The best gay Nashville weekend – from Nashville country concerts to the best gay Nashville bars

Crispy chicken and country music are what encapsulate our weekend trip to Tennessee, even as we park up in the capital of Nashville, for culture, nightlife and aged whisky by the keg full. While the state of Tennessee as a whole won’t win any prizes for LGBTQ+ acceptance, the capital is an unexpected oasis for gay travellers with an artistic local community that champions progress and liberalism. Tour the city, ticking off distilleries, listening rooms and Elvis’ homeland, making sure to check in on the bar scene that gives New Orleans’ Bourbon Street a run for its money. Come on down to Nashville with us today.

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Nashville | Photo: Garrett Hill

Gay Nashville

More liberal than any other city in the Deep South (with the possible exception of Weird Austin, Texas), Nashville lies firmly at the centre of LGBTQ+ lifestyles across the region. Gay-friendly citywide, Nashville sees cowboys, country singers, politicians, hipsters, gays and artists all live, work and play in harmony, meaning you can express yourself freely wherever you are in the city. That being said, Nashville’s relationship with gay culture is somewhat complicated by religion, and the Christian church still holds sway here, as you’ll hear in a lot of the country music playing. Nevertheless, even the religious types in Nashville are typically quite progressive and the number of explicitly gay-friendly churches in the city is all the evidence you need.

Ironically, Church Street is the centre for gay life in Nashville, though gay events do pop up around the city on the regular. Of these events, Nashville Pride is the biggest, when the city hosts a huge street festival, parade and myriad club parties across one week in June in support of LGBTQ+ equality and gay rights activism in the region.

Photo: Gustavo Peres

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The city hosts a huge street festival, parade and myriad club parties across one week in June in support of LGBTQ+ equality and gay rights activism in the region

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Fans of country music won’t want to miss the Nashville museum dedicated to all the greats of the genre, both past and present. Likened as the ‘Smithsonian of country music’, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will take you through the ages, exhibiting relics from the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and hundreds of others, as well as hosting a number of musical performances and workshops on the regular.

Belle Meade Plantation

An icon of the South with its beautiful Victorian architecture set within vast grounds, the Belle Meade Plantation is just one example of how Tennessee’s wealthiest white families once lived, as early as the 1840s. Besides a well-preserved mansion creaking with history, the estate’s grounds are equally interesting, showcasing the family’s equestrian legacy and, today, even acknowledging slave-era injustices. Come for wine or bourbon tastings, educational tours, shopping and perhaps even a wedding in grand surrounds.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville | Photo: Matthew Lejune

General Jackson Showboat

Sampling the slower side of Nashville’s nightlife scene inevitably takes you to the Cumberland River for a showboat cruise in good company. Live entertainment and a 3-course Southern meal are offered in the old-timey dining hall for both afternoon and evening cruises, though if you’d prefer just music and dancing you can board for the show exclusively.

Listening rooms

Another of the more low-key ways to enjoy your evenings in Nashville is to join one of the city’s listening rooms, such as the Listening Room Café or Bluebird Café, where acoustic open mic and songwriter nights run regular. Rather than seeing a star born, you’re more likely to discover the singer-songwriters behind famous and lesser-known songs, hearing the stories of how the lyrics were written in intimate company.

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

If looking for things to do in Nashville outside of the centre, be sure to consider the historical Cheekwood Estate & Gardens over to the west. Spread across 55 acres, the Cheek family estate has been open to the public as a botanical garden and art museum since 1960, with the huge Georgian-style mansion at the heart of it all. If your Nashville vacation falls between June and October, schedule your trip for the Thursday Night Out, when you’ll be free to channel the elite Southern belle inside you with games, music, food and cocktails on the lawn.

Photo: Blake Guidry

Photo: Keith Lobo

"Meat and three"

Classy cafeteria dining is a thing in Nashville and the ‘meat and three’ principle is what many of the city’s restaurants operate under. Don’t be intimidated however because the concept is simple, instead of ordering a pre-set dish, you’ll have a choice of one meat and three to six vegetable dishes often served with cornbread and sweet tea. More homely than ostentatious, this is typical Nashville dining, where you’ll happily discover that macaroni and cheese counts as a vegetable. Among the city’s best examples of ‘meat and three’, there’s the ever-popular Arnold’s Country Kitchen where you’ll eat family style with other diners (all before 2.30 pm) and Puckett’s, a community staple since 1950 with live performances and stellar BBQ options.

Graceland

An essential day trip on any Nashville itinerary is a visit to Graceland, former home of the king of rock ’n’ roll himself. For this, you’ll have to drive 3 hours (via I-40 West) to Memphis, but the journey is well worth it as you’ll get to tour a number of attractions on Elvis’ 200,000-square-foot estate. Take in the glam mansion and private living areas, stopping by Beale Street for a taste of blues history and the Sun Studios recording studio to see where Elvis recorded his first song. To rest up before heading back to Nashville, try the elegant Peabody Hotel downtown.

Photo: Shane Raynor

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You’ve got honky-tonk, country music, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and more to choose from on a night out in Nashville, but don’t forget that gay clubs in Nashville are also great spaces to tear up the dancefloor to the tune of Britney and Cher

NIGHTLIFE

You’ve got honky-tonk, country music, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and more to choose from on a night out in Nashville, but don’t forget that gay clubs in Nashville are also great spaces to tear up the dancefloor to the tune of Britney and Cher. Though of course, you’ll want to dress smart for a night out at the Grand Ole Opry Nashville, the bars and clubs here are refreshingly laidback, allowing for casual beers, laughter and socialising in dim lighting. If you’re looking specifically for gay Nashville nightlife, the gaybourhood of Church Street will see you satisfied. It’s here you’ll find gay bars and late-night clubs with weekend promotions, in amongst a selection of mixed venues offering more live music and Southern Comfort cuisine. See a few of our favourite venues below…

Suzy Wong’s House of Yum

First up for food, drink and drag performances is Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, a gay-friendly restaurant-cum-performance venue dedicated to chicken waffles and fabulousness. Besides filling up on some incredible Asian fusion and comfort food, Suzy Wong perfects camp oriental with her ‘brothel of epicurean delights’ by way of creative cocktails, alternative music and sexy shows. Come for Drag’n Brunch on the weekends or Drag’n Dinner on Fridays and Saturdays for a meal and a view to remember.

Photo: Drew Beamer

Photo: Dan Russo

Play Nightclub

After Suzy’s, it stands to reason you’d move onto Play Nightclub, one of the best gay clubs in Nashville offering pumping music, a crowded dancefloor and the sexiest bartenders in town. Located in the thick of the action on Church Street, Play Nightclub always has something going on, including all the more drag shows, celebrity sets and porn star features to make you throw off your shirt and yell ‘yee-haw’. Though the usual clientele is mostly male (and largely shirtless), Thursday is ladies night and all the more mixed because of it.

Canvas

Canvas is also on Church Street, just west of The District Nashville, and a good way to start the evening if looking for fun times on the bar scene. The dancefloor at Canvas is certainly a draw, but the lounge remains ideal for dating and socialising, especially in the summer when the space is transformed into an open-air venue. At all other times, grab a seat at Happy Hour, revelling in the good time vibe amidst Pop Art, LGBT themed décor and eclectic music.

Photo: Chad Morehead

The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club

The best Nashville weekend trips warrant at least one fancy cocktail and The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club is a fine place to get it. For an acceptable $10-15USD a pop, guests can settle themselves among the plush velvet furniture and Art Deco interiors with a signature Bourbon Old Fashioned, snacking on vegan charcuterie and other unexpected fusion foods alongside. Come early on the weekends to cop a table or arrive later to try your luck when the lighting dims and the vibe gets boozy.

The 5 Spot

Though it’s country music Nashville is most well-known for, it’s not a crime to seek out other genres while in the city. The 5 Spot offers the perfect alternative to denim-clad crooners, instead offering swing dancing and Motown music until the early hours. This live music venue is one of the few places that has a bit of a dress code, though costume shirtdresses and jazzy get-ups will suffice. Located across the river east of The District, The 5 Spot is a night out in itself, providing tasty food, free-flowing drinks and toe-tapping music bound to get you moving. Time your visit to attend the monthly Queer Dance Party for a sweaty, glitter-filled dance fest of gays all trying their best to out-jive each other.

Fed up of planning? 

Get a helping hand from the expert team at Mr Hudson who’ll curate a personalised trip itinerary unique to you, focusing on all the attractions, accommodation choices and nightlife settings to suit you. As well as a full day-by-day plan, we’ll also give you advice and booking information to make things go as smoothly as possible. Sign up to Trip Design today.

Nashville | Photo: Tanner Boriack

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