Market for (you guessed it) fresh fish. Health and beauty fans will be delighted to discover Elan Hair, Steadfast and True Yoga and Poppy & Monroe. But beyond the storefronts and small businesses, Germantown’s history is just as appealing.
For example, did you know that by 1865 Germantown was home to four breweries? A historical marker recognizes its original inhabitants for their skills in brewing. Maybe you will come to learn that the Church of the Assumption was fashioned in 1895 using bricks from Nashville’s first Catholic church, and the land it occupies was deeded to the diocese by Dr. McGavock for only $5. Most people also don’t know that the church held the neighborhood’s first Oktoberfest, which celebrates 40 years this fall. If you hang your hat at Germantown Inn, you’ll find it interesting that the building dates back to 1865, and its original owner was a shoemaker by the name of H.H. Wallmann. Inside the boutique hotel, each room is inspired by a notable U.S. president or history-making woman. “The physical structure of Germantown is changing, but it is the story of the neighborhood that we need to preserve,” Richard reiterates.
Outside of the neighborhood’s small footprint, more restaurants, parks and cultural destinations contribute to Germantown’s appeal. The Nashville Farmers Market is a year-round market with an indoor food hall worth exploring. Bicentennial Mall provides space to stretch your legs and take in the views of the capitol. First Tennessee Park is home to the Nashville Sounds and hosts a variety of fun events in the off-season. And if you’re eager to experience the frenzy of downtown Nashville, you are only a few minutes away from Broadway.
Stroll the streets of Germantown to discover all of this and more!
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