Published on March 21st, 2016 | by Emma Hackwood0
A Beginner’s Guide to Honky-Tonkin’ in Nashville
Planning a trip to Nashville? Our Travel Expert Maggie Henry shares some of her expert tips on what to know before you go, and how to make the most of your experience when you are there.
Nashville is known as Music City, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why- music is everywhere you turn! So many big names have been inspired here, recorded here, and called Nashville home. Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Kings of Leon, Bob Dylan, The Black Keys, Jimi Hendrix, and Jack White are just a few musicians who have left their mark here in one way or another.
Approximately 82 people move to Nashville each day – that’s about 2.5 thousand people per month. The majority of these brave and ambitious souls are moving to Music City to pursue or further their musical careers (also known as “living the dream”). Cities that are known for their music are filled with the cream of the crop, and the best way to get a taste of this impressive talent is to spend a night (or day, or both) exploring Nashville’s ‘Honky Tonk Highway’ along Lower Broadway.
A ‘honky tonk’ is a bar with at least one stage with a live band, and the Honky Tonk Highway is a row of these little beauties, pumping the sweet sound of live music into the street all day, every day. Back in the 60s, many country music legends got their start in these very bars!
There are three amazing things that y’all need to know about the Honky Tonk Highway:
- The streets are alive with the sound of music from 10am to 3am, every single day of the year.
- The musicians playing at these bars are playing in hopes of being discovered and making it big. Nowhere else will you find so many incredibly talented performers along one block of bars. It’s truly awesome!
- Last but not least: None of the bars have a cover charge.
That’s right. Quality free music, all day, every day! This means that you can save your money for drinks, fried chicken, maybe some impulse-buy cowboy boots, and of course the all-important tip bucket! These eager performers put on a helluva show, but the bars really are almost doing them a favour by giving them a spot that day, so they really rely on the tip bucket (or hat) that gets passed around the bar during their set. No pressure, but if you like what you’re hearing and seeing, be sure to pop a couple bills in there when your turn comes! Music styles will vary depending on the bar and the time of day, but you can expect a solid mix of country and rockin’ crowd pleasers, with a lot of covers on the weekends to get the crowd moving.
No doubt you could easily spend the whole day bar hopping, but if you’re short on time, here are a few key honky tonks that can’t be missed:
- Legends Corner (428 Broadway, corner of 2nd Ave)
With walls covered in country music memorabilia and a stage that puts you in the middle of the action as soon as you walk in, this is a great place to start your bar crawl. It’s also a great spot to finish up the night, getting one last taste before you head back to your hotel!
- Robert’s Western World (416 Broadway)
If you’re looking for a taste of traditional country, this is the place to be! Fun fact: This beautiful little venue has had many lives before becoming the bar it is today: it’s been a warehouse, an office space, a guitar shop, a liquor store, and finally a western apparel store which expanded in the 80s to include live entertainment, food, and alcohol. Try to catch the house band Brazilbilly, whose style is a unique combination of traditional country and Latin flair.
- Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge (422 Broadway)
Try to get in here earlier in the day if you aren’t a fan of crowds – the world famous Tootsie’s can get mighty packed! Three floors, three bars, and four stages means there is always lots going on. This bar also has some pretty impressive history: a lot of the big names used to frequent Tootsie’s in the 60s, and legend has it that Willie Nelson was discovered here!
- Honky Tonk Central (329 Broadway, corner of 4th Ave)
Three floors, three bars, three stages, and three dancefloors. This spot is a load of fun, and with its multiple levels it kind of feels like three bars in one. Bonus: the upper floors have balconies, which offer a great view of Broadway from above and a bit of fresh air between sets.
- Tin Roof Broadway (316 Broadway)
Although technically just past the Honky Tonk Highway, Tin Roof is one of my favourites and worth a mention! This spot has a bit more of a modern hip feel than the other honky tonks, and the music is still top notch. If you’re getting a bit peckish, make this your next stop along the Honky Tonk Highway. Their buttermilk chicken blew my mind, and word has it their Nashville Hot Chicken is pretty impressive too!
As you explore the Honky Tonk Highway, be sure to pop into the shops that are tucked in between the bars along the way. There are a lot of reasonably priced souvenir shops with wares ranging from classic to super tacky, as well as numerous cowboy boot stores, and even a candy store to satisfy those with a sweet tooth!
Music-lover’s tip: Start your night at The Listening Room Cafe (217 2nd Avenue South) for dinner and a show, Nashville style! The Listening Room Cafe has been voted the best-sounding room in Nashville, hosting anyone and everyone from up-and-coming artists to star songwriters. Plus, their Southern-inspired menu is incredible – try the shrimp and grits!