Sunday I spent the day with my dear friend, Debbie. She drove me around the new Nashville showing me the sights. We drive down 12th Avenue which is enjoying quite the renaissance. The area is known as the Gulch and even has its own website, www.explorethegulch.com. We go by the Station Inn, a Nashville landmark in its little stubby block building considered Bluegrass and Roots Music’s premiere listening room. Now it’s surrounded by new, bigger buildings which makes it even more endearing. The website for the gulch says that its “An exciting combination of the old, the adapted, and the cutting edge, the GULCH pulsates with opportunities for the very best in urban living.” I love a city with its old and new holding court comfortably side by side.
Ready for food, we head to Hillsboro Village where we spent so many lunches in the past. I lived in the Village most of my adult life. It’s a great mix of professors, students, artists and the well-healed. It’s home to Vanderbilt University on one side and Belmont University on the other. I imagine we’ll go to one of the coffee places that have been here forever. But they have all become full-fledged restaurants since I’ve been gone. And as most places I’ve been in Nashville, there is a 45 minute wait!
A 45 minute wait in the village? It used to be that the only place in the Village where you had to wait was Pancake Pantry. Now the block is packed with little restaurants with lines out their doors. I remember Fido’s on 21st, it’s part of the Bongo Java family of fun, funky cafes. They’ve got a full fledged menu now that looks yummy but with every other place, the wait is long so we continue looking along the street.
Speaking of Bongo Java, I think, it was the first coffee shop in Nashville. Across from Belmont University, it’s always been a favorite hangout. They now have several stores including one in the new East Nashville. Bongo Java gained notoriety back when one of their cinnamon rolls came out of the oven and the baker thought it bore a striking resemblance to Mother Theresa. They saved the bun, shellacked it and put it in a glass case. The NunBun became a sensation. There were mock candlelight vigils (it IS a university area). Then, in the land of many churches, some people became offended. Mother Theresa actually weighed in. She didn’t mind the bun but didn’t want them profiting from “her” image. According to Bongo Java’s website, there was dispute about the bun image because it wasn’t really her image – some people said it looked like Jimmy Durante. Anyway, in its day, the 90s, it went viral across the YouTube of its day – print media, television, radio. It caused quite a stir. I was sad to hear that someone broke into Bongo Java on Christmas day 2005 and stole the bun. I had hoped one day to make a pilgrimage to the bun in remembrance of how outrageous and fun the Village area was for me and my friends. There’s more about the NunBun on Bongo Java’s website. http://www.bongojava.com/, click on the NunBun icon at the bottom right.
To put the NunBun “debacle” into perspective, this area of Nashville, despite being a university area with a diverse population is also home to the world famous Pancake Pantry. Years before the NunBun, the Pantry was known for not allowing “long hairs” into the restaurant. This WAS the 80s. I’m pretty sure the issue had been resolved elsewhere for years.
Pancake Panttry was also a place where music deals were made and stars were born. Pancake Pantry made the Tonight Show when Jay Leno called Joyce, one of its tireless, gregarious waitresses to ask what Garth Brooks had for breakfast there. Garth had been on the Tonight show bragging about the diet that had given him his new trim figure. Joyce disclosed that his breakfast there had been bacon, hash browns and pancakes. Busted! Not exactly the diet he’d been bragging about on the show! How Jay Leno got wind of it in the first place I don’t know.
Is a split personality what makes a city interesting? Or maybe a little distance allows for appreciation of all those idiosyncrasies. I don’t know. I think Nashville has grown up and is comfortable in her own skin.