A Taste of the South…Nashville Style
On a whim, I tagged along with my man on a buisness trip to Birmingham Alabama since it fell during our Anniversary week. We stayed in a luxury resort on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Rennasaince Ross Bridge Resort & Spa. I hit the spa (of course) for a massage after the conference which was sublime. We were delighted that the very gracious hotel manager treated us to a complimentary cheese plate and wine which we devoured before dining on Lobster and Champagne at Ocean Restaurant in downtown Birmingham. Situated in the University district of 5 points (all the southern cities with big universities seem to have one), Ocean delivered a 5 star meal and fabulous, service. Once he wrapped up his work duties, we hopped in the rental car and drove 3 hours north to Nashville to continue the festivities and check out the local fashion and music scene.
As always, I do my research and I knew there were some key areas I would need to see and I only had 24 hours to do it! On the way up from Alabama, we hit the quaint historic town of Franklin, home to the likes of Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, Keith Urban and many other big time country music and film stars. This charming town sits nestled among a beautiful suburb of sprauling hills and horse farms. Main Street was lined with shops, bars and restaurants, so our first stop was to grab a drink and snack at Grays’s on Main. I decided to try my hand at a ‘big girl drink’ so the bartender whipped up his favorite concoction of rye whiskey mixed with some sort of bitters, other types of liquor, an orange rind and a large sphere ice cube ~ very Mad Men! It was perfectly smooth and strong and washed down our snack of deviled eggs and truffle fries quite nicely. The upper bar was set up for music although we were too early for that and lingered by an open window overlooking Main Street below.
I was running out of time to hit the shops as many close up at 5 or 6 so I headed down the street to Haven Boutique. This aptly named shop is owned and operated by Claudia Fowler, stylist to several big names in the music biz like Amy Grant, Martina McBride and Sarah Evans. I was in love! The merchandising was so original and fresh and the clothing separated into luxe casual downstairs and glam fancy on the upper level. The sales clerk informed me they opened ‘Hero‘ in the up and coming 12th Avenue South area and got the name from the ‘hero’ outfit the stars will come looking for when they need that wow factor onstage or at a red carpet event.
Next stop was a little shop, Jondie, where the friendly proprietor makes her own line of custom jewelry and sources private label items like clothing, hats and handbags at very reasonable prices. Then it was across the street for a quick pass through Emmaline, with a more, industrial footprint and popular contemporary labels like Theory, Velvet and Nicole Miller Atelier. This shop was stocked full of treasures from sportswear to maxi dresses, an entire wall dedicated to denim and fabulous accessories to take looks from day to night. Just outside on the corner was a country crooner entertaining passersby with his guitar and vocals and a crew of music insiders sitting at a cafe table nearby sipping lattes, toting music equipment cases and still wearing recording headphones around their neck. A typical day in Nashville.
We grabbed a drink and some homemade guacamole at the upstairs bar at The Red Pony and the chatty bartender described in detail where to find the best antique shops. We were on the whirlwind tour so no time for that this trip. That evening, decked in jeans and boots I grabbed the hubby who was a bit overdressed in khakis and a sport coat, and we hit the famed Honky Tonk section of Lower Broadway. A friend and native referred me to Jack’s BBQ which was amazing (get the jumbo Tennesee pork shoulder sandwich and choose your own sauce). We headed directly next door to world famous Tootsies Orchid Lounge for a few beers and an authentic country music scene. You gotta do it at least once as the talent is fresh and the crowd non-threatening. Everyone is just looking for good music and the vibe, although somewhat touristy, is definitely worth experiencing. Bring cash for the tip jars that circulate after each set in place of a cover charge. A $20 bill will get your requests played ~we particularly loved John Stone Country, who just returned from playing on the Kid Rock Cruise and entertained us with everything from his own music to Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash and Florida Georgia Line.
