Nashville: Greek Love and the Parthenon
Nashville may not come to mind as a place to visit if you are looking for an LGBT-friendly getaway, but let me assure you that Music City is not only gay friendly, but has many community organizations, retail outlets and entertainment venues to make for a very memorable vacation.
On my first day in Nashville, I had the pleasure of meeting Erica Rubinsky, a program coordinator in the office of student affairs at Vanderbilt University Law School, as well as a board member of this year’s Nashville Pride, an event that drew approximately 18,000 revelers and was capped off with Vanessa Carlton’s claim to be "a proud bisexual woman," which made national headlines. This was the 23rd year of the festival. Past events have included performances by nationally known acts including Deborah Cox and Martha Wash.
The annual event takes place in June at Riverfront Park, an area that was flooded by the Cumberland River a few months ago. The city pulled together and, although some venues still remain shuttered, the city is as vibrant as it was before the disaster.
Erica and I held our meeting at OutLoud, Nashville’s LGBT bookstore located on Church Street, the epicenter of gay activity. Although other areas, including East Nashville and the Fairgrounds, are home to gay venues, the West End is the place for the young and hip crowd.
Along with Erica, I also had the opportunity to speak with Pam Wheeler, Brad Beasley and a woman who goes just by the name Mac. Mac is a ball of fire, a proud lesbian who organizes drag king and queen events throughout the city.
"We get a lot of participants from Memphis and Knoxville, as well as Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama, places where it is not as accepting to be gay," Mac says.
Next door to OutLoud is Out Central, a community center that hosts numerous events and is a central meeting space for the community. Erica tells me that there are over 50 LGBT groups in the greater Nashville area including sports leagues, cultural organizations and non-profits.
After our meeting, I walked a few blocks east on Church Street to Tribe, a beautiful sports bar/lounge. The owner, David Taylor, was there to greet me and tell me about the venue, as well as Play and Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, all owned by Taylor and a few other local businessmen. Tribe offers the best happy hour in the West End. The $3 drink specials are plentiful, while $5 Absolut Martini’s are offered on Thursdays.
As we are all watching our wallets, I decided to make this a budget-conscious experience, so I booked a bunk at the Music City Hostel. Not only will you find a clean, safe place to stay during your trip, but you will also get a chance to meet other young people from around the world. On this visit, I engaged in conversation with individuals from Sao Paolo, Vancouver and two friends motorcycling across the country for the summer.
The next morning, I woke up early and began a leisurely stroll to Centennial Park, the "Central Park" of Nashville. In the heart of Centennial Park is the Parthenon, an exact detailed replica of the ancient structure in Athens, Greece. Guests can either enjoy the grandeur of the building from the outside, or, for a small fee, enter the property to view the mammoth 42-foot gold-plated statue of Athena. Also while inside, visitors can read about the history of the park, which was constructed for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition.
Located a few hundred yards from the Parthenon, on the outskirts of Centennial Park, is a small shack called Hog Heaven, voted one of the best BBQ joints in Nashville by numerous food editors. I enjoyed a mouth-watering pulled-pork sandwich with a side of BBQ beans and mac and cheese. The pork was delightful, basted in their signature sauce, which has the elements of both Kansas City and Carolina BBQ.
A short distance away is Music Row, arguably the most influential business center for country music. Although small in nature, nearly every record company, performing rights organization and publishing house in Nashville has a presence here. Music Row doesn’t offer much to do in terms of museums or galleries, but visitors can enjoy some of the restaurants and live entertainment venues that dot the area.
To further whet my appetite for country music, I headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame, located downtown, adjacent to the city’s cultural district. The spectacular three-story building houses a variety of country music memorabilia, dating back to the early recordings of Hank Williams Sr. The museum also offers a video-tour, which is worth the extra money. Bring your camera, because you will come within arm’s length of fabulous gowns worn by superstars Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood.
After the Hall of Fame, head over to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Opened in 2001, the museum is currently exhibiting the works of master glass artist Dale Chihuly as well as The Golden Age of Couture, a historical celebration of British and Parisian fashion from 1947-1957.
All that touring made me hungry, so I headed back to the West End to enjoy dinner at Suzy Wong’s House of Yum. The restaurant is one of Arnold Myint’s three restaurants in town, the others being Cha Cha and PM. At the time of publication, Arnold was a contestant on Top Chef D.C., but unfortunately, due to contractual obligations with Bravo, he was unable to talk about the competition. The finale airs later this summer.
Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by a friendly staff that showed me to my table, located on a beautiful outdoor patio, complete with cabanas and candlelight. A quick glance at the menu highlights the restaurants creativity and Asian-fusion flare. I decided to sample a few of the "shared plates" including five spice braised pork ribs, coconut-Thai chili chicken wings, lump crab wontons with bacon and vegetable gyoza pot stickers.
My favorite item by far was the chicken wings. The meat fell off the bone as soon as I picked up the wing, something I have never seen before. The sauce was sweet, tangy and absolutely perfect. I loved them so much, I went back for seconds later on my trip.
For my entrees, the chef prepared three dishes: coconut chili fried brown rice with egg; peppered beef with broccoli and beans; and peanut sauce chicken Penang. I was really torn between my favorite selections, but after much analysis, the chicken Penang reigned supreme. The dish was a unique take on traditional Penang, but Suzy Wong uses a combination of ingredients, including sweet potatoes and peanuts, to make the dish unforgettable. A close runner-up was the coconut fried rice, which contained fresh tomatoes and edamame.
On my final evening in Nashville I spotted Lady Antebellum dining with about 15 of her closest friends at Suzy Wong’s. The 16-year-old in me wanted to grab my camera and ask for an autograph, but I restrained myself and chose to respect their privacy instead.
After a brief wardrobe change, I headed over to Play, a multi-room dance club hosting nightly live shows and entertainment. Thursday at Play is Ladies Night, while "Play Mates" take over the venue on Friday and Saturday. The venue is a wonderful destination, adorned with huge video screens, a great sound system and a large dance floor.
Both the bartenders and the patrons of the establishments were extremely friendly, not shying away from conversation or sharing a dance.
Those looking to do business in the city should contact the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce, as well as pick up a copy of Out & About Newspaper, one of several LGBT publications in the city. Joe Morris, managing editor of Out & About, tells me that the city has come a long way in the fight for gay rights. Even some government officials are openly gay.
In all, Nashville is a great city to celebrate being gay. I made many new friends during my trip and look forward to returning in the very near future. I began my journey not expecting much, but left experiencing so much more. The city is full of great culture, great food and, most important, great people. I was sad to leave.