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People & Places Writers' Choice 

Best of Nashville 2012

click to enlarge peopleag.jpg

BEST FASHION DESIGNER: AMANDA VALENTINE
With two Nashville Fashion Weeks and three nD Festivals under our well-buckled belts, we expect our local fashion scene to get as much national attention as our food and music scenes. Many of our designers create clothing you could actually see on civilians — you know, the people who aren't in music videos or television tapings. And the best of these designers is Amanda Valentine, stylist and creator of the women's ready-to-wear collection Valentine Valentine. She stole the show on opening night of Nashville Fashion Week 2012 with her self-described "French Medieval Fly Girl" collection, which, with a playful combination of retro cuts and futuristic fabrics, nodded to the past while providing a glimpse into the sartorial future. You may be surprised by how affordable these practical yet imaginative looks are, and they're available online at her Etsy shop. Keep an eye on this one. —ABBY WHITE

click to enlarge Best Fashion Designer: Amanda Valentine - ERIC ENGLAND

BEST LOCAL EVENT: TOMATO ART FEST
Nashville's lucky enough to host several events that show signs of becoming annual blockbusters, like the Music City Hot Chicken Fest or the Jefferson Street Jazz & Blues Festival. But East Nashville's Tomato Art Fest is what they all aspire to be: an organically grown (heh) gathering that draws across generations, spotlighting one of the city's most enticing neighborhoods. Its success has brought signs of a backlash, at least on social media — too hot! too crowded! too many visitors! — but that alone is proof it has become an institution. As the saying goes, if life gives you tomatoes, make bloody marys. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST RELIGIOUS NEWS: MURFREESBORO MOSQUE
After a protracted legal battle, death threats and vandalism, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was able to open during Ramadan. Not only is this great news for Middle Tennessee Muslims, it's a victory for all advocates of religious liberty. If any of us are going to feel secure that we can worship freely, all of us have to be able to worship freely. —BETSY PHILLIPS

BEST HOMEGROWN SPORT: NASHBALL
Played weekly at East Park and Centennial Park using an over-inflated volleyball and requiring little equipment except field markings, Nashball has two distinctive rules: Don't hit the ball with an open hand (fists are OK); and keep the ball moving (it may not bounce more than once, and a player may only contact it four times before passing). The goal is a square on the ground, and the new sport combines familiar elements of soccer, volleyball and basketball, but also has shades of obscure sports like Gaelic football. The genius of its simplicity may prove the genesis of its popularity. —J.R. LIND

BEST HONKY-TONK: ROBERT'S WESTERN WORLD
Lower Broadway is lined with honky-tonk options, and while they're all a good time, they all pale in comparison to Robert's. Maybe it's the boots lining the walls, or the incredible fried bologna sandwich, or weekend sets from proprietor Jesse Lee Jones' beloved band Brazilbilly. But it's likely the sum of all these parts. You can't find a more authentic Nashville honky-tonk experience than Robert's, or a better place to dance with a total stranger. —ABBY WHITE

BEST FUTURE SPOT FOR PUBLIC ART: THE ROUNDABOUT AT EIGHTH AVENUE, KVB AND LAFAYETTE STREET
To fathom the "art prime" potential of the future SoBro roundabout, stand within its center and look east toward the Gateway Bridge. Sweeping, indeed. The Metro Arts Commission has kept mum as to its preference — various artists will bid on the project — but a towering, futuristic obelisk might work. One request: no Ghost Ballet-esque fire-engine-red paint job, please. —WILLIAM WILLIAMS

BEST BREAKING OF BARRIERS, EXTREMELY LATE-BLOOMER DIVISION: BELLE MEADE COUNTRY CLUB
Never in the history of clichés has the cliché "better late than never" been more appropriately applied than when the tony all-white sausagefest known as the Belle Meade County Club admitted its first female member earlier this year. At this rate, they'll admit their first openly gay black Muslim by the time the Nashville Sounds relocate to a new stadium. Fingers crossed, y'all. —JONATHAN MEADOR

click to enlarge Best-Kept Secret Destination: Downtown Masonic Lodge - ERIC ENGLAND
  • Eric England
  • Best-Kept Secret Destination: Downtown Masonic Lodge

BEST-KEPT SECRET DESTINATION: DOWNTOWN MASONIC LODGE
Like all the best secrets, this is one that can be shared without losing any of its potency. It's a truly beautiful architectural gem, filled with enough mysterious items to fuel a whole season of some conspiracy-rich History Channel show. From a jewel-encrusted sword made by Ben Allen to a portrait of Andrew Jackson like you've never seen him to one of the most striking stages in town, the lodge has something sure to delight and perplex anyone who dares stop by for a visit. —BETSY PHILLIPS

