Want the inside scope into one of Nashville’s most iconic dinning experiences? Well, you have come to the right place! Ana and I had the opportunity to eat at Skull’s Rainbow Room, located in the heart of Printers Alley.
Skull’s Rainbow Room, located just off broadway, is consistently on TripAdvisor’s top restaurants in Nashville and, according to stacker.com, rates #21 for 2022.
First, we will dive into the fascinating story of Skull’s and Printers Alley, second, the menu, and finally, our dining experience so you can decide if you want to add Skull’s to your Nashville itinerary.
Step into Printers Alley
Skull’s is located in one of Downtown Nashville’s most iconic and historic locations, Printers Alley. The ally lies between third and fourth avenue in downtown Nashville and is often recognized by the large sign at its entrance.
Skull’s was initially opened as a nightclub by David “Skull” Schulman in 1948. It featured a star-studded cast of visitors gracing its stage, including Elvis, Willie Nelson, and even Johnny Cash!
The Nashville Scene recently reported that Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell shared the stage one night. It’s even been reported that Paul McCartney even wrote some songs at Skull’s early in his career (crazy, right?!).
Historic Printers Alley
Skull’s is a historical landmark representing what remains of old Printers Alley. The origin of the alley dates back to the early 20th century and was given its name as the alley consisted of many high-profile printing and publishing houses. This still remained into the 1960s with over 30 printing companies.
Around the 1940s, the part of the alley that ran between Union Street and Church street become an alcohol-fueled strip full of high-profile musicians, gambling, and exotic dancers with grunge meet-country undertones.
At one point, Printers Alley was called the “Mens Quarter,” as men would gather after work to smoke, drink, and engage in “questionable” activities. This resulted in high crime in the area, and one wrong turn down a dark alley may have been your last.
Luckily the alley is very safe today and represents more of a tourist hub than a back alley crime scene.
David Schulman made sure to stay classy despite all of this change by consistently wearing rhinestones suits designed by the great Nudie Cohn and was never caught without one of his glamorous poodles walking around the alley.
The New Printers Alley
As mentioned, today’s Printers Alley is very different. However, it still has some old classics, including the Climax Saloon, which was initially a brothel (not a brothel anymore).
Unfortunately, in 1998 Schulman could not continue to see the evolving change as he was murdered by a former contractor for hire. Some believe it is still haunted by the ghost of Schulman and is a stopping point for local ghost tours.
His death devastated the city, and the killers were eventually brought to justice. After sitting empty for 16 years, the club was finally re-opened by local entrepreneur Phil Martin.
With David Wileman’s help, who had experience renovating the Beekman hotel (highly recommend), Martin could revitalize Skull’s while still preserving a piece of history. Above all, Martin wanted to keep much of the original charm of Skull’s, so maintaining burlesque was key.
The result was scents of lobster bisque, with surrounding earthy cocktails within a background of smooth jazz and burlesque.
Designed by award-winning Chef Gannon Leary and his team, Skull’s focuses on bridging American cuisine with southern gulf classics into a prohibition-era experience. Skull’s has a relatively set menu throughout the year (except for the chef’s featured fish of the day). Below is the food menu as of December 2022.
- Lobster Bisque
- House Salad
- Wedge Salad
- Caesar Salad
- Butchers Board
- Tuna Tartare
- Low Country Shrimp Cocktail
- Foie Gras
- Prime Rib Empanadas
- Prime Rib
- Pork Chop
- New Zeland Rack of Lamb
- Red Wine Demi Braised Short Rib
- Chef’s Featured Fish
- Roasted Half Chicken
- Diver Scallops
- Crawfish Gnocchi
- NY Strip
- Filet Mignon
- Peanut Butter Pie
- Chocolate Mousse Cake
- Lemon Cake
The restaurant is set up with tables along the front, in prime view of the stage, with a grand piano and big band set-up. Along the back is the L-shaped bar, which was completely full when we entered, with a craft cocktail in almost every hand.
As soon as we entered Skull’s, we felt like we were joining an underground club where Al Capone and his goonie gangsters were planning their next heist.
