Back in Nashville. Wow. My hometown has grown into a beautiful city. Our first night in town we walked down to Broad from the Hermitage Hotel. Lower Broad used to be one of the seediest areas of Nashville, spotted with a few good restaurants for the bankers that worked further uptown and vacant, trash filled lots, sleazy all night diners and clubs with names like the Demon’s Den. Later some of the clubs became more upscale but the trashed filled lots remained and the feeling of peril after dark.
We walk a few blocks from the hotel (the concierge assures us it is safe) with our friends Larry and Ruth to a Disneyland of shops, clubs and restaurants. Larry, a raconteur extraordinaire, is telling us a story of the early days of the Demon Den when a singer with the band of the evening was shot and killed because he didn’t know any Jimmy Buffett songs. Whether apocryphal or not, it captured the early days of this (in)famous part of Nashville.
Tonight, there is a circus feel. It could be Mardi Gras in the French Quarter with a Disneyland twist. No more vacant lots; shops, restaurants and clubs fill every available space. The crowds are college kids, families, tourists.
It’s still garish but in a family friendly way. There are oversized Elvises (Elvi?) on some corners and painted, decorated guitars on others.. (Nashville had their artists paint guitars while Santa Fe had theirs paint horses.)
We make our way to the Merchant, an old, kind of staid restaurant that catered to the bankers and other business people, mostly men, back in the day. Really hasn’t been THAT long, folks.
After a 45 minute wait, they seat us in a makeshift patio out on the alley. It’s not a great location, it’s right beside the valet parking station. I would have preferred to have been in their beautiful bar by the big windows up front but we’re so glad to see Larry and Ruth that we decide it’s colorful and fun to sit at a table on the old cobblestone alley.
The food isn’t what I remember. It’s “down home food done up” as I start to think of it as I experience it again and again in the new Nashville. I order Johnny Cash’s Cast Iron Pot Chili. I don’t know about Johnny but it sure is reminiscent of my mother’s – full of beans and ground beef, tomato sauce and spices. We used to crumble Nabisco saltines on top but this is served with a fine cornbread.
I also ordered tater tots cooked in duck fat. I wanted to see if duck fat improves one of my childhood favorites. I’d have to say, not really. They needed something more to make them pop, something to bring them out the ordinary, but hey, I loved them just the same.
We all walked back happy and satisfied past the Ryman Auditorium now reopened and the new hockey stadium. Nashville with a hockey team was news to me and a bit surreal. At the time, the NFL was on strike so they were using it as a performance venue. Nashville didn’t miss a beat, just kept on trucking (or pucking). I was with the best of friends, it wasn’t too cold, there were people on the street in festive moods and I was away from the biting cold of this New Mexico winter. Wow. It was a great landing into my old hometown.