I had been to Nashville several times but never tried to track down the gay scene. This time I did, and I was in for a pleasant surprise. Most of the bars are close together on Church Street in Midtown—one mile or so west of downtown near the beautiful Vanderbilt University campus. There’s lots to do even if you never make it to the Honky Tonk district downtown. Music is everywhere including lots of live music.
I took Southwest to Nashville. No bag fees and no ticket change fees. Nashville is not a hub so all the airlines go there. It is also an easy drive for some (6 hours from my hometown of Indianapolis). Sadly, there is no Amtrak service.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Home 2 Suites by Hilton at 1800 Division Street near Vanderbilt. I got my own suite complete with microwave, refrigerator, utensils, and more. The staff was friendly. The breakfast was good and you can work out while you do your laundry. It is a short walk to the LGBTQ nightlife, and a convenience store is across the street. It is only a mile uphill from downtown.
Other Midtown options include the Hutton House Hotel, the Hayes Street Hotel and the Comfort Inn. Also a new Virgin Hotel opens soon.
Skip the downtown hotels which can be very pricey. Nashville is a booming, touristy city so be prepared for big city hotel rates (happily with no resort fees).
If you want to splurge, the new boutique hotel by Marriott in Union Station is a gem. The Omni Hotel is also very nice if you must stay downtown.
Where to eat
The nearby Hattie B’s Hot Chicken (112 19th Avenue South) is a must for the spicy chicken. Nashville is also known for barbeque.
I enjoyed the Asian inspired dishes at the very gay Suzy Wong’s House of Yum (1515 Church next to Tribe), which included a drag show during dinner. I was also treated to the spectacle of about 6 bachelorette parties. They are found 24/7 around town. Indeed, Nashville is the bachelorette party capital of the world. It adds to the already festive atmosphere.
Nashville also prides itself in Moon Pies and Goo Goo Bars (two candies) as well as M&M’s which are also made in Tennessee. Tennessee whiskey is another local product but do pace yourself.
Don’t miss show tunes at Tribe Bar on Sunday afternoon complete with napkins to throw during certain songs. They have something happening every night of the week at this video bar. This includes Trivia Tuesdays and Hump Day Wednesday. See the list at TribeNashville.com. It is in the same building at Suzy Wong’s (1517 Church Street).
Next door you can dance the night away at Play, a very popular bar located at 1519 Church. Details at PlayDanceBar.com.
The Canvas Lounge (1707 Church Street) has drink specials and great shooter concoctions. It is a very friendly crowd of locals.
With 3 gay bars and a gay restaurant close by, going out in Nashville is easy and you can walk back to your Midtown hotel.
What to do
Don’t miss the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum which chronicles the surprisingly rich and diverse history of country music. You will find it at 222 5th Avenue South.
A walk through the beautiful tree lined Vanderbilt University campus is another must.
North of downtown there is an indoor farmers’ market with specialty food stands. The nearby State Capitol is also worth a visit. The area —known as Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park—is also close to the Tennessee State Museum.
Another fun idea is a walk over the Cumberland River on the Pedestrian Bridge located downtown.
For more travel ideas, pick up a copy of Focus (focusmidtenn.com) or Out and About Nashville (outandaboutnashville.com). Amazingly, the city has 2 LGBTQ publications (while in Indy, where I live, we have none).
Nashville Scene is their weekly and is packed with fun ideas, and VisitMusicCity.com is the official tourism website.
Upcoming events include the Outloud Music Festival on September 14 (outloudmusticfestival.com). The Nashville Aids Walk is scheduled for October 5.
You can’t beat a weekend in Nashville even if you are not a country music fan. There’s so much to do and the compact bar scene is a lot of fun. It is a liberal oasis in an otherwise very conservative area. You might even run into Dolly Parton, I did.
Bill Malcolm’s syndicated LGBTQ travel column appears in publications in Chicago, Orlando, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale as well as on the travel blog of the International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association. He received no complimentary passes nor air nor hotel reimbursement for this column. His opinions are his own and he takes his own pictures. He is based in Indianapolis and is a member of the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber.