Travel Tips and Green Living

Honky tonks and barbecue

Exploring the honky tonks of Nashville with Local Universe.

[NASHVILLE] Our last real meal was the yogurt and fruit at Thistle Farms Café. The mixed nuts and chocolate samples weren’t cutting it anymore, so we moseyed over to the garish cacophony that is Broadway. 

After having seen the working part of Nashville out by Thistle Farms and getting to know the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood where we were staying, it was kind of weird to step into this iridescent tourist bubble. As you walk up and down the street, you’ll hear short bursts of live music shooting out the door of each bar and honky tonk. At first they all seem different, mixed in with various boutiques and glowing with different shades of neon light. But after you make a few passes up and down the streets, you realize that they’re all operating with the same template: a band, some beer, some barbecue. Bouncers try to lure you to their version without many ways to distinguish it. Not that it’s bad—at an early hour, an air of festivity overpowers the funk of desperation. 

After finding a more swanky rooftop just off Broadway full, we settled on Rippy’s. It was a lovely evening, and Rippy’s second floor is open to the outdoors. When in Nashville, you order beer and barbecue, so I got a Yazoo and some ribs from our fast and friendly waitress via sign language—the band is so darn loud that you can’t actually speak. Good beer, kinda dry ribs made better with a generous application of sauce and a concoction called the Yeehaw: Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Coconut Rum, Peach Schnapps, Lemonade and Sour, topped with Sprite. Sounds like a bad night in a cup, doesn’t it? But it was refreshing and helped me remember the words to all the songs the band sang.

Getting some beer and barbecue in Nashville. 
Speaking of the band. Because it was too loud for conversation, I had plenty of opportunity to wonder about them. I imagined them a longtime foursome, perhaps a little romance between the young blonde singer and the hipster guitarist with the man ponytail, the tattoos, the slim jeans and the sunglasses. I imagined he was friendly—he tried gamely but futilely to rouse the crowd. I imagined the singer, Jessica, was a little prickly. She was clearly annoyed that the crowd couldn’t be roused. I imagined that they might have day jobs but secretly hope to be discovered on the strip in Music City.

The real deal, as I learned from the waitress downstairs, is that they might not be a band at all. The clubs on Broadway hire random musicians to fill the ever-present need for live music. Or maybe they weren’t even hired: Once an hour the group at Rippy’s stopped so that Jessica could visit each table and hit us up for money. I had no cash, but she conveniently had a Square reader, of course. It was business, and they were wanting to be paid. Turns out many of the honky tonk bands do the same.

We wandered out before our eardrums started to bleed and before I could have another drink. I’ve learned at last that it’s smart to leave while you’re still having fun. There’s a fine line between a great evening and ugly.

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