The first time I visited Nashville, I was on a road trip from Chattanooga to New Orleans and this city, with all of its music and food and character, sat right in the center of our itinerary, a perfect gateway between southern cultural flavors — musical, culinary, architectural, historic.
I went back recently and found it had changed, and not just because of the pandemic, which has changed every inch of America. In fact, rather than shuttered and quiet, I found it to be louder, busier and beset by considerably more tourists than just a few years prior. The hotel where I stayed – more on this below – was busy with guests.
Nashville's so-called "transportainment" industry, in particular, which was an occasional noisy nuisance on my first trip, was now ubiquitous. The endless parade of party vehicles (flatbed trailers, vintage tractors, beheaded school buses, retrofitted campers) filled with flashing colored lights, alcohol, and hooting bachelors and bachelorettes passed every five to ten minutes and beckoned us — and anyone unfortunate enough to be walking down the street — to offer an encouraging hoot back.
Maybe my reticence about this particular kind of tourist activity felt different this time because now, I wasn't exactly a tourist. Where my first trip was filled with barbecue and bar-hopping on Broadway, this one was filled with... well... work. I was visiting Lonely Planet's office for the first time — an office that's situated near Music Row, and that signifies the other kind of change that's become so apparent in Nashville.
Music City remains, but it has solidly become a tech town. Legacy technology firms like Amazon, Dell and Oracle have offices here, as do newer-wave Internet companies like Houzz, Eventbrite, and Postmates. This kind of growth has driven the fast redevelopment of downtown-adjacent neighborhoods like The Gulch, where you'll find mirrored skyscrapers and luxury hotels dwarfing the tiny, single-story Station Inn, one of the finest bluegrass venues in the country. Elsewhere in Nashville, the conversation around gentrification is a lively one as newcomers swarm here for jobs, plus the lure of living near an undisputed American entertainment capital.
Kimpton's The Aertson Hotel, where I stayed on this most recent trip, feels particularly suited for this Nashville moment. That is, it's perfectly styled for two kinds of people who spend a lot of time in Nashville — country musicians and tech professionals. And maybe tech execs who wish they were as famous as country stars, and country stars who wish they had the anonymity of most tech workers.
Situated just a few steps from Music Row, it manages to feel more aligned with that area's workaday ethos than glittery Broadway's, which is more about entertaining tourists and selling beer than crafting number one hits. It's on Music Row, not Broadway, where the real business of country music happens. It's the place where its songwriters, managers, accountants, and even hairdressers have set up shop for decades, in rows of one- and two-story houses and low-rise apartment blocks along 16th and 17th Avenue.
The Aertson offers a Nashville stay that feels glamorous — but without the rhinestones and big hair, thank you. Here's what you need to know about staying here, and what to see and do once you arrive.
It's not a coincidence that The Aertson feels elegant but comfortably residential. Part of the building is just that. Built new and opened in 2017, the development accommodates the hotel, condo units, plus retail spaces including Henley, the hotel's ground-floor restaurant. It all feels slickly contemporary, but also, no one will scold you for sinking into one of the inviting leather chairs or flipping through the oversize coffee table books in the lobby.
Industrial touches like the concrete ceilings and metal finishes in the rooms contrast with lots of comfortable seating, stitched leather, and wood accents. Spring for a suite to have more space, a soaking tub in the bathroom, and a kitchenette.
Note that The Aertson is a Kimpton hotel, which is part of IHG, if you're interested in earning or spending points, or taking advantage of other loyalty perks like free wifi.
Expect to see lots of busy, polished young and middle-aged professionals during your stay, many of whom are traveling for business or for easy weekend getaways in Nashville. At Henley, the hotel restaurant, you can expect the local version of this same crowd — well-heeled, fastidious about food and drink, and interested in having a good time away from the city's tourist traps.
Henley offers new American fare with a French twist. Crowd-pleasers like burgers, wings, and meatloaf enjoy upscale treatment. (The meatloaf is duck. The wings are smoked.) The low-lit atmosphere feels right for after work or before a show – the perfect time to enjoy one of the restaurant’s excellent cocktails before you move on to less sophisticated fare on Broadway. If you’re in the mood for something light and citrus-inflected, go for the house gin and tonic, which includes the French aperitif Suze, along with salted grapefruit tarragon shrub and orange bitters.
Where it's located
Situated directly between Music Row and Vanderbilt University, this quieter slice of the city just west of downtown keeps you close to the action but helps you avoid the party buses and neon. When you're ready to delve in, a rideshare will get you to the Country Music Hall of Fame or Robert's Western World — my favorite Broadway honky tonk — in about ten minutes.
In the area
While you're staying at the Aertson, a walk down and around Music Row is a must. Watch for the banners and signs outside of music publishers' offices congratulating young songwriters for their recent successes — charting hits, CMA Awards and the like. Right in the middle of all this is historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins recorded hits. Tours of the facility are available but must be booked in tandem with tickets to the Country Music Hall of Fame; we recommend booking in advance ($50-$70 per adult, depending on the tour). For a very different experience, walk in the opposite direction from the Aertson and explore the quiet, leafy campus of Vanderbilt University.
What it costs
Expect to pay $180-$250 for entry level rooms at the Aertson.
Wheelchair-accessible rooms, and rooms with modified bathtubs and roll-in showers are available at the Aertson, plus the hotel's public spaces and fitness center are also accessible. The property offers a list of additional accommodations for guests who need them like visual alarm clocks, door knock alerts, Braille and tactile signage, bed shakers, and more. Service animals are welcome.