Travel

What to Do After Dark in Nashville

See a different side of the city with these fun nighttime activities in Nashville.

Rosemary & Beauty Queen
Rosemary & Beauty Queen
Rosemary & Beauty Queen

Whodini told us that “the freaks come out at night,” but that’s not necessarily so. There are plenty of things to do around Nashville after most bars and restaurants have shuttered for the evening that anyone of any temperament can enjoy. However, if you do want to get just a little bit wild, those opportunities are there for you, too. We’ve put together a list of some of the best ways to embrace the night in Nashville, whether you’re looking to watch a movie, get a little exercise, listen to music or grab some grub without plunging into the massive crowds of Lower Broadway’s neon canyon of excess.

Pins Mechanical Co.
Pins Mechanical Co.
Pins Mechanical Co.

Knock down some drinks and some pins

Various
Back in the day, bowling and drinking were two activities that were discouraged from doing together. Draconian alley owners made bowlers keep all their beers far from the lanes, or limited drinking to their dark seedy bars that smelled like rental shoes. Thank goodness for establishments that have realized that bowlers can safely enjoy a cocktail or three while slinging some balls down the alley. At Pins Mechanical Co., take advantage of a full bar while you have fun duckpin bowling, a less-intense version of the game that uses smaller balls and pins, and doesn’t even require special shoes. There are also rooms full of vintage video games to play into the wee hours. Pinewood Social is an all-day destination with a coffee shop, full-service restaurant, craft cocktail bar and six vintage lanes restored from a Bowl-a-Rama in Indiana. They even serve large format cocktails that your entire bowling party can share.

Have some late-night yuks at a comedy club

Various
Most comedy clubs offer at least two sets a night on weekends with the benefit that the later shows usually get a little more ribald and funnier. At Nashville’s long-time king of comedy clubs, Zanies, national touring acts headline the weekends with local comics often opening for the stars. You can also find standup at Third Coast Comedy Club, but the emphasis is more on sketch comedy and improv. Monday night “Roast the Host” open mics are always a hoot.

Robert's Western World
Robert’s Western World
Robert’s Western World

Go honky tonkin’ like the locals do

Downtown
It’s hard to find bad music even in the cheesiest of Lower Broad bars, but those in the know flock to Robert’s Western World for the most authentic honky tonk experience in town. Long-time performers like Brazilbilly and the Don Kelley Band feature some of the hottest pickers in town playing country from when country wasn’t cool, as Barbara Mandrell would say. In fact, the bands sometimes get so into it, drummers have been known to fall out of the front window. Head to the back of the long, skinny room, order up a longneck and their famous fried bologna sandwich, and then fight your way back as far forward as your claustrophobia will allow.

Pump up the jams with the party people

Various
Nashville is blessed with several LGBTQ+ bars that are both a whole lotta fun and also quite welcoming to anyone who wants to enjoy a good time. At Play Dance Bar, the sound system and light shows set the mood for the frenetic dance floor with the bonus of some of the city’s best drag shows at various times of the evening until late, late night. Five Points Diner & Bar is a pretty conventional restaurant and cocktail lounge during the day and early evening, but as the sun goes down, the volume goes up for a more energetic scene. The bar is open late with a special menu of party fuel from the kitchen. It’s decidedly mellower at Lipstick Lounge, one of the oldest lesbian bars in the country, but everyone is welcome in the lounge or the classy cigar bar upstairs. Karaoke nights are definitely a highlight of the weekly schedule.

The Basement East
The Basement East
The Basement East

Catch an up-and-coming star at a rock bar

Various
Being Music City and all, you know that Nashville has some amazing performance venues. Among the most beloved is the Exit/In, an Elliston Place institution where legends like Jimmy Buffett, REM, The Police, Billy Joel, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon, and many others graced the small stage before reaching stardom. Be aware of the concept of “Exit/In Standard Time” if you go to see a show. If the poster says that the show starts at 9:00, the headliner’s bus probably won’t even show up at the venue before midnight. Plan and drink accordingly. Across the river, The Basement East (affectionately known as “The Beast”) exudes a similar vibe to the Exit/In. It’s a neighbourhood hang that happens to feature great bands on a stage with excellent sightlines for viewing, even if you’re seated behind the crowd. A spacious outdoor deck is a fine place to catch a little fresh air and a nice view of downtown across the river between sets.

Sing along with Santa

Fairgrounds
Speaking of karaoke, Santa’s Pub has been a late-night destination for more than a decade. Once you get over the cognitive dissonance of a bar that is basically a double wide trailer with the halls decked for Christmas all year round and that the proprietor does indeed look like St. Nick, you can get around to having a lowdown dirty good time. Well, not a “dirty” time, because Santa doesn’t allow any cussin’, smoking, or beer on his stage when you’re howling along to your favourite hits. As opposed to some downtown singalong clubs where the performers sound like they are trying out for a record deal, at Santa’s it’s all about the fun of being a little silly among friends. It’s canned beer and cash-only, so bring your ATM card.

