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  WINDY CITY TIMES

TRAVEL Taking in Tennessee
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2018-01-23

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Nashville is the capital of Tennessee that is quickly growing too big for its britches. Windy City Times took a road trip down South to narrow down some of the new travel offerings and provide a guide on where to begin planning a visit.

Flights are not expensive from Chicago to Tennessee usually, but you will need a car upon arrival for most excursions, so a rental car is suggested. Public transportation is complicated and not reliable, although there are some fun options for tourists as the Old Trolley Tours of Nashville offers daily packages.

Construction is everywhere, traffic is a growing problem and parking can be tricky. There are no app or credit-card options for parking meters at this time, so save those coins.

Start your trip by finding a place to stay, take in a show and search for sustenance.

First, you will need a place to hang your hat. Sobro Guest House is a fairly new domicile with some charming features such as an adorable monkey theme and a throwback record player to spin old school records on. With amenities including parking, laundry and a kitchen, this modernly decorated spot has a self-check-in that allows privacy and convenience.

For more of a high-end option, head over to the Westin, which has a relaxing pool, vibrant decor and breathtaking views. The staff is excellent and will take care of every traveler's need. Valet parking is offered, or people can stay in nearby garages for a fee. Both hotels are in walking distance of most of the dining and entertainment listed in this article.

Kick up your heels at Play Dance Bar on Church Street. This venue has a large dance floor and a top-notch drag show in the adjoining room. Expect a younger age group at Play with a more mature crowd frequenting next door at Tribe. Tribe is Nashville's answer to Sidetrack with music videos, crafty cocktails, and lots of socializing to be had. Also in the same complex is Suzy Wongs House of Yum, which has drag brunches. The Chinese-inspired cuisine is delicious such as the Hong Kong Millionaire made with BBQ pork and scrambled eggs.

There's a new gay bar in town with a catchy name: Peckers Bar & Grill. While a little off the beaten path, there is a plenty of free parking in the lot, chicken wings and karaoke tunes to belt out in this standalone venue with a friendly vibe.

Take in some culture by visiting the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, or TPAC. The ballet, opera and musicals are presented onstage throughout the year. A holiday drag show of RuPaul's Drag Racers was in town the night I was there.

For country singing, the first stop should be the Grand Ole Opry, where one can sign up for a backstage tour to learn about the rich history of the place. The iconic Ryman Auditorium celebrated its 125th birthday in 2017 housing over 2,000 seats in church pews for regular concert goers. Little Big Town is the first stablished artist in residence in 2017, and the band performs 10 shows a year regularly.

The Country Music Hall of Fame has housed some of the world's greatest country artifacts after opening more than 50 years ago. There are approximately 500,000 photographs inside and a brand spankin' new exhibit of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's history together as musicians in love.

Several of the classic country acts have left their own individual mark. The Patsy Cline Museum just opened its doors on April 2017. While smaller than the Johny Cash Museum downstairs in the same building, Cline has enough memorabilia to keep her legacy alive for years to come. The nearby George Jones event space not only has a museum but a rooftop bar, and a gift shop. Live singing is performed daily for diners who can snack on fried green tomatoes while listening to the tunes.

The Mansion at Fontanel was "country when country wasn't cool" as the original home of Barbara Mandrell before she hit the road. Now fans can stay at the nearby inn, hike in the spacious woods and explore the swanky house itself up close and personal.

Everyone wants to be the next Taylor Swift and her mark is stamped everywhere in the Music City. Head to The Bluebird Cafe where she was discovered or take in the star tour to see her new digs. The surrounding bars host open mics looking for the next country superstar so expect lots of street traffic and people watching. There are over 160 venues around there so download the free VisitMusicCity.com/NashvilleMusicApp to navigate the scene.

There is plenty do around Nashville if someone is not a country-music fan.

Old and new shopping is offered with the monthly Flea Market at The Fairgrounds Nashville or drive over to the mall at Opry Mills. Inside Mills, the Madame Tussauds Nashville ( the 22nd location for the chain ) focuses on country music, setting it apart from the rest. Trisha Yearwood even showed up on opening night to pose with her doppelganger.

The Parthenon is smack dab right in the middle of Centennial Park with a re-creation of Athena Parthenos as a massive statue inside. For more artworks the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is the place to be with two floors, one with World World I and the other with Chicago's Nick Cave: Feat. currently running.

Get some fresh air at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, where there's a chance to pet kangaroos while they graze or see meerkats up close.

All these excursions will build up an appetite. The food scene in Nashville can be a little daunting with so hefty helpings. Arnold's Country Kitchen is a perfect example of this with delicious items on a smorgasbord. The home cooking has enticed the likes of superstar Dolly Parton who orders from them frequently. One time she shut down the joint and sang "Jolene" to a diner with that namesake. The sweet tea is not the only sweet thing down there!

For savory barbecue try the popular Martin's BBQ Joint on 4th Avenue. Don't be intimidated by the long lines, skip it by sitting at the bar. A big daddy sampler will feed over four people with ribs, pork, chicken, and brisket so bring a bib and an empty stomach.

There is hot chicken flying everywhere down South. One new hot spot is Party Fowl on 8th Avenue, in The Gulch area. Begin with the Jack Daniels lacquered lollipops before diving into a half bird of hot chicken. Be warned that the mild sauce can possibly burn your beak off!

Speaking of tasty feathered friends, The Mockingbird Nashville has owners Mikey Corona and Brian Riggenbauch cooking up something original. They moved from Chicago to the Music City in 2016 with some trepidations of how neighbors would treat them for being openly gay. The way to someone's heart is definitely through food and this duo know how to win over the minions. The Bird Is the Word dish was unforgettable with tasty fried chicken, white chorizo gravy, and salsa verde mashed potato. To wash it down, the Tequila Mockingbird combined mezcal with egg whites for a unique taste that will definitely satisfy.

Caviar & Bananas is a bit fancy, as the name suggests, but simply presents quality food and plenty of gourmet products to purchase in their market.

For lunch, try 51 North Taproom and its long line of draft beers from around the world. Pair them with the smothered hamburger steak and call it a meal!

One of the busiest restaurants I have been to is Puckett's Grocery Store. This bustling eatery has the Southern culinary tradition of meat and three dinners so pick from a plethora of side items to pair with your mammal.

Rooftop dining has grown popular in recent years so try Tootsies Orchid Lounge or L27 for a great view while sipping on libations.

There are even more restaurants on the way. Chicagoans might be familiar with the Asian offerings of Sunda, opening soon in The Gulch area of town.

Citizens are flocking to move to this neck of the woods in droves these days. With Nashville growing by leaps and bounds, the Volunteer State is constantly changing everyday. If you haven't visited Music City recently, then grab your banjo and go today!


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