By guest blogger Woo Caroland of Woo Skincare + Cosmetics

It’s often called Music City, but Nashville’s got an even older label that still rings true:  the Athens of the South.  A title bestowed because of the town’s reputation for being a center of culture and learning, and the reason why Nashville boasts the only full-sized replica of the Parthenon, right in the middle of town in a city park.  It’s as good a place as any to start a tour.

EAT

For lunch, try Hog Heaven overlooking the Parthenon.  Their barbequed pork or pulled chicken with white sauce sandwiches are the best in town.  Grab a seat outside (the only seating there is, in fact), or stroll around Centennial Park and take photos of the Parthenon.  Yearning for a different kind of classic?  Cross the park to Rotier’s, get a beer at the old Formica counter, and order the hamburger on French bread.  And you’ll find classics on the juke box too, from Patsy Cline to the Rolling Stones.

East Nashville is just over the Cumberland River from downtown, and I think the best eating in Nashville is here.  Margot Cafe, in a tastefully made over two-story gas station, has an enlightened dinner menu and a cozy bar, and you’ll usually find co-owner and chef Margot McCormack on the scene in the tiny, open kitchen.  Marché, the sister restaurant just down the block, is great for a splendid breakfast or a light lunch.  Mas Tacos Por Favor has the kind of authentic food we ate as kids with my parents in out of the way places in Mexico.  In their signature tea, you can taste pineapple and cilantro.   Still want a burger?  Try The Pharmacy across the street, a contemporary burger joint in an old drugstore.

STAY

The Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville has abundant history, rooms with views, muraled ceilings, the coolest old-school bar in Nashville; and the elegant Capitol Grille.  Even the bathrooms are spectacular.  The 1930s art deco men’s room is a marvel (my husband says it’s the kind of place you’d expect to see Desi Arnaz exiting).  And, yes, women aren’t discouraged from taking a peek.

For more contemporary accommodations, try The Hutton Hotel.  You can walk out the front door, and tour Vanderbilt University’s campus, or go out back and head to Elliston Place to the Exit/In.  Going strong for more than 40 years, the Exit/In remains one of the most popular spots in town for the indie music scene.  And it’s got a starring role in Robert Altman’s 1974 movie Nashville as the location where Keith Carradine serenaded Lily Tomlin with “I’m Easy.”  (Come to think of it, you might want to put this movie in your NetFlix queue as prep for your visit.)

SEE

The 200-year-old neo-classical State Capital building, designed by the famous Philadelphia architect William Strickland in the style of a Greek temple – get the recurring theme? –  is perched on a hill across from the Hermitage Hotel.

Head back toward the Hermitage, and make your way to the Ryman Auditorium.  Called the Mother Church of Country Music, the Grand Old Opry started here.  This is American music bedrock, and the Ryman’s concerts today are a who’s who lineup of famous bands and musicians — and often the hottest tickets in town.  Back in the Opry days, if you needed a drink between sets, you’d just walk out the stage door and slip across the alley to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.  Tootsie’s is still there, brilliantly lavender, and it’s a must see.  It faces the street we locals call Lower Broad (as in Broadway), and you’ll find several lively blocks of real honest-to-goodness honkytonks.  Day and night, you’ll find someone strumming a guitar in every one of them.  Robert’s Western World is a favorite of mine.  Think of it as honkytonk for multi-taskers, since you can get your beer, boots and music all in the same spot.

Even if your iPod doesn’t include country music playlists, you have to tour the Country Music Hall of Fame.  “Honor thy music” is its slogan, and it does.  For something unique, head to Fisk University and its Carl Van Vechten Gallery. It was established in 1949 when Georgia O’Keefe gave an extraordinary collection in honor of her husband, the great American photographer Alfred Stieglitz.  The collection includes works by Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and of course, O’Keefe.

SHOP

Head first to 12th Avenue South, home of Imogene + Willie, a custom denim store that’s as friendly as it is hip.  Then head into Green Hills and Bandywood Drive for wonderful boutiques.  Of course, come visit me at Woo Skincare + Cosmetics and fill your new Stephanie Johnson cosmetic bag with Bobbi Brown, La Mer, Lafco candle, Moroccan Oil.   Stop by Ash Blue for a gorgeous collection of jewelry, gifts and items for the home. Head across the street to The Perfect Pair for shoes and Habit for tees and jeans.  Nearby, don’t miss H. Audrey, owned by Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter Holly, and the Nashville store of Alabama-based designer, Billy Reid (beautiful men’s shirts).  And if you’re short on reading material for the trip home, stop by Parnassus Books, the completely local bookstore started by author Ann Patchett.

BIO

A Texan by birth and in spirit, Woo Caroland has lived and worked in Nashville since 1988. She started her business there (Woo Skincare + Cosmetics), raised a family, made lots of friends and lives with her husband and two dogs, Trigger and Milo.

Woo Skincare + Cosmetics:  while in Nashville . . . come in and let us Woo you!