My American Road Trip, Part 2: Nashville Bound

Posted on: June 12th, 2012 by Lauren Walser 4 Comments

First things first: a huge thank you to everyone who suggested places I should visit on my journey West. I’m starting to think I need to plan another road trip once I’m settled back in Southern California -- especially since the first lesson I learned on the road is that one evening, or even one day, in a new place is never enough.

Once Blaise and I waved goodbye to Washington, DC, we set sail (figuratively) toward our first destination: Nashville. After four hours on the road, we stopped in Roanoke, Virginia, hoping for lunch at the Historic Roanoke City Market -- the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the state. When we arrived, the market was quiet -- which we learned was because a big storm was rolling in and most of the farmers opted to stay home and guard their crops. Disappointing, but we were able to satiate our hunger with some sandwiches before heading toward Knoxville, Tennessee, where we planned to stop for dinner.

Inside Roanoke, Virginia's historic City Market.

We parked the car downtown, then walked past the bright theater marquees along historic Gay Street and enjoyed a street festival in Market Square. We grabbed burgers and craft-brewed beers -- made on location -- at the historic Downtown Grill & Brewery. While waiting for our table, I studied the old photographs of downtown Knoxville lining the walls and read some of the old framed newspaper articles, which is how I learned about the dreadful curse of the white mule.

The interior of Knoxville's Downtown Grill & Brewery.

I wish we had more time to explore Knoxville, but our eyes were getting heavy, and we had our sights set on Nashville. Once we made it to Music City, we checked into Union Station Hotel -- which is part of the National Trust's Historic Hotels of America program. I can’t imagine a better place to stay in Nashville. The old train station-turned-hotel is a soaring Gothic structure completed in 1900, with an incredible sunlit lobby, spacious rooms, and gorgeous architectural details.

Union Station Hotel, formerly Nashville's primary passenger train depot.

The next day, we explored the city. The sunny weather was perfect for walking around neighborhoods like Hillsboro Village -- home of the restored 1925 Belcourt Theatre, and 12th South -- an up-and-coming neighborhood filled with old Craftsman bungalows that have been turned into funky boutiques and mom-and-pop businesses. I recommend coffee at The Frothy Monkey Coffeehouse, where the caffeinated beverages are delicious and the renovated house makes you feel like you’re right at home.

A sunny day in Nashville's Hillsboro Village neighborhood.

Centennial Park is also a site not to be missed. At 132 acres, it provides plenty of green space for the people of Nashville (and its visitors) to enjoy. Blaise and I wandered the sunken garden, the walking trails, and the Parthenon -- one of the only remaining structures from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition.

The Parthenon in Nashville's Centennial Park.

As the sun began to set, we headed back to Union Station to regroup, then walked a couple blocks through downtown to another Historic Hotel of America, the stunning Hermitage Hotel. We grabbed drinks at the 102-year-old Oak Bar, a former gentleman’s club that feels like it hasn’t changed a bit since the days when men puffed their cigars in the dark, oak-paneled bar, and women were left to order drinks from a small service window near the entrance.

Just around the corner from Oak Bar on the hotel’s lower level is Capitol Grille, a large but intimate restaurant that specializes in sustainable practices and Southern-inspired cuisine. Many of the meats and vegetables on the menu come from the nearby Glen Leven Farm, on land donated by the Land Trust for Tennessee.

The famous Art Deco men's restroom in the Hermitage Hotel.

Fun fact: the men’s restroom outside the two eateries received the “America’s Best Restroom Award” in 2008. Blaise guarded the door while I went in to explore (don’t worry -- the bartenders encourage ladies to sneak a peek, too), and I was blown away by the lavish Art Deco interior, with its black and green wall tiles, gleaming terrazzo floor, and elegant shoeshine stand. It was all drama, and, I would venture, the most lavish restroom I have ever seen.

Although I considered ending my road trip here -- in Nashville, not the men's restroom in the Hermitage Hotel -- Blaise and I packed up the car the next morning and hit the road again. Next stops: Columbia, Missouri, then Boulder, Colorado.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Reflections, Travel

4 Responses

  1. rebecca

    June 12, 2012

    lauren, you covered some of my favorite places in nashvegas. thanks for the updates! look forward to seeing what’s in store along the next stop.

  2. Robbie D. Jones

    June 12, 2012

    Great blog about Nashville, Lauren! If you ever need more info on Music City, just let us know.

    Robbie D. Jones
    Historic Nashville, Inc., President

  3. Lauren Baker

    June 14, 2012

    Looks like your having a great trip! I agree that you should take more road trips :)

  4. W. White

    June 15, 2012

    The fact that Nashville Union Station is still allowed to be in the Historic Hotels of America program after demolishing the original train shed is a travesty of preservation. The train shed was one of the largest train sheds ever constructed, an engineering masterpiece where passengers boarded the Tennessean and the Humming Bird during the days of rail. Despite being a National Historic Landmark along with Union Station, its wanton demolition did not cause the National Trust any greivance or the Wyndham to be pulled from the Historic Hotels of America program.

    Also, you would think that if this blogger was so enamored with the Hermitage Hotel’s men’s restroom that she would sneak into said restroom, she might feel a need to do five minutes worth of research and provide this blog’s readers some actual information about the restroom and why it is so important. The black and green “wall tiles” she so vaguely referred to are, of course, Pigmented Structural Glass, most commonly known by the trade name Vitrolite. Vitrolite was a common product used in facades from the 1920s to the 1950s. The Ritz Theater in Talladega, Alabama is a great example of black and green Vitrolite used on a facade. Carrara Glass, another type of Pigmented Structural Glass, was more commonly used in bathrooms and interiors because it resembled marble and was used as a marble substitute. Vitrolite is much more rare in bathrooms and interiors, which is why the Hermitage Hotel bathroom is such an important place to do one’s business and a place that should be preserved.

    This blog post is typical of the no-content, no-history writing from the current craft beer, big city NY/DC/LA crowd at the National Trust these days, a “Preservation” organization in name only and only in places where lattes and sushi can be found on every wi-fi covered block.