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VOL. 38 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 5, 2014

Have yourself a Music City Christmas: What to see, do in Nashville this holiday season

By Hollie Deese

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In years past, Carl Haley has offered his Grand Avenue transportation passengers the customary Christmas lights tour packages – about the same as other tours in Nashville – with a cruise by Opryland and a trip to a few choice, heavily decorated neighborhoods.

Haley knew the run-of-the-mill tour, even with cookies and hot cider, wasn’t good enough to be part of an ‘It’ City Christmas.

Middle Tennesseans and their guests want to get the full Nashville treatment and take advantage of all there is to do here, all of the new places and trends to experience, many of which didn’t exist this time last year.

Haley wanted to be part of the adventure.

“I woke up two months ago and started to think about the lights tours. I wanted to do something different. I want people to be excited, and I want them to come back. I got with my team and we started to brainstorm.”

What they came up with were customized routes for different parts of town – a North Pole package that takes riders through Nashville and into Jellystone Park Camp Resort on Music Valley Drive for its outstanding display.

A South Pole package caters to Williamson County, with an extended stop at the Lutz House for some hot cocoa and tales of what Christmas was like in the 1800s.

“It was about partnering up, finding the best possible lights, and having precision about where everything is, training the drivers and making sure you can answer all the people’s questions.” Haley says of his revamped tours, which last about three hours each.

Grand Avenue (186 N. First St., 714-5466, grandavenueworldwide.com) began operations in March 2010, growing a fleet of four cars to 40. It is made up of sedans, SUVs and limousines, so it can accommodate parties as large as 28.

Whether it’s a night out in a vintage Rolls Royce Silver Cloud or a rolling party for 28 of your closest friends, Grand Avenue has a plan, and a route, to suit.

-- Submitted

During the holiday season, Grand Avenue is also great for easing the stress of a trip to the mall for shopping, dinner with friends, or transportation to and from an office holiday party.

“You might even find Santa Claus on the route,” Haley explains of the December packages.

In fact, you can arrange to have Santa surprise you along the way, even meeting up with the car at one of the stops, or even by the pedestrian bridge for a photo op with the Nashville lights of downtown as a backdrop.

“If you have family coming in to town and want to show them Nashville, how cool is that?” Haley asks. “And this year, I think this is going to be our best year.”

It’s a trend that extends all throughout Christmas 2014 – it’s all about experiencing Nashville, and sharing with loved ones all the city now has to offer.

Drive-through Santa house

Jellystone Park Camp Resort (2572 Music Valley Drive, 889-4225, nashvillejellystone.com; thedancinglightsofchristmas.com) is hosting one of the area’s largest drive-through light and music shows with large new LED displays this year, all dancing to upbeat Christmas tunes streamed through your own car radio.

Next door to Jellystone is the area’s gold standard in holiday lights, Opryland Resort and Convention Center (2800 Opryland Drive, 889-1000). More than two-million dazzling holiday lights draw visitors from all over the area and beyond – and the traffic from here until the end of the year shows it.

Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with the outdoor nativity display on the Magnolia Lawn with its special lighting effects, or the indoor parade of trees throughout the hotel, specially decorated by a number of country artists and other celebs.

In Lebanon, Chad’s Winter Wonderland (791 E. Old LaGuardo Road, 758-8300, chadswinterwonderland.com) has been delighting people for decades with millions of lights, including more than 350 pieces of scenery and 90 light arches across eight acres.

Chad’s Winter Wonderland has been lighting up Lebanon for over 30 years, and offers a drive-thru light tunnel with over 90 arches and synchronized lights.

-- Submitted

A drive-through Santa house features the big man himself and a place for kids to hand off letters.

Live animals add to the playfulness of it all. Be sure to bring cash ($15 per car) – cards are not accepted.

Art of Pie, Wine Down

What better way to show off Nashville than right in the heart of downtown, energized by hotels, stores and restaurants that may be new to you or your out-of-town guests.

Book your family into one of the many hotels competing to be the best. Build your experiences from what they have to offer. No driving, no parking and lots of festive fun to be had.

“We have plenty of holiday stuff going on,” says Zack Frizzell with Omni Hotels & Resorts (250 Fifth Ave. S, 782-5300, omnihotels.com).

Omni recently launched its Art of Pie social campaign, and the brand’s chefs got together and compiled their best pie dishes for the holidays.

Each week, Omni releases four new pie recipes (www.omnihotels.com/blog/the-art-of-pie/) along with baking tips from the experts.

Omni Nashville’s Music City Mud Pie is one of the featured treats and is also on their current holiday menu throughout the season.

“Pastry Chef Andrew Manchester has created a rich, contemporary version,” Frizzell explains. “It’s jazzed up and all about the music around Nashville. And Chef Andrews’s cake is completely gluten free.”

When stopping in for a slice, pop into the locally-stocked Five and TENN gift shop, or grab a gift certificate from Mokara Spa (250 5th Ave. S. 761-3600 or mokaraspas.com) for one of their spa services, including massage therapy, facials, body treatments, manicures, pedicures.

Of course, you could indulge in a treatment right on the spot, trading some shopping madness for refined relaxation.

Every Wednesday through the end of the year is “Wine Down Wednesday” when you can book the “Wine Down” offer for $99, which includes a cocktail or mocktail and a 50-minute classic massage, custom facial, or body treatment.