BEST PLACE TO SING KARAOKE: SANTA'S PUB
Karaoke bars are so weird. It's this bizarre combo of drunk people in their 30s mixed with tourists who are cheering on wannabe country singers. But at Santa's Pub, this type of tomfoolery is completely absent. There's plenty of other tomfoolery — you can smoke inside, beer is only $2, and you're drinking in a double-wide — but any old Jack or Jill can get onstage and sing, sans judgment. If you need an escape to a place where you'll instantly feel at home, head toward the fairgrounds and look for the big Santa-covered trailer. —ABBY WHITE

click to enlarge Best Tour of Nashville: Bill DeMain’s Walkin’ Nashville - JACKET BY MANUEL AT MANUEL AMERICAN DESIGNS. PHOTO: MICHAEL W. BUNCH
  • Jacket by Manuel at Manuel American Designs. Photo: Michael W. Bunch
  • Best Tour of Nashville: Bill DeMain’s Walkin’ Nashville

BEST TOUR OF NASHVILLE: BILL DEMAIN'S WALKIN' NASHVILLE
Besides being a brilliant musician and songwriter, Bill DeMain is a revered music journalist for publications like MOJO and Entertainment Weekly. (He even wrote one of the essays for the fabulous Burt Bacharach box set The Look of Love.) So who better to give you a musical-history walking tour of downtown, featuring behind-the-scenes anecdotes from our city's storied music history? (Answer: no one.) Find out the stories behind the creation of timeless classics like the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream," Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and many more, peppered with a dose of wry humor. —JACK SILVERMAN

BEST UNUSUAL BUILDING DESIGN: VISTA GERMANTOWN
Did somebody eat a box of crayons and vomit?" a critic might ask concerning Vista Germantown's outlandish hodgepodge of shapes and materials. At least 10 colors kaleidoscopically define the building's four sides, which are as similar as, say, China, El Salvador, Iceland and Nigeria. Still, V-Germantown renders an oddly quirky appeal. Architecturally graceful? No way. Unusual? No doubt. —WILLIAM WILLIAMS

BEST ROSTER MOVE: MATCHING SHEA WEBER
It was a gauntlet thrown from the Comcast-funded castle of the Philadelphia Flyers — a bonus-heavy, $110 million, 14-year deal. It was designed to put high pressure on a team known for squeezing its successes from a place of frugality. Would the Predators get pushed around by the wealthier club, forever consigned to farm team status? No. The ownership stepped up, spitting in the eye of the Flyers and serving notice to the rest of the league: The captain — one of the world's best defensemen — will stay in Nashville, and the Predators will be pushed around no more. —J.R. LIND

BEST ANTHEM SINGER: DENNIS MORGAN
When Dennis Morgan walks onto the ice at Bridgestone Arena, there's always the sense that a special game will follow his performance. Morgan and his sonorous tenor portend big moments. Called to action for high-profile games, and nearly every time "O Canada" joins "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the pre-game festivities, Morgan has a sense of occasion and the good sense not to show off or drag out the anthems unnecessarily. Considered a good luck charm by many Predators fans, he knows the anthem is everyone's song, and he makes it easy to sing along — but he sings it so well, it's better to just listen. —J.R. LIND

BEST COMMODORE: JOHN JENKINS
The Hendersonville native did plenty on his own during his three years at Vanderbilt: He led the SEC in scoring twice and tied a single-season conference record for three-pointers made. The All-SEC first-teamer and third-team All-American chose to forego his senior season and was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA draft. More importantly than all that: He led Vanderbilt to the SEC tournament title, defeating eventual national champions Kentucky in the final, giving the 'Dores their first tournament title in 61 years. —J.R. LIND

BEST PREDATOR: PEKKA RINNE
Defenseman Ryan Suter's departure and Shea Weber's offer-sheet saga grabbed the bulk of the offseason headlines, but it's the backstop of the defense — the sprawling, agile, reliable Finn — whose long-term signing may ultimately mean more. The workhorse Rinne denies goals and defies the laws of physics with his incredible radar-like sense of the puck and the gaping black hole of his glove, which is an important key to the Preds' ongoing success. It was a summer of heartburn and heartache for Nashville hockey fans, but they can rest easy with No. 35 minding the crease for seven more years. —J.R. LIND

BEST WIN: TSU OVER MURRAY STATE
It was a banner year for TSU basketball, the school's first winning season in 16 years — and no win was bigger than the one that guaranteed a better-than-.500 finish. John Cooper took his Tigers to Murray, Ky., to take on a Murray State team that hadn't lost a game. The Racers were ranked No. 9 in the country, pegged by many as the inevitable March Cinderella. But TSU had other plans, defeating the Racers 72-68 — TSU's first ever win over a Top 10 opponent — and perhaps harkening a return to the relevance for the Tigers. —J.R. LIND

BEST TEAM: GOODLETTSVILLE LITTLE LEAGUE ALL-STARS
They gave us all something to cheer for during the sports doldrums of August, these 11- and 12-year-olds from the northeastern enclave. Brock Myers and Lorenzo Butler became household names, their heroics the stuff of water-cooler talk across the city, as they rallied to wins and fought off comebacks. They came up short of the world title, losing to Japan in the final, but as Myers said, "We're the second-best team in the world. ... I'm all right with that." We're all right with it, too. —J.R. LIND

