422 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203
Burlesque, speakeasies, honky-tonk, strip clubs, moonshine, murder – What more could you expect from a bar in the Bible Belt? Once frequented by living legends, this lounge is now popularized by poltergeists.
“The Alley will always be here, I expect... And I’ll stay here with it.” – David “Skull” Schulman
If you’re on the lookout for spirits, stop by Skull’s Rainbow Room. Those sensitive to spiritual energies claim to see its original owner, David “Skull” Schulman. He’s often spotted in Printer’s Alley, pulled along by a small, white dog. Is this Sweetie, the pup who witnessed his macabre murder? What’s the story of this eccentric apparition?
Famous for his “Hee Haw” overalls, David “Skull” Schulman was a Nashville novelty. He would walk his (dyed) poodles on rhinestone leashes, captivating travelers and turning heads. He was so well-known for these popular pups that Elvis once sent him a poodle.
Always a pup by Skull’s side-too bad those pups can’t talk. Sweetie, one of Skull’s poodles, was there when he was brutally murdered.
Some say he’s a lifelong resident of the Rainbow Room, roaming about his former property, the place of his death. Visitors witness his poltergeist within and beyond the establishment.
He isn’t haunting the house alone: whenever travelers see Skull, they often see Sweetie. Some spot their specters along Printer’s Alley, their regular walking route.
Wileman, a later proprietor of the Rainbow Room, describes how the establishment's walls are solid stone, nearly two feet thick. During renovations, there was no air conditioning. Nashville weather would climb to eighty or ninety degrees, yet the temperature inside would plummet.
“It was very strange,” Wileman offered when questioned about the property's paranormal activity. Cold spots are common occurrences whenever there are poltergeists around. Does Schulman roam the Rainbow Room?
In 1948, Skull's Rainbow Room opened under the ownership of David "Skull" Schulman. Later frequented by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, this 4,000-square-foot space became a strip club, jazz hall, and speakeasy. Etta James, Patsy Cline, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan also appeared upon the Rainbow Room’s checkerboard stage.
“I’m a legend and the anchor of the alley,” Schulman announced to the Sun-Sentinal in 1992. Schulman was right; he was celebrated by both celebrities and locals alike. Known as the “Mayor of Printer’s Alley,” Schulman received the nickname “Skull” after he fractured his head in an automobile accident.
He was a flamboyant figure, “famous for wearing elaborate outfits.” Schulman wore Nudie and Manuel jackets, Hee Haw overalls, and rhinestones. Schulman was flashy, jazzy, and dazzling.
His tastes weren’t his only trademark. He was also known for his hospitality. Even Davidson County’s Criminal Court cited his charity during the trial for his murder: “He was known for his generosity to the homeless who frequented the downtown area, providing those in need with cash or odd jobs from time to time.”
In 1998, Schulman was murdered in the Rainbow Room. He was discovered by a cigarette vendor with his throat slit and skull fractured. Sweetie, his poodle, wandered aimlessly around the bar.
Although Schulman was quickly hospitalized, he died the day after at eighty years of age. The Rainbow Room was closed for seventeen years.
Nashville was in shock. Tanya Tucker rushed to his bedside. Willie Nelson made an appearance on “America’s Most Wanted” in an effort to catch his killer. Celebrities flocked to his funeral. Politicians joined drinkers, bartenders, and servers to pay tribute to the “Mayor of Printer’s Alley.”
In the words of Michael McCall, “The rich and famous stood shoulder to shoulder with the broke and the forgotten, brought together by a man who welcomed them all. That night, the Rainbow Room remained locked, its lights out.”
Although Printer’s Alley “may always be there,” McCall offered, he added that “it will never be the same.”
Caveye received a life sentence. Pence, who pleaded guilty to facilitating murder, received fifteen to twenty-five years in prison.
In 2015, Phil Martin and David Wileman reopened Skull’s Rainbow Room to the public. In the Nashville Scene, Wileman described how the club had been empty for sixteen years. It had even flooded and caught fire. “The only thing missing,” Wileman laughed, “was a plague of locusts.”
Yet Wileman was dedicated to the site’s historic preservation: “Certain things were ridiculous, like the original stage, and learning who all played here. Willie Nelson was part of the house band. Elvis, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan all played on that stage. Paul McCartney wrote songs here when he moved to Nashville.”
The venue was purchased in 2017 by Bill Miller, owner of the Johnny Cash Museum, Patsy Cline Museum, Nudie's Honky Tonk, and Music City Threads.
In an interview with the Tennesseean, Miller discusses how Skull’s Rainbow Room “fits perfectly into their strategy of investing in historic, iconic venues rich with history.”
Skull’s Rainbow Room remains as iconic as ever.
Skull’s Rainbow Room now operates in tribute to David Schulman. It’s a casual fine dining experience that offers burlesque and craft cocktails. Dinner is available from five to eleven. Let us know if you encounter David “Skull” Schulman – or his phantom pup!