Hotel Spotlight

The Gospel of Hospitality, According to Russell

by Pavia Rosati
The The lobby at The Russell. All photos courtesy of The Russell.

The Russell
East Nashville, Tennessee
Bright and Funky, $

And so the word went out around the kingdoms of all the lands, proclaiming 2020 as the year travel became a religion. When casual practitioners became the determined faithful, their measure of devotion underlining what Roman Catholics have known for centuries: There’s no motivation quite as strong as denial. And, lo, a holy trinity emerged in this brave new time — religion, travel, and destination. And into this world emerged The Russell, a warm and welcoming hotel housed in a former Presbyterian church in the cool neighborhood of East Nashville. But no backward-looking, anachronistic lodging was this, for The Russell practices two other foundational pillars — charity and technology — transforming a happy trinity into a noble pentagram, that ancient symbol of good against evil (and not the opposite, as heretics might believe).

The story begins in 1904 when Cumberland Presbyterian Church builds the brick structure (the commemorative cornerstone is still visible on the exterior), which it then sells to the Russell Street Church of Christ in 1913. In 1916, a fire destroys the community but not the church, and in 1918 the church becomes a temporary hospital to care for victims of the Spanish influenza. The church remains a house of worship and center for community care until 1998, when a damaging tornado forces its doors to close. In 2001, a developer begins transforming the building into a 23-room boutique hotel that opens in summer 2019 with striking preserved elements like the stained glass window in the lobby and a no-staff-on-site, technology-driven guest experience.

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At a Glance

The Vibe: Warm, colorful, friendly, and welcoming.

Feel-Good Factor: It's strong here, and effortless for guests. The hotel donates a percentage of every stay to local nonprofits who serve Nashville's homeless and needy. In partnership with Nashville Rescue Mission, ShowerUp, Room in the Inn, and People Loving Nashville, The Russell has donated more than 16,000 meals and beds to those in need. To put it in numbers that are easier for a guest to understand, a typical weekend stay will provide 16 nights in a bed, 100 showers, and 30 meals. The hotel's motto is Stay Here, Change Lives — and they mean it.

Standout Detail: In addition to the feel-good factor, top marks go to the circular stained glass window in the lobby, though there are charming touches in the decor throughout the hotel.

This Place Is Perfect For: Independent, technologically savvy customers who don't need a ton of looking after, as the hotel has no staff on site. Everything — reservations, check-in, services, — is handled digitally and virtually. Those offended by the de-consecration of a former church might not find The Russell as whimsical as those who wear their religion more lightly.

The common room on the third floor.
Queen bunk beds.
A double queen.
The headboards are made from church pews.
The Tower Suite.

Rooms: 23 rooms in various sizes and configurations. The Tower Suite sleeps six and has a bed where the church bells once hung; the Penthouse Suite sleeps four and has a kitchenette. The other rooms are single or double queens or kings, including one bunk room. The website has detailed descriptions of all the rooms, but common motifs are clever use of bright paint, local art on the wall, church pews reconfigured as headboards, and skylights. The hotel doesn't have an elevator but does have a dumbwaiter for lifting luggage. Rooms are cleaned before check-in, but the hotel does not provide daily housekeeping services.

On Site: A small, soundproof common room doubles as a work space and a podcast studio. The neon sign in the room, #blessed, pays tribute to its religious history and its Instagram-friendly present. Notably, the hotel has no on-site staff. Guests are emailed a code for access to the building, and assistance is a text or a call away. Pets are not allowed, and quiet hours are between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Food + Drink: The hotel does not have a restaurant. Guests can help themselves to free coffee in the lobby and local snacks in the rooms.

The coffee station and the podcast studio.
ShowerUp's mobile showers.

What to Do Nearby

East Nashville has emerged as Music City's coolest neighborhood in recent years for spots that run the range from impressive culinary offering to beloved local dive bar. Check the hotel's local guide for restaurants, bars, and things to do. The hotel is a five-minute walk from the restaurants, venues, and shops of Five Points and less than two miles from the Nissan Stadium and Broadway.

Keep exploring Nashville with more from Fathom's Nashville Guide.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.