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Skull’s Rainbow Room in Printers Alley

A Printers Alley institution reopens, bringing cocktails and burlesque back to downtown.

Written By:  Chris Chamberlain

Photographers:  Christen Clemins

It’s been more than 16 years since Skull’s Rainbow Room in Printers Alley closed after the murder of original owner David “Skull” Schulman. During that time, the former exotic dance club and country bar lived on only in the memories of longtime locals. But with a new generation taking over downtown and tourists straying farther and farther from Lower Broad, the time was ripe for Skull’s to be reborn.

Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar
owner Phil Martin joined with partners David Wileman and Keith Moore to renovate and reopen the basement-level space, which officially opened its doors last June. (Martin and businessman Gary Bowie are currently planning a white-tablecloth restaurant on the first floor that will serve as an extension of Skull’s.)

“Phil approached me with the history and sold me on it,” says Wileman. “I’ve worked downtown and wanted to create a place for locals to come.”

The building had fallen into extreme disrepair and even flooded at one point, so the team faced a huge task in restoring it to its former glory. They handled most of the remodeling themselves and in the process uncovered beautiful stone walls that had been covered with sheetrock as well as a large food menu from the original space, which has been restored and decorates the main dining room. The stage, which through the years has hosted everyone from Johnny Cash to Elvis to Jimi Hendrix, has also been refurbished.

>>> Pick up the January 2016 issue for 4 of their favorite recipes.

These days, the sunken dining room gets pretty crowded on weekends with patrons enjoying an old-school chophouse menu and live jazz music plus twice-nightly burlesque shows. The exotic dance performances are fairly tame, although Wileman cheekily suggests, “I don’t know if I’d bring your grandma.”

True to its new mission to provide a welcoming environment for downtown residents and other Nashvillians, Skull’s hosts a happy hour with beers from local breweries such as Yazoo, Jackalope, and Black Abbey for $4, Belle Meade Bourbon Old Fashioneds for $8, and Corsair cocktails for $6. Outside of these special deals, most of the cocktails run in the $12 range. Moore says he and the team wanted to emphasize simple classic cocktails made with familiar ingredients.

“I’ve noticed that craft cocktails have been going over the top with obscure ingredients and spirits. People won’t order what they don’t recognize,” he notes.

Drinks use local or regional ingredients whenever possible. The Captain’s Table, for example, has a base of Old Forester and is jazzed up with pear brandy sassafras plus sorghum and lemon bitters to add some tartness. The Skull features Tullahoma’s own George Dickel Tennessee Whisky plus a housemade sage and honey syrup, lemon juice, and blood orange soda. For vodka fans, Pickers is the foundation of The Rainbow Room, made with pineapple, ginger syrup, orange bitters, and a splash of champagne. No matter what you order, Skull’s is sure to transport you to the good ol’ days of Printers Alley.

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