Monday, June 13

The Printers Alley Still Presses On

During CMA Fest last week I went downtown to Printers Alley to watch my fiance play harmonica with a honky tonk band. As I walked down the narrow alley towards the club I felt as if I'd been transported through time. Suddenly I realized I was stepping on some very historical stones.

Printers Alley is an entertainment district in Nashville with a rich and scandalous history. It's known as "Nashville's dirty little secret" due to its history of alcohol, sex and political corruption with even ties to murder.

Located between Third and Fourth Avenues stretching from Union to Church Streets, the Alley takes it's name from its connection to Nashville's first Publishing and Printing Companies during the late 1800s. The area was home to two large newspapers, ten print shops, and thirteen publishers.

Saloons, gambling halls and speakeasies sprung up around the alley catering to the men of Nashville's Print shops, Judges, Lawyers, Politicians and other Elite. This area known as "The Men's District" quickly became the center of the city's nightlife. During the 1940s nightclubs opened and the Alley became a showcase for performers such as Boots Randolph, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, and Dottie West.

Liquor, showgirls and many other illegal activities circulated their way around the Alley. Nashville's politicians and police often looked the other way since they were corrupt as well. Even after the liquor became legal in 1939, buying by the drink was still prohibited, so the "Mixing Bar" came into existence. Patrons were told to "Bring Your Own Bottle" and the bar would mix a drink for you. However most people brought in their drink of choice and brown bagged it with their names written on the bottle to keep behind the bar.

Finally in the 1960s the political corruption was put to rest when electing to transfer the area to a Metropolitan form of Government. Cleaning up the Alley was long over due and throughout the years the Alley has returned as a place for "clean" music and nightlife.

This story would not be complete without mentioning "The Mayor of Printers Alley", David "Skull" Schullman. He was one of the Alley's true stars, beloved by fellow Nashvillians and owner of the Rainbow Room, the only club in Nashville to ever have live music played for the exotic dancers. No wonder everyone loved him! During the 1990s Skull converted the club to a country bar and late one night was brutally murdered by two assailants. His killers were caught, but the club never reopened and it is doubtful that it ever will.

There are rumors that the club where Skull was murdered is still haunted today. The Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar rented the closed down club for storage, but eventually gave it up because their employees all swore that they saw a shape like Skull walking around in his club and from time to time would hear his voice calling out to them.

During the late 1990s the Alley saw a major renovation as Nashville recognized its historical importance, however corrupt its past may have been.  There are currently two live band bars, two karaoke bars, and one adult entertainment bar. Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, the Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, Lonnie's Western Room, Ms. Kellis and The Brass Stables are all found in Printers Alley today.

Although the showgirls and printers have long since gone, The World Famous Printers Alley still remains and continues to spotlight some of the best music Nashville has to offer.

"Printer's Alley" by Sarahbeth Purcell

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