By: Campbell Moore
Winter, spring, summer and fall, the halls of one bar in Nashville, Tennessee stay decked out for Christmas. This double-wide turned watering-hole is an establishment called Santa’s Pub and it specializes in smoky haze, karaoke, and year round holiday cheer. The bar’s owner, Denzel Irwin (AKA Santa), has a story that’s on par with the legend of Santa himself.
Roughly forty-five years ago-when Nashville was one half recording-studios another half cow fields-Denzel Irwin was in the Tennessee Preparatory School dreaming about a woman named Angelina Stillings. Though war raged in Vietnam, music stilled ruled in Tennessee, and Irwin and Stillings were in love. Irwin’s number came up and the youth had to ship out to Vietnam. But before he left, he put an engagement ring on Angelina’s finger. After his time in the war finished, Irwin returned Stateside to marry his beloved Angelina. But without the luxury of Facebook or Instagram, