The Ultimate Guide to Nashville Nightlife

Music City’s nightlife options have multiplied in recent years. Here's all the fun things to do in Nashville when the sun goes down.

Skull’s Rainbow Room, nashville nightlife
Skull’s Rainbow Room | Photo by Laura Thompson for Thrillist
Skull’s Rainbow Room | Photo by Laura Thompson for Thrillist

Believe it or not, Nashville hasn’t always hummed with life after dark. In the past decade though, Nightlife in Music City has blown up. (It’s almost like the Great Flood of 2010 spread party fertilizer all around town.) While Lower Broad marks the center of nocturnal entertainment, the after-dark fun spreads to plenty of other neighborhoods that are worth a visit.

Whether you’re looking for late-night eats, a club where you can dance up a proper sweat, or just a compassionate barkeep willing to bend an ear toward your troubles, Nashville has you covered. So, take that disco nap, recharge your batteries, and check out the following top spots for a night out in Music City.

Bars, Clubs, and Live Music in Nashville 

East Nashville
Some people say East Nashville is Music City’s Brooklyn. If that’s the case, the Five Points neighborhood is Nashville’s Williamsburg. Neighborhood bar Rosemary and Beauty Queen serves smart spins on classic cocktails in a historic, yellow-hued home that blends in with the rest of the neighborhood, making it seem more like a friend’s cool house than a bar open to the public. Indeed, a night out at Rosemary often feels like a house party; however, Rosemary won’t kick you out until 2 am—and how many party hosts will do that?

Music Row
In Nashville, Lower Broad might reign as the undisputed champion of debauchery. But the three-block strip of Division Street, from Broadway to 19th Ave. South, rivals the neon canyon for bar options per yard. The oldest and undisputed champion of that lot is the original Red Door Saloon. This intentionally grungy dive serves up a menu of beers on tap, shots, and its own take on the frozen Irish coffee, alongside hot dogs, sandwiches, and pizzas.

Nashville is blessed with several LGBTQ+ bars that are both a whole lot of fun and also quite welcoming to anyone who wants to enjoy a good time. At Play Dance Bar, the kickin’ 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 through the evening until late, late night.

Even as the surrounding neighborhood has gotten all fancified, Santa’s Pub staunchly remains the lowdown, late-night destination it’s been 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 the proprietor does indeed look like St. Nick), you can get on with having a good time. As opposed to some downtown sing-along clubs—where the performers sound like they're trying out for a record deal—Santa’s is all about the fun of being a little silly among friends. It’s canned beer and cash-only, so bring your ATM card.

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 1948, when original owner David "Skull" Schulman opened his lounge 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 PG-13-rated burlesque shows Thursday through Saturday nights starting at 11 pm. Accompanied by a live band, these beguiling dancers have mastered the art of the tease, gracefully moving to the music and working the room without revealing too much.

East Nashville
Nashville is still home to a lot more than just country music bars. Across the river from downtown, The Basement East (affectionately known locally as “The Beast”) is a neighborhood hang that happens to feature great bands on a stage with excellent sightlines for viewing, even if you’re seated behind the crowd. Catch a little fresh air and a nice view of downtown across the river between sets on the spacious outdoor deck.

Late-Night Food and Drink in Nashville 

Nashville’s late night dining scene has grown in lockstep along with its nightlife, and Black Rabbit stands out from the pack. Enjoy live music, strong drinks, and great food in a historic building that was once home to Jimmy Hoffa’s lawyer. (Don’t dig in the basement.) Almost everything the Black Rabbit cooks gets at least a kiss of live fire, and an order of rabbit rolls made with a rabbit and 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.

Now that the venerable Hermitage Cafe has closed, and Athens Family Restaurant doesn’t serve around the clock 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 and raw bar experience on the top floor. It’s open until 2 am on weekends (11 pm on weeknights), so you’ll have plenty of time to make your choices.

East Nashville
Chef Sean Brock earned a reputation for meticulous presentation of high-level cuisine at his three other Nashville restaurants, but Joyland is his ode to fast food—and he’s not afraid to get a little messy. You know how the best part of a smashburger is the crispy edges of the beefy patty? With Joyland’s Crustburger, Brock has maximized that joy by smashing the burger almost paper-thin, topping it with cheese, and then flattening the burger, bun, and cheese again on the griddle. The kitchen keeps these delightful, crispy treats coming until 2 am on weekends.

After-Dark Tours in Nashville 

Nashville Trolley Tours offers an easy way to see much of Music City thanks to its hop-on/hop-off service, but at night it offers a different, unique service. Two tours, beginning at 4:30 pm and 7 pm, guide riders around Nashville as day turns to night without stopping, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. When the tour returns to the starting point at 6th and Peabody, enjoy a beer from Yee-Haw Brewing or a moonshine tasting from Ole Smoky before setting off on foot to visit some of the fun spots you observed from the trolley tour.

Joy Ride Tours started out with a small fleet of golf carts that made for a convenient way to get from place to place in the face of Nashville’s intimidating traffic. The cart drivers always offered entertaining stories of sites along the way—even if you were just trying to get to the liquor store from your rental property. It’s no surprise that Joy Ride now offers organized, thematic tours that revolve around shopping, brewery visits, bar crawls, or even Pokémon GO. It’s a great way to get out in the open air without exerting yourself.

Zanies, nashville nightlife
Zanies | Photo by Laura Thompson for Thrillist

More Things to Do at Night in Nashville 

Forest Hills
As a working scientific lab, Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory usually isn’t open to the general public, but a couple of times a month Dyer invites visitors in for talks by resident astronomers and the opportunity to peek through the eyepiece of its massive telescopes to observe whatever celestial objects are at their most spectacular that time of the year.

Back in the day, bowling while drinking was discouraged. Draconian alley owners made bowlers keep their beers far from the lanes, or they 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.

Hillsboro Village
As the city’s favorite cinema, you’d expect arthouse fare and the latest first-run highbrow films, and Belcourt screens those for sure. But at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, the cinema isn’t 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.

Most comedy clubs offer at least two sets a night on weekends, with the benefit that the later shows usually get funnier and a little more ribald. At Nashville’s longtime king of comedy clubs, Zanies, national touring acts headline the weekends with local comics often opening for the stars.

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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of his hometown of Nashville. Find him on Twitter @CeeElCee.