Our last day was spent shopping and dining in the 12th Avenue South and Green Hills districts. First stop was the only free standing boutique by designer Leona, whose label we carried in our Annapolis and Charleston boutiques. Her line is all about femininity and flattering fit, with bold color, texture and prints for the ladies who find themselves with fancy day events. She is the perfect designer for an original yet not too over the top dress for the upcoming race circuit. I had my eye out for Derby and Preakness dresses for myself and several clients and I found more than a few options here. I also snapped up some statement necklaces they showcased by Hyla Dewitt of Charleston. The decor of the shop is very mush to my taste, sassy, flirty and mid-century modern. The designer’s sister came out to help me personally, was very accommodating and full of helpful information. The sisters lost their mother to brain cancer recently and are very active in local and national philanthropy. We are eager to work with them on our upcoming Strut & Sip for Autism Fashion Show in the Fall!
After doing some damage at Leona, I found Moda connected by a porch to the local coffee shop. This shop satisfied my more bohemian and edgy sides and carried a wide range of items from maxi skirts and hot little dresses to everyday tops and one of a kind accessories. Again the owner possessed that Southern Hospitality as did the jewelry designer hosting an in store trunk show featuring her line of fortune cookie necklaces and bracelets with ‘fortune’ charms like “everything happens for a reason.” I snapped up a blush silk and heather jersey top to pair with my everyday denim and chatted up the shop owner before heading further down to the famed Imogine + Willies. This well known outfit was housed in an old petrol station and was absolutely brilliant from the decor and merchandising to the concept of “custom” denim tailored specifically for you. They start with selecting the perfect rise and cut, then you choose everything from yolk, inseam, and pocket placement to wash, cut and length. If we were not on a tight schedule I would have spent a lifetime customizing my jeans, but apparently I can do it over the phone with my measurements so that is on the agenda for sure. Gwyneth Paltrow is a huge fan.
I had to take a pass through Katy K’s Ranch Dressing, a true cowboy/cowgirl vintage shop. You get the impression Loretta Lynn and George Jones may have actually worn some of this stuff and they probably did. The authentic traditional garb seemed more costume than outfit overall, but there were definitely some gems, especially a vintage beaded flapper dress and an assortment of cowboy boots in every color.
It was time to eat so we grabbed gourmet burgers at Burger Up, a favorite of the college kids from nearby Belmont and Vanderbilt Universities. Every burger on the menu had me drooling but I decided on the pimento cheese, pickles, red onion and bacon burger on a gluten free bun with parmesan truffle fries (my weakness) and house made ketchup. I actually can’t talk about it without getting hunger pains. It was yummy!
Not too far from here but in a less charming area, was the Green Hill Center. In the land of strip centers on the outskirts of town, this center had more upscale shops than you would expect from the surroundings area. Posh, a local mecca for the younger client with three Nashville locations, was loaded with inventory and tons of cute items ranging in style and price. Linea Pelle leather handbags, cute tops by Drew and a brightly colored, beaded mini dresses from Parker caught my eye. The sale section was also plentiful so there is something for every budget. Directly next door was another fave shop, H. Audrey Boutique. The owner and daughter of Hank Williams Junior is not only country royalty, but a savvy fashionista with an eye for better contemporary labels like Iro, Rails, Helmut Lang and Rag & Bone. I tried on a few of the super soft Sweatshirts by one of my go to labels, Sundry, emblazoned with fun phrases like ‘La Vie est Belle’. The locals, including her celebrity clientele, were searching for something a bit more upscale in the absence of better department stores like Neiman’s and Sacks and H. Audrey delivers. I was fortunate to happen upon an extremely talented jewelry designer, Sarah Richey, exhibiting her wares (loved her!) for an afternoon Trunk Show upstairs. Taylor Swift among others sport her designs. I scored my anniversary gift in the form of an oblong cocktail ring with mother of pearl surrounded by black agate ~ a true eye catcher. This area is also home to the ‘Bluebird Cafe‘ where Faith Hill and other big names were plucked from obscurity and the television hit show Nashville shoots its rising stars. Buy tickets in advance or line up an hour before the 5 pm opening to get one of the 10 open bar stools available for the early set.
I will be back for sure, most likely with my country music and laid back fashion loving daughters.