Fancy fare

The Hermitage Hotel (345-7109, thehermitagehotel.com) has long been a center of activity for festive events, and they encourage people to book any holiday celebration there and leave the planning to them.

Sounds great, especially when you consider the special holiday menus created by Chef Tyler Brown and his team for 2014.

Among the seasonal menu items are spice rubbed pork loin with smoked apple butter, roasted free range turkey with traditional giblet gravy, cranberry and kumquat preserve, or smoked sorghum glazed bone-in ham served with orange marmalade.

Union Station Hotel (1001 Broadway, 726-1001, unionstationhotelnashville.com), the restored 1900-era railway station, is the perfect place to get the feel for the season with walnut paneling, stone fireplaces and twinkling lights.

If you have decided to take a break from cooking on Christmas, their dinner on December 25 at Prime 108 is a decadent take on the 12 Days of Christmas with balsamic-glazed Brussel sprouts, crème fraiche and chive whipped potatoes and a chateaubriand with bacon-thyme bordelaise.

Experience Tokyo in Tennessee

Restaurateur and Seed Hospitality CEO Patrick Burke knows as much as anyone just how competitive the dining scene has gotten in Nashville over the last decade, which only makes him work harder to offer an experience that can stand out even among the best.

A year ago, Burke opened Two Ten Jack (1900 Eastland Ave. #105, 454-2731, twotenjack.com), the East Nashville ramen spot and Japanese-inspired pub.

His new spot, Lucky Belly (2119 Belcourt Ave., eatatluckybelly.com) opens Friday, December 5, in Hillsboro Village, and Burke hopes to capture customers in the old Zumi Sushi space with another cultural mashup.

“It’s a bar with burgers, sushi and spiked shakes reflecting the urban mania of Tokyo,” Burke says. “Where Two Ten Jack is more reserved, and more about exploring the simple ingredients and the similarities of the rural aesthetic of Tennessee and Japan, Lucky Belly is more about the youthful energy and vibe of Tokyo. The combination of putting sushi and burgers together mirrors Tokyo’s love of burgers and Americana.”

Those spiked shakes are made with kicked up Jenni’s Ice Cream, the buns for the burgers are made by Provence, and the beef itself is selected by Chef Jason McConnell from Greene Cattle Company near his own farm in Hickman County’s Bon Aqua community.

“We are not doing any silly combinations of burgers and sushi on one dish,” Burke assures. “We are letting the burgers be burgers, and they are fantastic in their own right, and the same with the sushi.”

A private event space called 2F upstairs has been converted to a Japanese Karaoke room, which adds another element of fun to revelers this holiday season. Plus, it’s the perfect place to pop in for lunch while shopping the boutiques in Hillsboro Village.

“This time of year people are gathering and one of the coolest things about the Lucky Belly concept is that it is meant to be very energetic, very fun, very approachable,” Burke says.

“Even in the process of developing two ten jack, Nashville had grown so much between 2012 when we first started and 2014 when we opened, that spurred us on to try to bring something new to town. I feel very blessed to live in Nashville and be part of the landscape right now.”

Craft beers, artisan goods

Of course Lucky Belly isn’t the only new dining establishment throwing its hat in the ring before the end of 2014 – there are so many new restaurants to try it is almost overwhelming.

This summer, Acme Feed & Seed (101 Broadway, 915-0888, theacmenashville.com) opened its doors in a century-old building downtown under the supervision of Tom Morales (Loveless Cafe, The Southern, Saffire, Nashville Dancin’), along with partner proprietors Steve Moore, George Boedecker, Nancy Russell and country performer Alan Jackson. The goal is to provide locals and visitors an elevated downtown experience.

Acme Feed & Seed has 22,000 square feet of cocktail, culinary and entertainment space. The first floor  is a restaurant, the second a bar and lounge and the third an event space. The roof is an open-air bar.

-- Jake Giles Netter

The first floor of the three-story building is an updated take on the classic honky-tonk, offering street-food inspired cuisine with 28 regional craft beers on tap, live music and community tables built from refurbished wood native to the original building. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

But there is also the Acme Pantry, a boutique that offers a mix of Acme-branded products and a curated selection of local artisan goods – perfect for regional holiday shopping.

Plus, Nashville sushi master Sam Katakura of Sam’s Sushi – the beloved fresh fish shop that closed its doors earlier in 2014 – is hand rolling sushi on the second floor. A holiday treat for all.

Prima (700 12th Ave. S., 873-4232, primanashville.com) from Chef Salvador Avila and Community Hospitality opened just weeks ago and is already getting rave reviews, living up to all the buzz that surrounding The Gulch’s latest fine-dining offering.

Whole-roasted fish, bone-in meats and local produce are the big draw, and out-of-town family members will taste exactly why Nashville is getting so much love lately from the national press.

Of course, it could have something to do with the influx of celebrity chefs who have taken over Nashville’s culinary scene as well, with Dale Levitski’s Sinema (2600 Franklin Pike, 942-7746, sinemanashville.com), Jonathan Waxman’s Adele’s (1210 McGavock St., 988-9700, adelesnashville.com) and Maneet Chauhan’s Chauhan Ale and Masala House (123 12th Ave. N., 779-3770, chauhannashville.com), all new and competing for your attention this holiday season.

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