About Southern Turf Club
Since 1895, Nashville’s Southern Turf Building has been a dynamic part of the cityscape, reflecting on the changing landscape of a growing Southern city.
Built for bookmaker Marcus Cartwright, the building was in the center of what was the Gentleman’s Quarter. While social mores in polite society frowned on such activities in public, in the private rooms on Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue North), men drank heavily, gambled and engaged in prostitution. At the time, the area was so risqué that women would cross the street rather than be associated with such ribald activities.
The building was the center of these activities, not just geographically, but in terms of activities, too. It was home to a saloon, a gambling parlor, a hotel and a bordello. Not only did it allow patrons to have a drink on-site, but it also sold whiskey to-go.
While some of the activities may have been covert, the décor was for all to admire. Bronze statues, intricate figurative paintings, mahogany furniture and even electric fans were among the interior’s opulence. Eventually, Prohibition shuttered the Southern Turf’s saloon and hotel in 1914, but it didn’t stop its lore.
Today, the new Southern Turf Club, atop the Southern Turf Building, is a return to this 1800s aesthetic. The collection of artifacts and antiques acquired by Bill and Shannon Miller for display in the new members-only club demonstrates their dedication to preserving Nashville’s history and making that history available to locals and visitors.
“I fell in love with the magnificent Southern Turf Building the first time I saw it ten years ago,” remembers Bill Miller, founder and CEO of Icon Entertainment & Hospitality. “I had no idea that this amazing Queen Anne work of art would become my property someday.”
The basement level of the Southern Turf Building houses Skull’s Rainbow Room, which opened in 1948, serving Printers Alley patrons burlesque entertainment, live jazz music, craft cocktails and fine dining. Icon Entertainment bought Skull’s in 2017. The next floor up is Sinatra Bar & Lounge, the Rat Pack-period restaurant decorated with artifacts and art from Frank Sinatra’s long career. Above Sinatra are the Southern Turf Lofts, short-term rental properties with luxury appointments. And on the top floor, the Southern Turf Club—the building’s crowning glory—is bedecked in the best antiques of the Icon collection.
The artifacts here are museum quality, but unlike they would be in a museum, they are out in the open where guests can see them up close and, in some cases, even touch them. The first object welcoming members and guests is a carved wooden bench made for John Milton, the legendary English poet who wrote Paradise Lost. Its sophisticated battle-themed scenes are accompanied by other rare wood gems, including four different fireplaces, all more than 100 years old and a hand-carved wall from a Scottish pub from the 1700s. Lining the walls are books from the 1800s, complete with genuine leather bindings.
The mood is set thanks to the natural light flooding from the windows of the iconic turret, period chandeliers and vintage candleholders that flickers against the glass of the pickle castor collection, which are scattered throughout the Club.
Complementing the impressive selection of rare and unusual spirits for consumption are themed artifacts. These include the oldest-known Rip Van Winkle bottle, from 1916, with a bright four-color label and wave-textured glass, plus antique hashish, cocaine and cannabis apothecary jars.
Whatever change Nashville sees next, the Southern Turf Building will be standing, ready to document it.