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The 404: Nashville's Newest, Smallest, Hotel

In a section of Nashville increasingly defined by large high-rise developments and national chains, a new boutique hotel and restaurant stays deliberately small and local.
The 404 is a new boutique hotel and restaurant in Nashville’s rapidly changing Gulch neighborhood. Housed in a former auto shop next to the legendary Station Inn music venue, the small space stands in stark contrast to the new, large developments that have recently sprung up. The restaurant in front is partially housed in a shipping container that both extends the entry up to the sidewalk and acts as a visual focal point on an otherwise subdued exterior. Photo by Caroline Allison.

The Gulch neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, has undergone a radical transformation in recent years. Once an industrial rail yard, the area is now more known for its shopping, restaurants, and high-rise luxury condominiums than for the warehouses and train tracks that were long its primary attractions. Despite the change, there remain a few holdouts from neighborhood’s industrial past, such as the Station Inn - a featureless stone building that has been a mainstay in Nashville’s live music scene since the mid-1970s. Next door to this storied venue, the 404, a new restaurant and hotel, has opened its doors. Despite being the new kid on the block, it leans distinctly towards the small-scale industrial temperament of the old neighborhood. 

The 404 emerged out of nearly 20 years of conversations between its owner, Mark Banks, and architect Nick Dryden—discussions on topics ranging from hotel and restaurant management to unusual methods of building. The resulting space is rooted in local history and preservation, while bringing a few modern touches to complement the old with the new. Housed in a former auto garage, the 404 is equal parts hotel, restaurant, and community collaboration, and a physical advocate of preservation amid the surrounding high-rises. Local culture and reuse are reflected in nearly every element of the design, from the rooftop garden, which supplies ingredients for the restaurant’s menu, to the Nashville-sourced products and furnishings that greet visitors to the hotel. 

One notable addition is the orange repurposed shipping container in front—a nod to the industrial past of the Gulch—which brings the entrance to the restaurant up to the street line. The rest of the building retains the original exterior of the auto garage that formerly occupied the space; a plain white box with chipping paint and a few small square windows. And that's precisely how Banks intends for it to stay. When a friend aked if he had plans to repaint the the old garage, Banks responded, “Why would we change it?” It's the worn exterior that reminds people of the old neighborhood when so much else has changed. 

Inside, however, modern touches bring comfort and style. The space inside the old garage was a cavernous volume with 23-foot ceilings, so when designing the hotel, Dryden faced a few unique challenges. “The rooms were an exercise in paring things down,” he says. With limited floor space to work with, Dryden took advantage of the high ceilings to create lofted living spaces above the beds and bathrooms. Finding furniture for such a space was also not a simple matter. While some of the furniture in the hotel was culled from other sources, Dryden, with help from friends at a local co-op workspace, personally designed and built much of the furniture, including the beds dressers, and vanities. 

With only five rooms, the 404 is about as small as a hotel can get, but the resourceful refuge works its small size to its advantage. Grocery stores, restaurants, and entertainment are just a few steps out the front door, so the hotel orients itself to suit the intrepid visitor who is more inclined to go out and experience the city than to stay in and dine on room service. (Not that the restaurant won’t whip up a meal for guests upon request). The hotel's small size also means that it can be nimble in ways that others can’t. Members of a band that is coming to town to record, for instance, might book all 5 rooms, and turn the hotel into a centrally located townhouse for the duration of their stay. 

Dryden sees the 404 as more than just a new destination on the neighborhood map. His hope is that, in addition to all that it brings to the block, the 404 will act as a lifeline to preserve a piece of what remains of the old neighborhood. Next door, the humble Station Inn has received astronomical offers of buyouts from real estate developers, but so far has stayed put. The hope, Dryden says, is “that we can give it at least a few extra years.”

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