If travel books and tour guides are to be believed, Atlanta would be defined by such obvious stops as the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park, the Sun Dial and Pittypat's Porch. Tourists might be left thinking the city is a bit simple in its Old South/New South naïveté. But what if, as a visitor to Atlanta, you wanted to find more of the real deal, more grittiness, something more along the lines of a Clermont Lounge beer-can crush than a CNN studio tour?
Four hours north of Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., suffers a similar disconnect between its touristy public image and its scintillating underground. Sure, Nashville boasts the totally worthy Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry (the latter is recovering from damages inflicted by a 1,000-year flood event, which sucks). But there's also an alternate Nashville reality, one that we daresay – at the risk of committing sacrilege – is kind of cooler than Atlanta.
HOT CHICKEN, HOT DOGS
After making the scenic trek to Nashville (take I-75 to I-24 and you're there), you'll probably be ready for some grub. If you want to eat like the locals do, you've got several good options – two of which are crazy hot. The specialty at the no-frills, mom-and-pop Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (123 Ewing Drive, 615-226-9442) is – you guessed it – cayenne-dusted fried chicken. Warning: The medium is still pretty freakin' spicy. Battling Prince's for the best-hot-chicken-in-Nashville title is Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish (624 Main St., 615-254-8015). The best part: You can eat at either joint and spend less than $10. For that price, why not eat at both and determine which is truly superior?
If spicy ain't your thing, you can always grab a wiener at the adorable I Dream of Weenie (1108 Woodland St., 615-226-2622, www.myspace.com/eastnashvilleweenery) hot dog stand, where a basic dog will run you $2.50. They've got tofu versions, too.
VINYL, VINTAGE AND VALUE
It might not boast the largest selection of vinyl in Nashville – that honor belongs to Grimey's (1604 8th Ave., 615-254-4801, www.grimeys.com) – but the Groove (103 S. 11th St., 615-228-2745, www.thegroovenashville.com) has a cool vibe and an impressive collection of new and used records (CDs, too).
After fleshing out your record collection, you can improve your cache of vintage threads at the Hip Zipper (1008 Forrest Ave., 615-228-1942, www.hipzipper.com), where you'll find pristine velvet dresses, timeless tweed overcoats, and oversize (but never out-of-style) accessories from the '40, '50s, '60s and '70s.
Whatever you do, don't miss Imogene + Willie (2601 12th Ave., 615-292-5005, www.imogeneandwillie.com), a gas-station-turned-boutique owned by the super-hip couple who live upstairs. The shop owners once designed denim for the likes of J Brand and Diesel – and now create their own threads on site. They've also got an awesome array of vintage cowboy boots for sale.
If you're going to eat and shop like the locals, you might as well party like them, too. Start by shooting pool at Melrose Billiards (2600 Franklin Road, 615-383-9201), a dive bar that hasn't changed in, like, 60 years. Keep the party going at musician hangout Family Wash (2038 Grenwood Ave., 615-226-6070, www.familywash.com), a watering hole populated by the likes of Reeve Gabrels (who played guitar with Bowie), Audley Freed (formerly of the Black Crowes) and Ken Coomer (a Wilco expat). If the night is right, catch a local indie band at the 5 Spot (1006 Forrest Ave., 615-650-9333, www.the5spotlive.com), Mercy Lounge (1 Cannery Row, 615-251-3020, www.mercylounge.com) or the Basement (1604 8th Ave., 615-254-8006, www.thebasementnashville.com). End your evening with a nightcap at 3 Crow Bar (1024 Woodland St., 615-262-3345, www.3crowbar.com), a comfy neighborhood spot that dates back to 1949.
Hotels can be surprisingly pricey in Nashville, which makes one of the city's B&Bs a good option – particularly if you want to end your Nashville stay on as charming a note as it began. Both 1501 Linden Manor (1501 Linden Ave., 615-298-2701, www.nashville-bed-breakfast.com) and Hillsboro House (1933 20th Ave., 615-292-5501, www.visitnashville.com) are lovely spots to rest your head, with rates starting at $110 and $130, respectively.
Don't leave home without ... Galoshes – just in case the flood makes a comeback.
Don't Miss ... Any of these local bands, if they're playing while you're there: Turbo Fruits (whose frontman Jonas Stein, ex-guitarist for Be Your Own Pet, rekindles the fire-in-the-gut charge that made his former band great), Reno Bo (who, when he's not playing bass for the Mooney Suzuki, fronts a Nashville-based solo project that channels both Big Star and Tom Petty), Majestico, Hans Condor, Deep Vibration, Jeff the Brotherhood, Korean Is Asian, the Ettes and American Bang.
Recommended song for the drive ... A set list composed of tracks from any and all of the above!