As we sat down at our table, it was slightly hard to read the menu with how dark it was inside. The dimly light room with romantic candlelight at each table was not a huge drawback and added to a moody speakeasy vibe. Our waiter was very cordial, although, at times seemed slightly in a rush. Understandable with how busy they seemed, even before the main dinner rush.
Appetizers & Drinks
My eyes initially went to the craft cocktail menu. I love bourbon, and “The Duke” sounded right up my alley. Bourbon, sage, tobacco bitters, angostura, lemon standard with Buffalo Trace.
Ana ordered the “Botanic Panic” comprising gin, elderflower, grapefruit, lavender, cava, and lemon standard with Bombay Sapphire.
For appetizers, our waiter recommended prime rib empanadas which we promptly ordered. It had been years since I had escargot (childhood maybe?). Ana, to that point, had never experienced them, so we went ahead and ordered that also.
The Duke was undoubtedly a well-rounded and crafted cocktail. It reminded me of an old-fashion with a herbal twist. I could instantly taste hints of sage with the bold flavors of tobacco bitters and angostura without it being too overbearing. Ana also enjoyed her Botanic Panic, and we both ordered a second.
The visual presentation of the food is definitely a strength of the Rainbow Room. The empanadas came out hot with roasted poblano cream sauce and queso fresco on top. As someone who has had empanadas in southern California and Florida, I was a little spoiled on what I felt an empanada needed to taste like. The crust’s texture was not my favorite and could have been crisper. However, the sauce and filling helped elevate the dish.
The escargot was encased within broiled mushroom caps stuffed with sherry herb butter and parmesan cheese. I am so glad we ordered this because we both really enjoyed it, and the plate was empty within a few minutes. Ana had reservations about the slimy snails but loved it, primarily because of the combination of sherry herb butter and parmesan cheese.
Our waiter noted one of the most frequently ordered dishes was the New Zeland Rack of Lamb. Therefore I had to go with that to really see what the hype was about. Ana ordered the Diver Scallops, which also looked to be a crowd-pleaser.
The lamb was exceptional and definitely a must-recommend. Marinated in pomegranate juice, olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, with a demi-glace that made every bite sensational. While it is one of the pricier items on the menu, it certainly felt like you got your value with the portion.
Ana loved her diver scallops and felt similar that the portion was surprisingly large for what you get at more upscale restaurants in Nashville. The side of truffle mashed potatoes was her favorite, and the side of bacon-seared Brussels sprouts was a perfect addition.
After the main course, we were stuffed to the brim but sensed we had to try the desert from our gazes around the room. We decided to split the peanut butter pie. In addition, we felt we needed some dessert cocktails so Ana ordered the espresso martini, and I ordered the Irish coffee.
While I do not consider myself a peanut butter pie connoisseur like Ana, the pie was genuinely tasty. She felt it was one of the best peanut butter pies she had tasted (she has tasted a lot of peanut butter pies). The crust was the best part (which was chocolate), with rich and creamy whipped peanut butter.
Ana’s espresso martini was just like you would expect and well done.
However, my Irish coffee was not was I was anticipating. Skull’s attempt at a classic European and American favorite was served in a flute that appeared slightly watered down. A little more whiskey served in a mug or traditional Irish coffee glass with whipped cream would have completed the package for me.
In conclusion, Skull’s Rainbow Row, located in Printers Alley, is a must-visit if you are looking for a great dining experience, live music, and a show, all with prohibition-era undertones rooted deep in Nashville history.
The atmosphere was the highlight, and saying you have been at least once will likely satisfy most travelers’ bucket lists. We were surprised by the large portions in comparison to some other high-end restaurants around the area.
Unfortunately, we can not comment on the live jazz band or burlesque show as our reservation was at 5:30 pm. Look for another post in the future reviewing both. Make sure to reserve at least two weeks in advance as tables fill up fast. If you want to see the jazz band, they start at 7 pm, with the burlesque show following at 9 pm and 11 pm.
Also, as a great bonus, on the way out, Ana found this sign commemorating the historic Nashville dog-guide training school that opened in 1920. We really love our pets in Nashville!
Perfect For: date nights, anniversaries, bachelorettes, bachelor parties, groups of friends, adult family dinner
Have you been to Skull’s? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below, and please subscribe for more!