BEST PLACE TO WATCH LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: McCABE PARK 
For years, Little League baseball at McCabe Park was mostly about coaches and parents yelling at the young outfielders, telling them to stop pulling up the outfield grass. These days, the players are moving well, and catching the high balls to the outfield. The young hurlers have learned pitches with batter-baffling movement, too. Now buy a case of balls and get ready for April. —WALTER JOWERS

click to enlarge Best Titan: Rob Bironas - FREDERICK BREEDON

BEST TITAN: ROB BIRONAS
Yes, a kicker. The Titans have struggled with offensive consistency. A 2,000-yard rusher turns into an average back. Two new signal-callers come in, and neither manages to distinguish himself. The team finally finds a wide receiver with game-breaking skill, and he reaches new levels of idiocy, catching a DUI on an army base. And then there's Rob Bironas, the pendulum of his kicks steady like a metronome. Anywhere on the downhill side of 50 yards is within range. Few kickers in NFL history have been more consistent: Bironas ranks in the top five all-time for field goal percentage. Sometimes just being consistent makes you the best. —J.R. LIND

BEST STREET FOR THE EAST-WEST CONNECTOR: CHARLOTTE AVENUE
Creating the East-West Connector — though not in the form of Bus Rapid Transit — along Charlotte Avenue (instead of the plan currently in the works targeting West End) would provide a direct route between west and east Nashville, with easy access to the medical center, government offices and entertainment areas. Charlotte would benefit greatly from the boost in development — which West End doesn't need — and has ample space for park-and-ride lots. It's also likely to have better (i.e., any) support from nearby residents. I still love my car, though. —LESLEY LASSITER

BEST NEW PARK: CUMBERLAND PARK
The reimagining of the Cumberland's East Bank begins with this impressive garden of delights next to LP Field, which contains a surprise of some kind — rope climbing, a mesh jungle gym, slides, portholes for exploring — around every bend and over every gently rolling slope. Riverside walks and overlooks provide romantic views of the skyline, but the main attraction is a waterpark whose amphitheater seating makes for prime people-watching in summer months. More, please. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST PROJECT SPACE: OVVIO ARTE
Sometimes Ovvio Arte appears to be a strange, silent bungalow by a railroad track near Greer Stadium. But look closely and notice the flickering light. It may be the filming of a music video or a séance to evoke the spirit of Rimbaud. When the door is open, the good times portal is available to all. Ovvio's recent Bleed the Ballroom series provided the most spirited intersection of music and art I have seen in Nashville. —VERONICA KAVASS

BEST ARTISAN MARKET: PORTER FLEA
What's up with everything bearing "Porter" in its name not actually being located on Porter Road? (Lookin' at you, too, butcher boys.) No matter. Having quickly outgrown their eponymous East Nashville location, Porter Flea is the only game in town at this scale, bringing together some of the city's — and the state's — best printers, furniture makers and other artisans to form a hive of creative energy and local-centric commerce. —STEVE HARUCH

BEST BAR JUKEBOX: THE VILLAGER
As much as we appreciate the library on touchscreen jukeboxes, there's something about The Villager's box of CDs on the wall that can't be beat. Maybe it's the eclectic mix of Replacements, Queen and Big Star. Maybe it's the fact that you get three songs for a dollar, and when nobody's pumping quarters into it, the bar is silent. Whatever it is, we'll never stop spamming "Don't Stop Me Now" on late nights in the Village. —LANCE CONZETT

click to enlarge Best Do-Gooder: Dan Furbish - ERIC ENGLAND

BEST DO-GOODER: DAN FURBISH
Every six weeks, Dan Furbish promises a new crop of teens, "If you build a bicycle, it's yours." Furbish launched The Workshop in 2009 as a collaboration between Oasis Center and Halcyon Bike Shop. Since then, he's helped hundreds of kids, many from low-income or at-risk backgrounds, learn to build and repair their own bicycles, ride them safely, and navigate their world a little more freely. (Note: Skip the "re-furbish" joke. It's been done.) —KIM GREEN

BEST NON-PLACE: WAVE WALL
I have no idea what the Abbott West Self Storage facilities are like. I only know that their signature "wave wall" on Charlotte Avenue contributed peripheral bliss to my daily transition from Sylvan Park to the public library during the past year. Even the graffiti artists in this city, whoever they may be, have respect for the wave wall. —VERONICA KAVASS

BEST NEW (FAKE) SPORTS TEAM: NASHVILLE CATFISH
Just over a year ago Mayor Karl Dean made an exciting announcement. Except he didn't. During an appearance on 102.5 The Game, Dean made a comment about bringing the Tampa Bay Rays to Nashville and renaming them the Nashville Catfish. It was a joke, but it was enough to pique the interest of ESPN analyst Buster Olney and many Nashville sports fans, always eager to indulge the (im)possibility of Major League Baseball coming to Nashville. —STEVEN HALE



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