Nashville’s Printers Alley sits like a backup singer just blocks from the honky-tonks of Broadway. But the alley has long had its own, less-heralded voice. Between narrow brick walls, a grittier history swirls, from its namesake printing industry to the speakeasies, gambling dens, and burlesque clubs that once flourished along its cobblestoned stretch.
Today a growing number of those old haunts are transforming into shiny new hotels for Nashville’s estimated fourteen million visitors each year. Amid the hand-wringing by locals over the city’s rapid changes—an influx of newcomers, more than twenty planned hotels in the coming year, a sky full of cranes, and escalating real-estate prices—there are those working to ensure that the new Nashville doesn’t mess with the old-Nashville magic.
One new Printers Alley hotel in particular is doing its best to pay respect to the area’s history while also looking thoughtfully toward Music City’s next act. The recently opened 224-room Noelle restores an aging office building to its art-deco beginning as the old Noel Place hotel, which welcomed guests from 1930 to 1972. The property, complete with the original walls of pink Tennessee marble and terrazzo flooring, is now part of the Tribute Portfolio group of hotels, which maintains a roster of boutique properties around the globe. Wisely, the outsiders tapped Nashville architect Nick Dryden and his firm, DAAD, to spearhead the redesign. Dryden, in turn, pulled together a pack of locals—letterpress artist Bryce McCloud, creative consultant Libby Callaway, graphic designer Benji Peck, and coffee entrepreneur Andy Mumma—to make sure that the hotel stayed true to its Nashville roots.
“We’re playing off a lot of the history that is here,” Dry-
den says. “It’s an opportunity to have discourse about where Nashville’s been and where it’s going.”
McCloud worked at the famous Hatch Show Print, which once had a shop on the alley, before opening his own custom outfit, Isle of Printing. In addition to hanging his art in the hotel, he recruited eleven local artists to create portraits of notable Nashvillians past and present. Likenesses include Heaven Lee, an alley burlesque dancer and 1970s-era activist, as well as civil rights icon John Lewis, who took part in the Nashville sit-ins. McCloud likens the series, which includes written bios, to a guidebook that you can live inside. Read about Teresa Mason’s neighborhood garden work, for instance, before heading to her restaurant, Mas Tacos.
Callaway oversaw the hotel’s Keep Shop, which stocks dozens of Music City wares, including pottery by Tenure Ceramics and vintage clothing chosen by musician Nikki Lane, who curates her own retro Nashville boutique, High Class Hillbilly. On the hotel’s bottom floor near the restaurant, helmed by Dan Herget, formerly of Nashville’s Little Octopus, McCloud is also running an in-house print shop called Little Prints. He plans to offer letterpress classes and other experiential art-making opportunities.
“We wanted to come up with ways that locals and visitors can have honest interaction,” McCloud says. “Art can be the vehicle for that.”
Upon entering the hotel, look for the “line.” Inspired by the river routes and railways that brought people and cargo here, the weaving inlaid brass stripe connects the hotel’s public spaces, such as Mumma’s Drug Store Coffee and the Trade Room lounge. The hotel offers a fresh take on art-deco design, including guest rooms with walls in clean white or navy and bedside sconces in the shape of pillbox hats. A rooftop bar, Rare Bird, overlooks the Cumberland River and is accented with fabrics by Nashville’s Andra Eggleston, the daughter of the famed Tennessee-born photographer William Eggleston.
“We’re kindling a sense of discovery,” McCloud says.
It’s a sentiment that has long drawn musicians and artists of all stripes to the city. And with its stew of old and new, the alley appears poised to step from the shadows and sing in Nashville’s spotlight.