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What Nashville lacks in size -- a mere 600,000 people call the city home -- it more than makes up for in the sheer number of music and nightlife venues, easily earning it the nickname "Music City." Nashville has long been the pinnacle of the country music business, and much of its after-dark activity revolves around live performances in honky-tonk bars along a stretch of Broadway known as "The District."
Still, there's more than just country music to be found: live bluegrass, hillbilly, jazz and more can be uncovered in unassuming clubs and bars. For updated, comprehensive listings of performances around town, check out Nashville Scene. Here, we've selected a sampling of Nashville's must-visit nightlife hot spots.
Robert's Western World stands out as a gem among the many neon-clad honky-tonks lining Broadway in the heart of The District. Granted, a neon guitar sign hangs out front and it's easy to mistake the joint as another run-of-the-mill bar along Broadway. But once inside the typically crowded venue, the place flat out oozes authentic hand clappin', boot stompin' country and hillbilly music. Roberts stays open til 3 a.m. nightly, and live music and passionate crowds are a constant. The best part? There's never a cover charge to watch some of country music's hottest up-and-comers.
The mother of all country music shows is, without argument, the Grand Ole Opry. Originally a live radio show broadcast out of Nashville in the late 1920s, the Grand Ole Opry attracted crowds seeking to watch country music's most popular performers as well as new talent breaking onto the scene. Eventually the show moved from the radio station to the hallowed Ryman Auditorium; today it can be seen at the Grand Ole Opry House in East Nashville (though shows are occasionally still held at the Ryman). Performances typically run 2 hours long, and are held on Tuesdays (March through December), Wednesdays (July through August), Fridays and Saturdays (weekly). Combo tickets that include a tour of the Opry House are also available.
Perhaps Nashville's most celebrated honky-tonk, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge has played host to country music legends like Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson -- well before they were icons. Located on Broadway, just behind the Ryman Auditorium, Tootsie's 2 stages have showcased local musicians nightly for more than 50 years. While in the midst of enjoying the performances and downing a cold drink, take a moment to revel in Tootsie's "Wall of Fame." Its covered with an epic array of country music memorabilia like signed photos of stars and classic show posters.
The Station Inn could easily be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill dive bar tucked in the midst of South Nashville's trendy new lounges. But upon entering the space, you'll find yourself in the midst of Nashville's most iconic bluegrass venue. For more than 30 years, Station Inn has offered nightly performances from bluegrass stars and up-and-comers, including Bill Monroe and The Grascals. Reservations are not accepted, no advance tickets are sold, and entry to the Inn is on a first-come, first-served basis. So plan to arrive early for all shows. Check the website for schedules and ticket prices.
Nashville earns its Music City moniker thanks its role as the hub of country music, but there's more to hear in this town than the twang of guitars. At the 4 stages that compose the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in downtown Nashville, you'll be able to experience all manner of performances, including Broadway musicals, operas, ballets and dramatic plays. Visitors to TPAC will feel good knowing their support makes a difference to the larger Nashville community, as the center also manages one of the largest arts-in-education programs in the nation.
Tired of watching live music performances? Yes, it can happen even here in Music City. Rumours East wine bar in trendy East Nashville offers respite from the noise. Tucked into a charming Victorian house complete with a plant-draped patio, Rumours features more than 50 wines by the glass, a knowledgeable staff willing to school newbies in the ways of the vine and rotating art exhibits from local artists. In addition to the extensive wine list, Rumours also offers a menu of tasty plates including a selection of tapas and artisanal cheeses. Plan to visit on "Wine Wednesdays" when an ever-changing selection of wines are offered at discounted prices.
About the Author
Valerie Conners is a New York-based freelance writer who has worked in various roles at the Travel Channel for more than 10 years. She has written for digital and print publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Frommer's Travel Guides and Discovery.com. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets.