The Design-Lover’s Guide To Nashville

Without a honky-tonk in sight

When I was in Nashville earlier this month, I couldn't help but notice that the city was nothing like it had been described to me. Sure, there were still the old-school honky-tonks crowding Broadway Street with live music blasting out of their open windows, a bachelor/bachelorette party every third group of people, and some variation of the most delicious fried chicken sandwich you'll have on most menus, but, as I was making my way through the city's northern Germantown neighborhood—formerly home to European immigrants and still featuring plenty of Victorian mansions, now an unofficial breeding ground for rising culinary talent—it seemed clear that Tennessee's capital has undergone a design facelift. There were far fewer of the knickknack stores and gritty watering holes of Music City's past—every storefront looked more design-forward and Instagrammable than the previous one, with copper lamps, marble tabletops, and velvet Art Deco furniture fixtures in most of the open-plan spaces.

And while this extended to other on-the-rise neighborhoods, like East Nashville, The Gulch, and 12 South, it is Downtown, the area better known for its attractions like Ryman Auditorium, the Johnny Cash Museum, and Martin's Bar-B-Que than hip food and cocktails destinations, where you can really see the design evolution. Stylish boutique hotels and health-driven restaurants and businesses, all catering to young creatives, are sprouting up faster than a millennial can take an Instagram Story. "Nashville has definitely evolved into so much more than honky-tonks and meat-and-threes," says Rebecca Willa Davis, founder and editor of travel and wellness site The Glassy, says. "Proof: There's now a Barry's Bootcamp just a few blocks from the Country Music Hall of Fame. From beat-driven yoga to vegan barbecue, you can find forward-thinking, wellness-conscious options that still manage to reflect the local ethos throughout Music City." She points to restaurants like Avo ("yup, named after avocado"), Sunflower Cafe, Koko's dairy-free ice cream, and wellness hotspots like Inner Light Studio ("which has music-centric yoga classes") and Poppy & Monroe ("for eco-conscious manis and all-natural beauty products" as examples of how the city's culinary and wellness has transformed over the past few years.

And that landscape, frankly, looks pulled from pages of an interior style magazine, with a design aesthetic that blew me away. With that in mind, we put together a guide to the most design-minded destinations in Nashville, without a honky-tonk in sight. (Though if it is live music and great hot chicken you're after, check out our very good guide to classic Nashville, here.) But for all you design-lovers, check out ahead what Music City has in store for you.

Fairlane HotelA brand-new addition to Nashville’s Arts District, Fairlane Hotel embodies the clean simplicity of mid-century architectural design with a dash of '60s and '70s Music City vibrancy. Located inside the former Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan building, the design is replete with impossibly stylish retro-modern decor, terrazzo flooring, original wood paneling, brass elements, and a green-, brown-, and-crème color palette courtesy of New York City's Reunion Goods & Services. The 81 rooms all boast floor-to-ceiling windows and semi-transparent peekaboo showers detailed with walnut wood. If the '60s and '70s vibe wasn't apparent enough, come by the lobby at 5pm when "The Governor" (aka, hotel's concierge) announces the end of work day and circulates the space with a vintage bar cart serving local spirits and bottled Coca-Cola. Prepare to hear more about this hotel in the next month as it prepares to open Union Teller Coffee Counter, a coffee shop that carries Stumptown, and Ellington’s Mid Way Bar and Grill, the fourth-floor restaurant with a fire pit, wraparound terrace, and classic American fare.

Bobby HotelIf you need further proof that Nashville is a burgeoning design destination, look no further than the new Bobby Hotel, located steps away from the iconic Printer's Alley. From the oversized wood doors that greet its guests to the majestic staircase and chandelier (made of old car parts) that center the impressive lobby—made even more impressive by marble columns, reclaimed wood walls, metallic light fixtures, and leather and velvet furniture—no design element has been overlooked by New York-based David Mexico Design Group when designing this property. (The hotel even boasts a dog ambassador, Sasha, rescued from County Road Animal Shelter; guests' donations to that organization are welcome.) This impeccable design extends to the oversized rooms that blend boldly patterned carpeting, bright red leather bed frames, plaid blankets, and monogrammed throw pillows with wood closet walls and glass paned bathrooms—a combination that could seem kitschy under less capable hands… which these are anything but. For the best selfie setup, take the grand lobby staircase to the meeting space bathroom that has an unabashedly Instagrammable wall backdrop.

Hutton HotelAfter a recent Studio 11 Design upgrade, Hutton Hotel is back in Nashville’s Music Row district with accommodations like The Writers’ Studios conceived by country star Dierks Bentley and Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, like a vocal booth, and custom Gibson guitars; a 5,000-square-foot music venue; and a new restaurant. The interiors juxtapose jewel-toned accents and modern gold decor with retro-esque elements like velvet Art Deco armchairs, mod carpeting, and a vinyl library in the lobby.

Little OctopusYou don't have to look further than Little Octopus' gold mirror door to know that this delicious vegetable-driven restaurant, serving dishes like Chinese eggplant tostada, Tokyo turnips with yuzu emulsion, and cauliflower sandwich with smoked cheese, is a design gem. Designed by L.A.'s Design Bitches, it boasts millennial pink couches, marble tables, and all-over light wood detailing. Make sure to stop by the bathroom to take a mirror selfie with a gold pineapple in the background.

Marsh HouseLocated inside the Thompson Hotel, March House's art deco-inspired interiors, dreamed up by NYC's Parts and Labor, feature gold detail, geometric tiles, and architectural light fixtures, whose only rival is the incredible menu made up of elevated Southern seafood dishes likes charbroiled oysters, barbecue shrimp, and trout with rice-grits and beans.

HenleyThe eyes of Bette Davis watching over the bar should be enough to earn this modern American brasserie—that serves delectable dishes like foraged pink oyster mushrooms, squid ink gemelli, and duck and dumplings—a spot on this list. The black-and-white floor, burnt yellow bar chairs, sky blue walls, floral print ceiling, and diamond-shaped lamps are just an extra design bonus.

Henrietta RedOne of the most celebrated openings of last year, this incredibly delicious, female-helmed seasonal seafood restaurant draws in crowds just as much for its full raw bar, made up of 20 different oyster varieties and crudo, as it does for its Kathryn Lager–designed interior and expertly crafted cocktails made by Patterson House alum (try the craft cocktail Jell-O shots—seriously). While the decor centerpiece is the wood-burning oven (that puts out the most incredible bread paired with anchovy butter), flanked by gray-and-white star tile (the same one that covers the bar floor), expect to also be charmed by the wood-and-metal bar chairs, light wood tables, and exposed white-brick walls. 

Mile End DelicatessenIf Accidentally Wes Anderson is more the aesthetic you're after, look no further than the newly opened Mile End Delicatessen, the modernized Jewish deli's first location outside of New York. Come for the green-and-wood decor, designed by Reunion Goods & Services, stay for the food coma-inducing Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches, potato latkes with smoked salmon and caviar, and poutine.

Rare BirdLocated on the top of the newly opened Noelle hotel, this chic rooftop bar offers views of the iconic Printer's Alley as well as seasonal craft cocktails in a photo-worthy tropical setting of woven rocker chairs, boldly printed couches and throw pillows, and a fireplace wall.

KillebrewThere is no shortage of good coffee shops in Nashville right now. Killebrew, located in the stylish Thompson Nashville, puts out some of the best in a beautiful space made up of graphically tiled walls and floors, a sky blue counter, and marble tables. Tip: Stop by on one of the weekend nights for spiked coffee cocktails.

GeistWhile this Germantown small plates restaurant, housed in a 118-year-old blacksmith shop, just opened an outdoor Champagne garden (Nashville's first!), we loved sitting at its indoor bar while sipping on the Oaxacan Old Fashioned and charcoal-infused violet-pineapple-gin Blackbird cocktail. One look at the exposed brick walls, gold beer taps, intricate bar counter, and velvet banquettes, and you can understand why. 

Café at BobbyIt's hard to pick just one design-worthy spot located on the premises of the Bobby Hotel, so we'll just start with the one that makes the most sense chronologically: Café at Bobby, an all-day coffee shop and lunch stop that puts out solid cups of joe and the most addictive croissants you'll ever taste. (Does the reclaimed wood counter, framed by metal detailing and hanging oversized lightbulbs, even matter? No, but it's pretty.) Next head up to the rooftop to dwindle the day away at the eclectic lounge. Have a Rosé All Day sparkling cocktail by the Art Deco bar, pool, or in the back of a 1956 retrofitted Scenicrouser bus (!!!). To replenish, head back down to the Tavern, an American restaurant done in all-wood detailing that serves short ribs and grits alongside tuna poke and watermelon and feta salad. End the night at Bobby’s Garage, a speakeasy-ish bar located in the basement, that holds a huge selection of whiskey and moonshine in decor that looks borrowed from back in the day and with direct access to Printer's Alley.

AnalogWhile there's no shortage of music venues in Music City, this new 300-person spot, with interiors conceived by Studio 11 Design and Tuck Hinton Architects, is a Woodstock-ian dream with a rich jewel palette, a boldly printed back wall, and a bar made up of keyboards, speakers, and other audio memorabilia.

Emerson GraceStocked with already desirable brands like Jenni Kayne, Tanya Taylor, and Ulla Johnson, this boutique makes everything even more desirable thanks to wood tables with just the perfect number of things on display, a geometric stone jewelry counter, and evenly spaced racks of apparel that look borrowed from a fashion magazine photo shoot.

Two SonOne of the most fashion-forward stores in the city, Two Son carries hard-to-find Cool Girl labels like Mara Hoffman, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, and Brother Vellies in a minimalist, loft-like space with exposed beams, geometric racks, natural materials, ample natural light, and houseplants. Beloved indie beauty and wellness labels like Boy Smells, Moon Juice, and RGB round out the millennial-approved roster.

Peter NappiIf old-world quirky is your design aesthetic of choice, check out this shoes and leather goods store—that, on first sight, could be mistaken for an AllSaints or a curiosity store—filled to the brim with all kinds of boots imaginable, hanging Edison bulb lights, wooden table, books, art, and many other knickknacks—even with all that going on, nothing ever seems out-of-place.

RootedSneaker heads will love this sneaker museum-shop, designed by architect Price Harrison, that sells some of the most covetable streetwear styles around. A geometric light fixture, more akin to an upside-down installation, shines light onto a minimalist display of shoes from brands like Adidas, Acne, Nike, Y-3, Public School, and Maison Margiela. Equally stylish threads flank the otherwise-empty space with stone floors and black-and-white decor.

WilderAn eclectic design haven that carries boldly printed textiles, modern furniture (including the Garza Marfa leather round chairs we covet), tabletop accessories, host gifts, and other must-have-now housewares, Wilder is the result of two NYC transplants finding their home in Nashville.