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Nashville becomes Cashville—and Brings Retro Style

Nostalgia buffs (and Larry Ellison's Oracle headquarters) are heading to Tennessee's capital—where it’s not only the chicken that’s hot.

There’s hardly been a story in recent years that doesn’t include Nashville as a boom town and must-visit destination.

Last week, Oracle announced it is moving its headquarters from Austin, TX to Music City. In the past decade alone, Tennessee’s capital has played host to the NFL draft and the Stanley Cup finals, ushered in a new professional soccer stadium, and altered its skyline into a remarkable glass-and-steel metropolis that could rival any major U.S. city. And that’s not even factoring in the sheer number of visitors Nashville’s long-time banner events, like its annual Fourth of July extravaganza or the four-day CMA Fest routinely draw.

And visitors are rewarding the city with money to burn. “Tennessee’s annual visitor spending approached a record $10 billion in 2022,” says Mark Ezell, commissioner of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “What sets Nashville apart is its diverse array of attractions, from major international events like the Music City Grand Prix to the recent addition of GEODIS Park, the largest soccer-specific stadium in North America and home to Nashville SC.”

Nashville’s appeal as a global travel destination continues to rise. It is the sixth most-visited city in the US.

With the continued expansion of hotels, restaurants and attractions—not to mention the shiny new veneer of Nashville International Airport (BNA), currently in the midst of another expansion to the tune of $1.5 billion—the city’s appeal as a global travel destination also continues to rise. Its centrality is a plus, too. It’s only an hour from Texas, an hour from Florida, and 90 minutes from New York City. In fact, it’s the sixth most-visited city in the US (even beating out Orlando). And with that growth comes fresh hotels popping up everywhere.

Swimming pool with
The Dive Motel was the first vintage-style accommodation of its kind in Nashville when it debuted in 2019. Photo by Ben Fitchett
Yellow and orange-themed Interior of a guest room at the Dive Motel, Nashville, Tn
A remodel of the historic Key Motel, its design leans into the property’s original identity with splashes of 1970s-inspired décor that exude a distinct “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” vibe. Photo by Ben Fitchett

Nashville has all the standard glitzy, luxury high-rises—Four Seasons, Conrad, Grand Hyatt, JW Marriott, Thompson—but it’s the quirky, retro-inspired stays that have piqued travelers’ interest of late.

When The Dive Motel debuted in 2019, it was the first vintage-style accommodation of its kind in Nashville. A remodel of the historic Key Motel, the latest concept from Urban Cowboy owners Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks gave each of the 23 rooms a unique, whimsical and colorful theme—think: spaceships, nautical seaside, jungle, mountains—and its own Party Switch that spins a disco ball and Dive Radio tunes. 

Don’t expect luxe—it’s “definitely divey, definitely a step back in time,” said one online reviewer. But that’s the point. The NYC-based proprietors leaned into the property’s original identity with splashes of 1970s-inspired décor that exude a distinct “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” vibe. The pool and bar, with a stage area for live performances and local DJs, are open to the public in addition to motel guests.

Vintage Airstream poolside bar at the Wayback hotel, Nashville TN
Vintage Airstream poolside bar at The Wayback—with reportedly one of the best tequila selections in East Tennessee. After 5pm the Swim Club is open only to those over 21. Courtesy of The Wayback

Around the same time the Dive Motel arrived, The Russell opened its doors elsewhere in East Nashville in a former 1904 church that was damaged by a tornado nearly a century later. The owners reclaimed what they could from the original structure—like the bell tower, pews, and iconic stained-glass windows—using them to drive the interior design, with maximum color and minimalist furnishings to make the architectural details the true stars of the show.

Interior of a guest room at Urban Cowboy
Urban Cowboy’s suites are housed in a historic Victorian mansion dating back to the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Urban Cowboy
Bartender at Urban Cowboy hotel in Nashville, TN mixing three cocktails simultaneously
The Public House bar ”out back’ in a coverted carriage house, is “equal parts local watering hole and cocktail lover’s paradise.” Photo courtesy of Urban Cowboy

Even more Airbnb-style properties—concierge-less boutique hotels in varying configurations from studios to four bedrooms—soon followed. New to East Nashville, not far from the Dive Motel, AvantStay’s The Outrider has been designed with a Western cowboy aesthetic, while its sister property The Conway in Germantown is decked out in a more urban cowboy style that offers downtown skyline views.

Jason Aldean performs on stage during day three of CMA Fest 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage
The city’s four-day CMA Fest—which sees around 90,000 fans in attendance each day—has been a draw for more than five decades. Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage
Mural of Dolly Parton on a wall in Nashville, TN
The fascination with Dolly Parton—and Dollywood—never fades. (The theme park has a new Dolly Parton Experience slated to open this month; and the singer is its “Dreamer-in-Chief.”) Photo by David Fulmer CC BY 2.0 DEED via Flickr

And if you’re wanting to extend your trip to Tennessee, the most visited national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains, is just a three-hour drive east of Nashville—and now offers design-savvy jetsetters another reason to visit.

 

Interior of a suite in Outrider, Nashville, TN
AvantStay’s concierge-less properties include Outrider, which offers two- to four-bedroom units in a Western cowboy aesthetic. Photo courtesy of AvantStay
View of the Nashville skyline at night from The Outrider hotel
Its location in East Nashville affords a view of the rapidly expanding city—which attracts 15 millions visitors a year. Photo courtesy of AvantStay
The Conway (studios to four-bed suites) has a more urban cowboy vibe. Photo courtesy of AvantStay

Sure, Pigeon Forge boasts Dolly Parton’s eponymous park Dollywood and a jumble of mountain cabins strewn throughout the Gatlinburg area, but the arrival of The Wayback hotel upped the ante. Operating under the motto that “ordinary is overrated,” this retro, Palm Springs-style motel deposited in the middle of the mountains is unlike anything the area has ever seen, catering to adults in a sea of Smokies-bound families with its on-site Swim Club open only to those 21 years and older after 5pm, Airstream bar and taco truck, poolside cabanas and one of the best tequila selections in East Tennessee.

Hero photo by James Atkinson Photography via Getty images

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