The Gulch is the poster child for urban revitalization, its desirability drastically increasing over the past decade or so. Once an area defined by its rail activity, the commuter rail service that was the heart of this urban hotspot was discontinued in 1956. And once all passenger rail activity ended in 1979, The Gulch fell victim to neglect. However, back in 1999, a group of visionary private investors and developers agreed that this land was filled with immense opportunity, and they purchased 25 acres in The Gulch and created a master plan to breathe new life into this central hub. Fast-forward nearly 20 years, and The Gulch is largely unrecognizable to those who remember it way back when. Yes, today, this bustling area of town offers all of the attractive characteristics and modern conveniences of city living.
The formation of The Gulch Business Improvement District, authorized in 2006, was the beginning of an era of improvement. Namely the initiatives of the area residents, business and property owners, with the support from the Nashville Downtown Partnership, are to thank for the growth of the neighborhood. “The Gulch has significantly changed over the last 15 years from a mostly industrial area to one of Nashville’s most vibrant urban neighborhoods. This change occurred due to thoughtful and planned development efforts,” Tom Turner, President & CEO of the Nashville Downtown Partnership, explains.
According to Visit Music City, “From the turn of the century until the 1950s, more than 100 trains arrived and departed from The Gulch daily.” Today, it feels as if there are as many tourists as there were trains. On the weekends, tourists are starting their days with breakfast at Biscuit Love or brunch at Adele’s while locals finish their morning workouts at Shed and Barry’s. The opening of the Thompson Hotel in October of 2016 is largely to thank for the increase of visitors to the area. With 224 rooms, a rooftop bar, seafood restaurant and coffee bar that serves breakfast and lunch, the hotel is almost as popular for locals as it is guests. The Thompson was the second hotel in the area to open, with the five-room The 404 Hotel & Kitchen being the first back in 2013. Last month, the Tennessean reported that “a $20 million construction loan toward a five-story, 160-room dual-branded hotel project” was secured by a local hotelier. So as is true with almost every other pocket of Nashville, the growth is just beginning.
As you could have guessed, it is the eateries that drive the majority of traffic to The Gulch. Sarah Gavigan has made The Gulch home to two of her restaurants, Little Octopus and Otaku Ramen. “It is central, and still accessible for locals and visitors alike — combined with being a walkable neighborhood,” Sarah says of why she opened shop in the neighborhood. “This is just the beginning of more dense retail and experience-oriented developments in town. We are thrilled to be a part of this one.” Little Octopus is a small-plate concept with a menu that shows influences from the Caribbean and Latin America. Otaku Ramen serves traditional ramen with ingredients sourced from Middle Tennessee. You can find steak at Kayne Prime, Italian at Moto, elevated pub and Southern favorites at Whiskey Kitchen, Mexican dishes at Saint Anejo, sushi at Virago, upscale dishes at Prima and dinner with a side of live music at Sambuca. More casual options include local coffee shop Barista Parlor Golden Sound, recently opened Rush Bowls and Milk & Honey, the oven-fired pizza place Night Train Pizza, juice. Nashville, much-loved Peg Leg Porker and Yazoo (which is looking to relocate as the property is now for sale).
Fin & Pearl serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner — all with seafood options aplenty. “Fin & Pearl offers high-quality dining in an approachable atmosphere,” says restaurateur Tom Morales. “Nashville has needed a seafood restaurant for a long time, and we’re happy to fill that void in The Gulch. The Gulch is the only LEED-certified community in the South, which made it a perfect fit for Fin & Pearl’s mission of sustainability. It’s a great neighborhood — walkable and easily accessible. There are a lot of fantastic businesses in The Gulch and so much potential for more.” As development continues north of Demonbreun, Tom is excited to see The Gulch footprint expand. “I expect to see The Gulch become much more of a destination for folks, where they come to eat, drink, shop and spend time,” he says.
Tom’s comment on the expansion of the area begs the question: What are the boundaries that define the neighborhood? The boundaries of The Gulch Business Improvement District are Broadway, 13th Avenue South, 8th Avenue South and the railroad tracks. Some refer to the area across Broadway, best known for the location of Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Tànsuŏ, The Mockingbird and 12th and Porter, as The North Gulch. Others refuse to acknowledge this naming. For all intents and purposes, let’s go with the boundaries defined by The Gulch Business Improvement District, which put Jackalope Brewing Company and Arnold’s Country Kitchen on the map but leaves “The North Gulch” off.
The 20th century industrial district is now defined by urban design. Residents live in newly constructed buildings, such as the ICON (2008), Terrazzo (2009), Velocity (2009) and Twelve | Twelve (2015), each of which offers the best chance to experience city life in Nashville. “What sets the area apart from others is the vast array of modern architecture and the urban experience. Plus, the atmosphere is lively and fun. The Gulch is a great place to live, work and play,” says Tom Turner.
“The ability to walk, lots of parking — both covered and outside — there are several condominium complexes so there is an actual community. The Gulch is expanding to include so many amazing new small businesses from our store down to 8th Avenue,” Molly Bedell, owner of Two Old Hippies, tells us. “The Gulch will only become better as new business, restaurants and retail open. We are hoping there will be a nice open space for everyone to enjoy the outdoors in the middle of the development. The growth in condominiums is the largest change I have witnessed, along with taller buildings. If you have ever visited the Soho or West Village districts in New York City, I envision The Gulch trending in that direction, minus the huge chain stores.”
Retail in The Gulch is slower to grow, as is common in
Food Music City. Two Old Hippies opened their doors in 2011 in an old brick building on the corner of Pine Street and 12th Avenue South. Additional retailers have joined them over the years, including Urban Outfitters, e. Allen Boutique, Lucchese and, most recently, Apothecary. Merging retail and food, The Turnip Truck Urban Fare opened their doors in 2010. The locally owned natural foods grocer not only serves fresh, local produce but offers a full selection of pre-packaged items, a juice and smoothie bar, salad bar and hot food to-go.
While the expansion of The Gulch has been about bringing in the new, there are a few tried-and-true spots that have stuck around. For many years, folks weren’t heading to The Gulch for much more than a trip to Station Inn. Not only did it attract locals looking for authentic bluegrass, it brought in the likes of Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill. With only about 200 seats, Station Inn is intimate but not tiny. The concerts are affordable, with many ringing in around the $20 mark. Tickets are all first come, first served, as is seating. The night not to miss is Sunday, when each week, Station Inn hosts a free Bluegrass Jam.
On the other side of the railroad tracks (okay, not technically The Gulch), you will find Union Station Hotel and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Union Station reopened in 1986 as a hotel. The 19th century railroad station is a Nashville landmark. The Frist, formerly a post office that opened in 1934, is a spectacular museum that opened back in 2001.
The best way to experience The Gulch is by simply strolling the streets. During your walks, you will stumble upon murals perfect for photo ops. The most popular spot to pose is in front of Kelsey Montague’s #WhatLiftsYou wings mural. Two other favorites are murals by Jason Woodside and Ian Ross, commissioned by the Nashville Walls Project.
The Gulch-SoBro Pedestrian Bridge will increase the area’s walkability by better connecting the neighborhood to Nashville’s downtown. The bridge is designed to be 600-700 feet long and will cross over the railroad tracks to lead to SoBro. As of March 2017, the project was in the preliminary design phase. We can hope to see this completed by 2019.
To see a complete listing of the many additional retail outlets, dining establishments, venues, clubs and more, visit explorethegulch.com. And then get out and explore The Gulch!
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