Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the familiar Nashville honky-tonk mainstay on the western edge of downtown Broadway, has been entertaining country music fans for over 60 years. Bought in 1960 by Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess, the multi-story purple bar is known for its history of impromptu concerts by some of the industry’s biggest stars.
Some of the bar’s notable early customers include Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings, all of which Tootsie Bess welcomed with open arms. The eccentric owner, who died in 1978 and was buried in an orchid casket, loved up-and-coming musicians like her own children. Rumor has it that Willie Nelson even signed his first recording contract on a barstool in the legendary country establishment. Now, the bar primarily serves tourists looking for a hometown fix of cover songs and cold beers; but a “Wall of Fame” downstairs gives patrons a taste of what Nashville was like before all the fanfare.
It’s hard to fathom now, but downtown Nashville was not always the life of the party. In fact, when the Grand Ole Opry packed up and left the Ryman Auditorium for the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974, Mom-and-Pop joints like Tootsie’s found themselves competing for business with unsavory establishments like pawn shops and adult book stores.
Thanks to its longstanding relationship with loyal Nashville locals, however, Tootsie’s survived; and by the 1990s, country music experienced a renaissance of its own. Broadway soon found itself a campy, fun little nook for fans of the music to congregate and share stories. Tootsie’s, the first bar you see when driving down Broadway from West Nashville, stood like a purple beacon of hope; ready to welcome tourists and locals alike into its small, yet comfy corridors.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
Parking Near Tootsies
- Fifth and Broadway Parking Garage: 550 Broadway
- Suntrust Plaza: 401 Commerce Street
- 333 Garage: 128 4th Ave.
- Gruhn Lot: 400 Broadway
As Nashville grew, Tootsie’s also transformed over the years
In 2010, a variety of new and old artists alike threw a 50-year anniversary Tootsie’s celebration at the Ryman Auditorium; the birthplace of country music on the radio. Some of those early patrons, including Kristofferson and Nelson, also helped produce a documentary during the same era about the bar and its history.
Now in its seventh straight decade in the same location, Tootsie’s gets to enjoy the fruits of its many labors. Nashville became the “it” city in the past decade for both tourists and new residents alike. And lower Broadway hosts dozens of high-end bars and restaurants all vying for those entertainment dollars that frankly didn’t exist when Tootsie’s was the only game in town.
Tootsie’s has become such a recognizable, household name in the bar industry that the company now sponsors a NASCAR team. True to its roots, the bar even teamed up with a musician for the partnership. Earlier this year, NASCAR driver Daniel Suarez raced in the Daytona 500 in the bright purple, Pitbull-owned Tootsie’s race car.
“I have the coolest fire suit in the business,” Suarez joked at the time. “You guys can’t miss me.”
And if you’re visiting Nashville, you won’t want to miss a trip to Tootsie’s for a night of country music nostalgia you’re sure to never forget.