Nashville's Historic Printers Alley

Historic Printers Alley - Nashville's First Entertainment Hotspot

Copryright Jan Duke
••• Printers Alley. © Jan Duke

Although the Printers have long since gone, The Historic Printers Alley still remains, providing a Flair of Bourbon Street for those in search of Wine, Women and Song, with a strong tinge of Naughty.

Located between Third and Fourth Avenues stretching from Union to Church Streets, the Alley started before the turn of the century as the location of many of Nashville's first Publishing and Printing Companies.

Without the Country Music influences that started in the 1930's, Nashville could have possibly been known as the Printing Capitol of the World. As late as the 1960's, Nashville was home to over 36 Printing Companies and many other numerous Businesses, whose roles were, to support and supply the massive industry.

In the late 1800's Printers Alley was a part of "The Men's District". Many Cafes, Saloons, Gambling Halls and Speakeasies sprang up to cater to the men of Nashville's Print shops. Judges, Lawyers, Politicians and other Nashville Elite were also known to frequent the Alley. At the turn of the Century, The Climax Club of Printers Alley was nationally known as Nashville's Premier Entertainment hotspot.

Printers Alley was Nashville's dirty little secret. It didn't matter what you were looking for, you could find it there.

Nashville's Politicians and Police protected the Alley even after the sale of Liquor was outlawed in the early 1900's.

Hilary House, elected Mayor at the time was quoted by reporters as saying; "Protect them? I do better than that, I patronize them" He was Mayor for 21 of the 30 years that the sale of intoxicants were illegal.

In 1939 Nashville repealed prohibition and made it legal to buy Liquor in stores. For the next 30 years The Alley flourished as the Mixing Bar came into existence.

Although Liquor was legal, you could not buy it by the drink. Advertisements for the Clubs in the 1960's stated "Bring Your Own Bottle" and they would mix your drink for you.

People would bring their choice of beverage tightly wrapped in a brown paper bag and leave it in a locker or on a shelf behind the bar of their favorite haunt. Written on those bottles were the names of Nashville's movers and shakers of the day.

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Throughout the years Police would stage raids on the Alley, usually before or after elections to either, embarrass the political foes of the current administration or to continue the farce that they were once again going to clean up the rift raft of the Alley.

The Alley contributed to the political corruption that Nashville finally eliminated in the early 1960's by electing to transfer to a Metropolitan form of Government.

Printers Alley eased into its decline in 1969 as Nashville voted for Liquor by the drink and many clubs began to spring up in the suburbs. Most of the Printers had been long since gone, Ambrose Printing Company now located in Metro Center was the last to leave in 1976.

The only Clubs to survive the 70's and 80's were Skulls Rainbow Room, Boots Randolph's, The Black Poodle and The Brass Stables, which got its name from being the original stables which housed the mules that pulled the newspaper wagons at the turn of the century.

Printers Alley saw a major renovation in 1997 as Nashville recognized its historical importance, however storied its past may have been. The Western room has replaced the Voodoo Room, the Brass Rail has replaced the Brass Stables, and the Pink Poodle has replaced the Black Poodle.

Over the years one thing has remained the same, during the day the Alley presents a drab vision of delivery trucks and shuffling pedestrians looking for a shortcut or perhaps a bite to eat, but at night as the many neon lights start to flicker, the glasses begin to clink and the music starts to bellow, the Alley once again raises to life as the Grand Mistress of Nashville Entertainment.

Originally published 5/20/2003
© Jan Duke