The block-long alley is between the historic Ryman Auditorium and Nashville’s raucous honky-tonks, where well-fortified patrons are urged to “holler and swaller.”
Now it’s a place often littered with gray trash cans and cardboard boxes piled atop each other. Grand Ole Opry performers used to walk out the Opry’s side door, cross the alley and slip in the back door at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville’s legendary honky-tonk.
“It’s the most famous 37 steps in that alley,” says Jim “The Governor” Hill, Tootsie’s general manager. “Tootsie’s was the ‘green room’ for the Ryman.”
The alley work, which will cost the city an estimated $300,000, is expected to take up to six months.
“The alley is a Nashville treasure,” said Veronica Frazier with the Metro Public Works Department. “You can walk in the footsteps where Hank (Williams) did.”
A local group has led the makeover effort, which will include work on storm and sanitary sewers, electrical conduits and refinishing the surface.
“We want to celebrate the historical, cultural feel of the alley,” said Shawn Henry, an attorney who is chairman of the makeover group. “We’re mindful to upgrade it but want it to stay vibrant.”
The 119-year-old Ryman was home to the Opry from 1943 to 1974, when it moved to a new location east of downtown. Opry shows are still performed at the Ryman during the winter.
Today, a dozen or so other honky-tonks have joined Tootsie’s on that side of the alley, continuing Nashville’s music vibe with blazing fiddles, country weepers and frosty beer.
Hill said the rear of his honky-tonk is still popular because of the alley and what’s nearby.
“A lot of people sit at the back patio and just look at the Ryman.”
Bill Stasyszen of Shelbyville, Ky., who was strolling down the alley with his wife before ducking into one of the bars for some two-steppin,’ was delighted to hear the alley is getting spruced up.
“Well, it needs it,” he said. “I hope they don’t take the charm away.”