For Newfoundland-born country music artist Mallory Johnson, moving to Nashville was always the goal. Originally from Conception Bay South (which she still visits frequently), she knew that the famed “Music City,” filled with legendary venues like the Grand Ole Opry, was the ideal location for her career. But what she didn’t expect was how immediately she would feel at home in Tennessee’s capital when she moved there some five years ago.
“People describe Nashville as a small town in a big city, and you feel like you run into the same people all the time. Southern hospitality is very similar to the friendliness that many Newfoundlands have. I just fell in love,” says Johnson, who released his latest album, “Surprise Party,” last month. “It’s such a creative and really inspiring place – everyone wants to cheer on the next person. It’s just a fun place to be. It’s good energy, good music and good food.”
When he’s not in the recording studio or on stage, Johnson loves to explore his new home. Here are some of his favorite places to eat, hang out, and listen to live music.
For an unforgettable show: The Bluebird Cafe (4104 Hillsboro Pike)
For die-hard country fans, or avid viewers of the Connie Britton-directed TV drama series “Nashville,” the Bluebird Cafe is iconic, Johnson says. Opened in the ’80s, the intimate venue only seats about 90 people, but it’s still the place in the city for composers. The lyricists will take the stage (surrounded by the audience), talk about the story behind the tune, and then perform their own version, sometimes accompanied by surprise guests (former ones include Taylor Swift and Keith Urban). Tickets are selling fast, so plan ahead. “It’s a beautiful experience to sit in the middle of the room and be a part of that story,” says Johnson, who will make his Bluebird debut this month.
For a dinner made to impress: Skull’s Rainbow Room (222 Printers Alley)
“Skull’s Rainbow Room is my favorite restaurant in Nashville right now,” says Johnson. “It’s dark and feels like a lounge, and there’s live jazz music. It’s a really cool place for a date or to celebrate something special.” The restaurant does an excellent steak that “takes up a whole plate,” but the Newfoundland was also pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness of the seafood dishes (particularly the scallops with lemon beurre blanc and capers). If you arrive late on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, you might as well catch one of their burlesque shows.
For a lazy afternoon: 12 South (12th Ave. S.)
To experience Nashville outside of the country music scene, Johnson suggests the trendy 12South neighborhood, one of her favorite places to hang out. The half-mile stretch is home to some of the best restaurants, shops, and murals in the city. There’s a lot to discover on his own, but the musician recommends checking out the family-run Five Daughters Bakery (1110 Caruthers Ave.), which specializes in 100-layer croissant-donuts, and the rustic-chic thrift store Savant. Vintage (2302 12th Ave. S.).
For a classic honky-tonk: Robert’s Western World (416B Broadway Pl.)
Nashville’s entertainment district is full of vibrant honky-tonks (a bar with live country music), so choosing just one can be difficult. But Johnson returns to Robert’s Western world time and time again because of its old-school vibe and his penchant for more traditional country music over contemporary tunes. “If you could visualize what a bar in Nashville would look like, it would be Robert’s,” he says. Cowboy boots line the walls, bartenders are generous with their pours (Johnson’s advice: don’t order more than one), dishes like fried bologna sandwiches hit the spot, and the musicians never fail to impress.
For a trip to the wine country side: Arrington Vineyards (6211 Patton Rd., Arrington)
Co-owned by country music star Kix Brooks (of the Brooks and Dunn duo), this 95-acre estate is about a 40-minute drive south of Nashville. The vineyard offers 21 different wines, including a Chardonnay that won a double gold medal at the 2022 New York International Wine Competition, in five tasting rooms, and if you time your trip right, you can listen to live music (check your online events calendar). “It’s a beautiful vineyard where a lot of people will go and have little picnics,” says Johnson. “It’s a really nice way to spend an afternoon.”
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