East Nashville: the hippest neighborhood in town

by Travis Loller


A trip to Nashville wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the honky-tonks of lower Broadway and a pilgrimage to the “mother church of country music,” the Ryman Auditorium, but once you’ve hit those, consider a trip across the river to Nashville’s hippest neighborhood.

East Nashville started out as separate city of country estates, enjoying a post-Civil War boom in the 1870s and 1880s, according to local historian and East Nashville resident Jim Hoobler.

Beginning in 1916, a huge fire, the Great Depression and flight to the suburbs took their toll. Restoration of the area’s many Victorian homes and bungalows began in the 1970s, and has helped turn it into one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Today, visitors can easily spend a day or more sampling East Nashville’s boutiques, restaurants, brew pubs and clubs. There are too many fun spots to list them all, but a good place to start is the pedestrian-friendly Five Points neighborhood.

Here Marche Artisan Foods serves up a European-style seasonal menu in a sunny room that is always packed. In addition to sit-down meals, Marche sells baked goods and locally sourced packaged food.

Chef Margot McCormack has another popular restaurant nearby, Margot Cafe and Bar, which serves rustic French and Italian cuisine for dinner and Sunday brunch. Reservations can be hard to get, but sometimes there’s room at the bar.

A cheaper, humbler meal can be found at I Dream of Weenie, a hot-dog restaurant run out of an old Volkswagen bus. Across the street is the Pied Piper Creamery, where a signature flavor is Trailer Trash— vanilla ice cream with Oreo, Twix, Butterfinger, Nestle Crunch, Snickers, M&Ms, and Reese’s Pieces. New York-style Five Points Pizza offers a good selection of local and regional craft beers.

For shopping, a row of tiny boutiques called The Idea Hatchery includes everything from an all-local bookstore to a gourmet oatmeal shop (Haulin’ Oats) with lots of vintage and kitsch in between.

Another cluster of boutiques, The Shoppes on Fatherland, is within walking distance. Or rent a bicycle for the trip from the nearby Nashville B-cycle station. Basic rentals are $5 for the first hour, $1.50 each additional half-hour.

Don’t miss Jones Fly, where workers tie feathers and animal hair around tiny hooks, making mock bug lures that anglers use to fool fish.

For a moment of calm, visit High Garden, selling both traditional teas and herbal infusions with names like “overworked,” “warrior blend” and “airway to heaven.” Take a bag to go or share a pot with a friend in the small seating area. There’s a selection of books and games for the tables, but laptops are not allowed. Yes, you read that correctly.

“This is not a place to escape, it’s a place to be,” co-owner Leah Larabell explains.

Six blocks away is Olive and Sinclair Chocolate, where Scott Witherow roasts, stone-grinds and sells what he calls “Southern artisan chocolate.” If it’s a Saturday, you can tour the factory for $5, including your very own hairnet.

At Barista Parlor, the coffees have complicated back stories and can be served cold with mixers that make them feel more like cocktails. Food includes inventive house-made “Pop’s Tarts,” doughnuts and macaroons.

Mas Tacos Por Favor, an eastside lunchtime favorite, serves great Mexican street food and aguas frescas. After all that food, burn a few calories by checking out a free bike from Shelby Bottoms Nature Center and riding the 380-hectar Shelby Bottoms Park’s greenway next to the Cumberland River. The adjoining Shelby Park offers another 135 hectares complete with nine- and 18-hole golf courses.

Or travel west along the river to Cumberland Park. Just a walking-bridge away from downtown, this kid-friendly spot includes a “sprayground” where jets of water offer relief on hot summer days.