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Getting to Know our Sister City, Nashville

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

As I’m writing this, Grace and I are on what I’m calling the “wilderness leg” of the trip, between National parks and without most technology. I’m currently sitting in a Virginia Starbucks, which feels eerily familiar after becoming so quickly used to places that feel excitingly different from home. This wilderness leg is why there’s been a fair bit of time passed since we’ve actually been in Nashville. Well, that and the fact that I’m having fun and haven’t devoted much time to sitting on my computer typing out these updates. That being said, my goal is to post within at least a week of leaving a location. Bear with me as I’m finding my rhythm between writing (which I’m thoroughly enjoying) and actually experiencing things to write about. But without further ado…

 

After a long morning driving in from New Orleans, we arrived at Lieper’s Fork Distillery, where we’d booked a tasting tour to kick off our time in Nashville. Speaking from the future, with even more to compare it to, Leiper’s Fork was an exceptionally good tour and remarkably good whisky. We started the tour in the Still House, where we learned what is meant by a “small batch, pre-prohibition, artisanal distillery.” Small batch means that they only make a fraction of the whisky in a year that Jack Daniel’s makes in a day; pre-prohibition means they’ll experiment with different grains and mashes, rather than having one mass-produced recipe; and artisanal means that from planting the grains to bottling the whisky, less than a dozen individual pairs of hands will touch the process. And we got to see this process in action, peeking into the massive barrels where the mash ferments and learning the parts of the still, who’s name was Ginger, where the fermented mash is evaporated into whisky. After all this learning, we went into the tasting room of the nineteenth century cabin where tasting flights were set out in front of each of us and we learned how to best taste our whisky, swishing the first sip in our mouths and sniffing for the sweet notes.



Later we spent some time on the distillery’s lawns journaling and calling home, then headed straight for the hotel to get settled in. I was really looking forward to a nice, classic, and clean hotel room to call home base for the two nights we’d booked to stay in Nashville. Our hotel was most definitely classic, in the sense that the walls were yellower than expected and the doors creakier. But it was clean, and we were able to shower and get dressed up to head out for the night.


One of the few things we’d really had planned was checking out Attaboy, a bar without a menu. You tell the bartender what kind of drinks you like and what flavors your looking for and they make you a custom drink for a flat rate. I gotta say, this was a concept that holds up. After waiting outside for someone to come out a put us on a list, then another few minutes killing time taking pictures outside, we were let in to the bar of the dim room. Everyone was friendly if not fashionably stand-offish (the indicator of a true “cool” experience), but most importantly, our drinks were the best either of us had ever had. Mine was a bright and citrusy gin with elderflower, picking up on the florals and herbals I’d told the bartender I wanted. Grace got a smooth, balanced, and interesting take on a whisky sour from telling the bartender she was looking for something bright and liked whisky and ginger beer. All in all, it was an experience we almost didn’t feel cool enough to have, and that’s saying something because we’re quite cool (six week road trip and all).

Attayboy also served as a great start to a night out, as we switched to basic jack and cokes and vodka crans at a bar on Broadway. Being from Austin, Broadway was a similar experience to 6th Street—folks wandering from bar to bar, cover band to cover band, paying way too much for basic jack and cokes and vodka crans. Fortunately for us, this is exactly what we were looking for that night. We got to talking to people everywhere we went, taking full advantage of the communal atmosphere brought about by good music and strong drinks. By the end of the night, we’d seen bands playing on bar tops, danced on second floors overlooking the stage, and chatted with several fellow Texans we ran into.

As I hope goes without saying, we were not driving that night. I bring this up because our Lyft drivers were all exceptional, and our conversations with them were a huge component of the Nashville experience for me. All of them were born and raised in Nashville and we spent much of the rides discussing similarities and differences between our cities and how they’ve changed in recent decades. By the last Lyft of the night, I was even mistaken for a local before clarifying that I was from the “sister city,” as he had called it.

 

The next day, we made the wise decision to sleep in. Through an ordeal of paying for parking and finding a dozen places for coffee but no food, we stumbled upon TY'S Soups And Sandwiches. Wandering around downtown to find this delicious meal was an ideal way to fill our midday and our stomachs before a whisky tasting we had scheduled for the afternoon. By the time we pulled up to Nelson’s Greenbriar Distillery we were in high spirits (pun intended) and ready to have a new whisky tasting experience. I’m so glad we went to two different distilleries, getting to explore more sides of the whisky world and fill gaps in our knowledge.


Greenbriar’s tasting was structured as a presentation, expertly led by a man I later found out was a stand up comedian; it showed. The story of this distillery was incredible—from being the innovator of sealed glass bottles as the default packaging for liquor, making them number one distributor of whisky in pre-prohibition America, then becoming a buried shame of the family history after prohibition, only to be revived in the last two decades by brothers who stumbled upon this long forgotten family trade surreptitiously after finding a roadside plaque bearing their last name. At least that’s the run-on rundown of what we spent an hour learning about, tasting their first line of excellent whisky along the way.


If you know me or Grace, it may not surprise you to know that our plans for exploring Nashville were initially oriented around Taylor Swift; if you know Taylor Swift, you may be noticing that none of what we’d done in town by that point was at all related to the songwriting genius herself. As we found more and more we wanted to do in Nashville, all of our biography-esque plans were pushed out of our two days, save for one thing. That last afternoon in town, we headed to the lawns of the Parthenon, also known as Centennial Park (as in the Taylor Swift lyric “Green was the color of the grass where I used to read at Centennial Park”). True to song, we did some reading and writing on the beautiful lawns that were fortunately empty but not wet on the rainy day we visited.


Lastly, we decided to go for some late night coffee/tea and found Cafe Coco, a coffee shop and music venue located in Midtown. It was mostly empty as well, save for a few people working on their computers. The space felt homey, like a cool local spot I would want to go to get work done or meet people for drinks and a show if I lived in town. This assessment was confirmed when a man who worked there, seeing us looking around, asked if we’d been there before and remarked “this isn’t really a tourist spot, it’s usually just locals around here”—a comment that, of course, has become a badge of honor for us as visitors of a notoriously “touristy” city.


By the time we were heading out, I knew half of the the exits off Highway 65 that runs through the city, could chew my whisky, take it neat, and know what to taste for, and could recommend some of the coolest spots in town for coffee or a drink. Nashville came to feel like home in a lot of ways, and I for one cannot wait to find myself back there someday.

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