Rosemary & Beauty Queen
Rosemary & Beauty Queen
Rosemary & Beauty Queen

Put on your knee pads for a Five Points bar crawl

East Nashville
If, as is often lazily asserted, East Nashville is our Brooklyn, the Five Points neighbourhood is Nashville’s Williamsburg. Although the confluence of streets from all directions can make navigation a little confusing, you’re never far from a bar to ask for directions and a drink. Beyond the Edge is a sports bar stalwart that has only recently gone smoke-free indoors, so you’ll be able to watch games on their 25 screens without looking through a haze. 3 Crow Bar is a watering hole that stays open as late as the law will allow, serving from a long menu of beers and spirits plus their dangerously boozy frozen Bushwacker. Red Door Saloon is another casual choice for cheap drinks and simple food like steamed sandwiches and hot dogs. Attracting a diverse crowd inside and on the covered porch, it’s a nice cross-section of the neighbourhood. Noble’s is a newer addition to the Five Points area, but it has quickly made itself at home thanks to a menu of comfort food, craft beer, and cocktails. The main bar closes earlier, but the Break Room upstairs welcomes night owls until a 2:30 last call. A night out at Rosemary & Beauty Queen often feels like a house party, since the cocktail bar is indeed located in a historic home that blends in with the rest of the neighbourhood. However, they won’t kick you out until 2 am, and how many party hosts will do that? After you’re done crawling and you’re looking for your “fourth meal,” check out nearby Dino’s or The Treehouse for burgers and late-night snacks.

Rivergate Skate Center
Rivergate Skate Center
Rivergate Skate Center

Skate late

Various
If you’re feeling the need for speed plus a little nostalgia, you can’t beat skating on wheels or blades. Rivergate Skate Center caters to adults with a Sunday Night late skate from 8 pm until 11:30 pm for the 21+ crowd, and Brentwood Skate Center also features the occasional adult rink session later in the evening. For skateboarders, rollerbladers, and BMXers Two Rivers Skate Park stays open until 11 am for your outdoor shredding pleasure. If you think ice is nice, the Ford Ice Centers sometimes feature skate rentals and rink time later in the evening, especially for adult beer hockey leagues.

Refuel at a downtown diner

Downtown
Now that the venerable Hermitage Cafe has closed and Athens Family Restaurant doesn’t serve 24 hours anymore, late-night greasy spoon options have become a little more limited. Fortunately, The Diner offers both casual and slightly more upscale fare in its six floors of dining space towering over SoBro. Each floor serves something a little different from breakfast and pastries on the ground floor to sports bar fare on the second level and a sushi/raw bar experience on the top floor. It’s open until 2:30 am, so you’ll have plenty of time to make your choices. At Sun Diner, the menu is a little more straight ahead diner food-focused, and the decor is a throwback to the days when Elvis ruled the airwaves. Best of all, they serve until 3 in the morning.

Skull's Rainbow Room Printers Alley
Skull’s Rainbow Room Printers Alley
Skull’s Rainbow Room Printers Alley

Watch the tassels twirl at Skull’s

Downtown
Unlike a lot of downtown clubs, Skull’s Rainbow Room isn’t an homage to anything. It’s the real damned thing with a history stretching back to when original owner David “Skull” Schulman first opened his lounge in 1948 and watched it become the entertainment anchor of Printers Alley in its heyday. The modern-day incarnation of Skull’s maintains the old school vibe with a beautiful ornate bar pumping out cocktails and a kitchen preparing a classic chop house menu. But the real highlights are the PG13-rated burlesque shows Friday and Saturday nights starting at 11 pm. Accompanied by a live band, these lovely dancers have mastered the art of the tease, gracefully moving to the music and working the room without revealing too much.

Discover Nashville’s spooky past

Various
The aforementioned Skull Schulman was the victim of a brutal murder in his club in 1998, and that’s one of the stories you can hear as a part of Nashville Ghost Tours, a ghoulish walk through history. The tour starts outside of Skull’s and meanders around downtown while knowledgeable guides share details of the city’s haunted history. Don’t worry, if you get too scared, you’re never more than a few steps away from a bar for some liquid courage.

Belcourt Theatre
Belcourt Theatre
Belcourt Theatre

Catch a midnight flick at the Belcourt

Hillsboro Village
As the city’s favorite cinema, you’d expect the Belcourt to screen arthouse fare and the latest first-run highbrow films, and they do that for sure. But at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, they’re not afraid to get weird with late shows. The two movies are usually thematically related, but it’s absolutely fine if you only want to see the musical slasher “Stagefright” the first night and give “Slumber Party Massacre II” a miss on Saturday. Any midnight showing at the Belcourt is worth staying up late for.

Experience Nashville’s most decadent late-night bites

Various
It’s not like you’re probably hankering for kale at 11 pm, so it’s a good thing that Nashville bars and restaurants are there to ease your craving for a quick edible nightcap. The Big Bar at Bastion serves fantastic drinks, but there’s only one thing on the food menu: quite possibly the best nachos in town. Actually, you could say two things since they are available in a vegetarian version, but the original with smoked pork, multiple cheeses, tomatillo salsa veggies, and sour cream is absolutely transcendent. Mother’s Ruin in Germantown isn’t the sort of place you’d want to tweet about if your doctor follows you on Twitter (like mine does). The menu isn’t exactly healthy, but damned if it isn’t delicious and available until long after midnight. Get the Old Bay waffle fries with spicy ketchup and caramelized onion dip, but don’t tell my doc I sent you. At Black Rabbit, you can enjoy live music, strong drinks and great food in a historic building that was once home to Jimmy Hoffa’s lawyer. Almost everything they cook gets at least a kiss of live fire, and an order of their rabbit rolls made with a rabbit/pork bologna served with swiss, dijon and onion on a Hawaiian roll is the perfect boost to help you hop home after a late night out.

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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of Nashville, where he has lived his entire life — except for four years in California where he studied liberal arts at Stanford University and learned how to manipulate chopsticks. He is a regular contributor to the Nashville Scene, Nashville Lifestyles, Local Palate, Edible, FoodRepublic.com, and Conde Nast Traveler. He likes beer, bourbon, and bacon but isn’t fanatical about any of them.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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