By Joey Amato
The past few months have been nothing short of disastrous for the travel and tourism industry. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and many more layoffs are planned in the upcoming months. As a travel journalist, I wanted to try to find a balance between safety and promoting destinations to help increase tourism. LGBTQ-friendly destinations need our business now more than ever. As someone who has personally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still very cautious when it comes to participating in certain activities, although I have to admit, I have become less fearful than I was earlier this year.
For my first pandemic pilgrimage, I decided to head to Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville was my home for 8 years prior to relocating to Indianapolis, and although I knew Nashville was at one time a hotspot for COVID-19, I know the city well enough to feel comfortable exploring while maintaining the upmost safety precautions. For starters, I visited in the early part of the week, when the number of tourists (or bachelorette parties) would be as minimal as possible. In fact, I did not see many tourists at all during this trip.
Where to Stay
I decided to stay at the new Margaritaville Hotel located downtown, within walking distance to many of the area attractions. My reason for staying downtown was to limit the amount of rideshare trips to and from points of interest. As you enter Margaritaville Hotel you almost feel as if you are instantly transported to a tropical paradise. I have stayed at many hotels over the years, many of which have been quite fabulous, however none provided the feeling and vibe quite like Margaritaville.
After checking in to my room, I decided to explore the property. My first stop was of course the 4th floor pool bar and restaurant called Fins. During my stay, the main restaurant JWB Grille was not open (the hours of operation are Thursday-Saturday at the time of publication). I was greeted by a wonderful bartender who was eager to make me a cocktail. Since I was on vacation, I decided to splurge a bit and opted for a frozen beverage as opposed to a more traditional whiskey drink which Nashville is known for.
Later in the evening, a friend met me back at Fins Bar for some margaritas. A trip to Margaritaville would not be complete without one. The only thing that could have made the experience better is if Jimmy Buffett would have been serenading me by the pool.
What to Do
Just walking around downtown Nashville could prove to be an experience. Music City is known for its famous honky tonks along Broadway as well as attractions such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, Schermerhorn Symphony Center and Musicians Hall of Fame. If you want to limit your activities to outdoors, talk a walk over the pedestrian bridge for one of the best views of the Nashville skyline, or head to Centennial Park, home to a life-size replica of The Parthenon.
Where to Dine
Nashville has emerged as a culinary capital of the United States. Although the city has been known for its BBQ and famous Hot Chicken (yes, KFC stole the idea from Nashville), dozens of new restaurants have been popping up all over the city.
I am a pretty earlier riser, so for a wonderful and delectable breakfast, head to gay-owned D’Andrews Bakery & Cafe. As you enter, the smell of freshly baked goods overwhelms you with delight and you have no choice but to give in to the temptation. From Brioche Fruit Tarts to Pecan Cinnamon Bunz, D’Andrews is the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth and get your day started.
For lunch, head over to Anzie Blue, a unique café/bar/boutique located in the Belle Meade neighborhood which offers guests the chance to add CBD to any one of their delicious coffee or tea drinks. I decided for a turmeric beverage made with almond milk and of course a shot of CBD. For my meal, I ordered a Cheese & Charcuterie board, which was beautiful. I spent a few minutes observing it before diving in. The board is made for two people to share so definitely bring a guest and come hungry.
If you are in the mood for an afternoon snack, head to Tempered Fine Chocolate in Germantown, about a 5 minute ride from the hotel. All the chocolate is made on site and the flavor combinations are some of the most unique I have seen…and tasted. Their selection of truffles is truly to die for. Since I couldn’t decide on one flavor, I chose a 12-pack sampler.
Finally, there is no better way to cap off your culinary adventure of Nashville than with a visit to The Chef & I. Not only is The Chef & I one of my favorite restaurants in Nashville, but it’s one of my favorite restaurants in the entire country. And I am not just saying that because my friends Erica and Chris Rains are the owners. Every time I visit the restaurant is an experience different from the last. If you can, request a seat to dine at the show kitchen bar. My guest Blake were joined for dinner by both Chef Chris and Erica who treated us to a fabulous 5 course feast. We began with their famous Caramelized Brussels Sprouts sautéed crispy with caramelized onions, house cured bacon lardons and finished with lemon, Parmesan, apple cider glaze and whipped goat cheese. For my main entrée, I ordered the Vegan Bento Box, a carefully curated selection of four unique vegan creations, my favorite being a Thai style red lentil cake with zucchini and coconut lemongrass sauce.
The rock and roll-themed cocktails are also incredible. Blake ordered the Dave Grohl which is made with of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, citrus, St. Germain, and black walnut; however, my favorite is Me & Bobby McGhee, a smooth blend of Old Hickory Bourbon, Amarena cherries, absinthe, and bitters. The Chef & I are frequent supporters of Nashville’s LGBTQ community and have been the recipients of numerous awards presented by the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Where to Play
Although I did not visit any of the following establishments on this trip, I have been to all these bars/clubs on many occasions when I lived in Nashville. Please check each of their websites/social media pages prior to visiting so you are familiar with current hours of operation as well as safety procedures. Nashville has a wonderful selection of LGBTQ nightlife establishments each with a different vibe and clientele. I would recommend stopping by a few on your visit to get a flavor of Nashville’s LGBTQ community. Tribe, Canvas, and Play Dance Bar are all located within walking distance of each other on Church Street, however, Play is currently closed due to COVID-19. Pecker’s Bar & Grill and Trax are a quick 5 minute drive south of downtown, while The Lipstick Lounge is located in hip East Nashville, along with many other LGBTQ-friendly establishments.
Traveling during a pandemic can be a bit more challenging, but I think if people take proper precautions, it is perfectly acceptable. We need to support LGBTQ-owned businesses during these challenging times, so even if you are not quite ready to hit the road, now may be a good time to start planning a 2021 getaway.
Joey Amato is the founder and publisher of Pride Journeys, an LGBTQ travel website and syndicated column. For more LGBTQ travel ideas, please visit www.pridejourneys.com.