THEY CALL Nashville “Music City.” Not that you need to hear it from other people to know the moniker is a fitting one, though. After all, with all the musical institutions that call Nashville home, to say nothing of the countless musicians who’ve come through the city over the years, it practically goes without saying. Here, you’ll find the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Jack White’s Third Man Records, the Country Music Hall of Fame and an endless list of music publishing houses and labels. But if you venture eastward, away from Music Row and the tourist trappings of downtown Nashville, you’ll find a place where the true Nashvillians like to unwind.
“You know how if you live in a city that has a really touristy downtown, it’s like the opposite of where you want to actually hang?” says Elise Davis, an Arkansas-bred singer-songwriter who followed her dreams to Nashville about eight years ago. “East Nashville is my favorite part of town that’s outside of the downtown area. It’s like hanging out in Brooklyn rather than Times Square.”
And near the heart of East Nashville sits Lockeland Springs, where Elise lived for about four years after she moved out of the midtown area. During that time, Elise saw the neighborhood transformed. Shady liquor stores and payday loan centers gave way to a thriving district with some of the best eateries and nightlife in the city. But Lockeland Springs’ glow-up is far from finished.
“Now these other little restaurants and shops are developing,” Elise says. “It’s kind of like this continually developing little pocket.”
There is so much to do in the relatively small area, she says, that it makes Lockeland Springs a very walkable part of East Nashville. And as you stroll about the neighborhood, the area’s character reveals itself, not only in the trendy “newness” of it all, but in its rich history as well—particularly in the beautiful Craftsmans, 1920s bungalows and Victorian homes that populate the streetcar suburb.
It’s likely that character that drew musicians and artists to the area in the first place. It was certainly the case for Elise. And though she’s since moved out of Lockeland Springs and East Nashville entirely, the area keeps calling her back to revisit her old haunts and experience its new offerings. Because now that Elise has lived in Music City for almost a decade, that makes her a true Nashvillian, and this is where true Nashvillians come to play.
Unlocking Lockeland Springs
Key into these neighborhood hot spots
It should come as no surprise that Music City has a plethora of great record stores. But a record store that’s also a craft-beer bar? Now that’s a beat we can dance to. Vinyl Tap has only been in the neighborhood since 2016, but thanks to its intriguing concept that allows patrons to rummage through records while enjoying local and regional brews (as well as cocktails and a snackable menu of sandwiches and small plates with names like “The Rick Reuben” and “The Cure”), the place has become a local favorite. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Hop on over to nearby record shop The Groove, or if you want to visit an iconic Nashville establishment, head to the recently relocated Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, just north of Lockeland Springs. (2038 Greenwood Ave.; vinyltapnashville.com)
Two Ten Jack
“Two Ten Jack is the most amazing ramen in the whole world,” Elise says. “I’m a big foodie person, and I’ve eaten ramen in a lot of places, in New York and stuff, and I still find it to be my favorite ramen of all the ones I’ve ever had.” TTJ offers pork, chicken and veggie options for their ramen, and while they’re all delicious, Elise says the tori paitan shoyu (aka chicken) ramen is by far her favorite. Aside from ramen, the restaurant’s menu features a wide variety of sushi and small plates, as well as yakitori, a style of dish involving skewered and grilled offerings such as pork belly, skirt steak and wagyu beef-filled shishito peppers. (1900 Eastland Ave., Suite 105; twotenjack.com)
Located just a short walk across Eastland Avenue from Two Ten Jack, Rosepepper Cantina holds a special place in Elise’s heart. Not only was it the site of her first dinner in Nashville, but when she lived in Lockeland Springs, she would often sit out on the restaurant’s patio, sipping margaritas and writing song lyrics. But Elise isn’t the only one with an affection for the place. It’s become a popular spot among Nashvillians, largely thanks to the aforementioned tequila cocktail staple. “Everyone goes there because the margaritas are super strong,” she says. “But they’re also really tasty, and not like the fake sugary kind. They use fresh-squeezed lime juice.” (1907 Eastland Ave; rosepepper.com)
The Wild Cow
Looking for some delicious vegetarian or vegan lunch fare? At The Wild Cow, you can get everything from a taco to a Reuben to a French dip to a patty melt—all animal-free. What’s more, Wild Cow donates 2.5 percent of its Thursday sales to a different charity each month, so you’ll not only feel good about where your food is coming from but where your money is going as well. Still hungry? Head around the corner to Graze, from the same owners, where you can order a plate of spaghetti and wheatballs, or a bowl of kimchee fried rice. (1896 Eastland Ave.; thewildcow.com)
Another iconic establishment, Dino’s is East Nashville’s oldest dive bar, well-known for its no-frills vibe, cheap beer and simple-but-delicious food. And with a list of bona fides, including a 2016 appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and a burger named one of Bon Appétit’s top three in 2017, it’s no surprise that the place has stuck around. The daily 3 a.m. closing time allowing for post-revelry noms has probably contributed to the dive’s staying power as well. As for Elise? It’s where she played her first Nashville show. (411 Gallatin Ave.; dinosnashville.com)
Mas Tacos Por Favor
If there’s one thing that Nashville loves, it’s country music. If there are two things Nashville loves, it’s country music and Mas Tacos. “Mas Tacos is the kind of place that, constantly, from open to close, there’s a really long line around the corner because it’s so good,” Elise says. The menu is relatively simple, consisting of tacos, soups and sides, but every option is a winner. Pro tip: Don’t leave without trying the “World Famous Mexico City-Style Chicken Tortilla Soup.” “That’s one of my favorite soups in the whole world,” Elise says. (732 Mcferrin Ave.; facebook.com/mastacos)
You’d be forgiven for driving past Rosemary’s nondescript location without a second thought. There’s no signage, and the bar is housed, literally, in a historic Victorian-style home. But what resides beyond the little yellow house’s front door was dubbed “The most beautiful bar I’ve ever seen,” in a recent Twitter post from our photographer. And after seeing photos of the home’s elegant chandelier, the brass-framed paintings and the stained-glass accents of the bar, we have to agree. Whether you’re sipping a local brew or one of Rosemary’s twists on a classic cocktail, you’ll feel right at home here. (1102 Forrest Ave.; facebook.com/rosemaryandbeautyqueen)
The 5 Spot
So where does a musician like to go to see live music in Lockeland Springs? If you ask Elise, The 5 Spot is near the top of the list for several reasons. For starters, the place has music every single night of the week, whether a local band or a “Motown Monday” dance party. As a songwriter, Elise likes to occasionally take the stage for one of The 5 Spot’s early sets. “There will be people in there that just want to sit and have a happy-hour drink and watch some songwriters,” she says, “and I think a lot of writers like to do that because it’s still daylight, but you’re in this dark, kind-of-grungy bar, and you get to try out new songs without as much pressure.” (1006 Forrest Ave.; the5spot.club)