Dec 25, 2017

Get a speakeasy feeling from Skull’s Rainbow Room, Nashville, Tenn.

Even commoners surviving on small budgets have to reward themselves with a special meal now and then, so when my co-workers mutually decided to celebrate the end of our two-month assignment in Nashville, Tenn., for a celebratory meal, we settled on a spot in downtown’s historic Printers Alley which is known as much for its striptease as its steaks – Skull’s Rainbow Room.

It seemed like a slightly unusual choice at the time given the diversity of our crowd, but we went for the beef rather than the burlesque, so if you’re looking for a review of the entertainment, you’ll be disappointed you clicked here.  But even if you try Skull’s for the steaks and not the striptease (OK, I admit I was a little disappointed we couldn’t stick around for a show), I think you’ll have a terrific time. 

For starters, Skull’s Rainbow Room is a physical testament to the seedier side of the history of Nashville’s entertainment scene.  As it turns out, the establishment’s original owner and namesake had many famous friends and acquaintances pass through his club – and its appeal went way beyond the classic country and western scene. 

The atmosphere inside Skull’s takes you back to that time when Printers Alley was the center of all that was rowdy in Nashville before the city’s other downtown entertainment center – Broadway Street – was revitalized in the 1990s.  From the antique menu in lights to pictures capturing many of those celebrity moments, you begin to understand that Skull’s Rainbow Room anchored much of the rowdiness.    

Even though the original Skull’s wasn’t established until 1948, it feels even older.  Take one look at this classic burlesque stage and tell me this place wouldn’t have made a great speakeasy. 

But even with its historical pedigree, it was Skull’s modern-day reputation as a premier steakhouse that got one of my co-worker’s attention.  After taking his wife to Skull’s for diner one weekend night, he knew he had to return.  It was his description of this lobster bisque that first sold me on the idea.  And my co-worker was right … the velvety texture and wonderful subtly sweet flavor of the lobster puts this particular soup among the best I’ve ever had. 

Superior lobster bisque in Nashville, Tennessee.  Who would have guessed?  My expectations for the entrees suddenly soared.  And with each one they brought out, those high expectations and of me and everyone in our party were exceeded, and our hefty appetites were more than satisfied.

For instance, check out the Flintstones-sized portion of prime rib they serve …

… and look at how perfectly they prepare the rack of lamb.    

My entrée for the evening:  boeuf en croute.  Some might call it beef wellington.  I just called it delicious.  The puff pastry was light, crusty and not over-filling.  The ribeye inside was extremely flavorful from a braising with red wine, mushrooms and shallots.  And the melted brie cheese in between brought the whole dish together.  It was a dish I had never tried before, but I would certainly not hesitate to order it again here.   

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to the original long bar that stretches along much of the dining area and the excellent bartenders who work behind it.  Not only does the bar complete the clubby atmosphere of the place, but the concoctions the bartenders make are high quality and often quite potent.  I recommend the Embers, a delightful combination of rye, rum, absinthe and bitters.  It’s definitely a sipper while you enjoy your supper.

Skull’s Rainbow Room is proof that there is much more to downtown Nashville than the lights and loudness of Broadway.  Take a detour down Printers Alley and check out this throwback to an earlier era.    

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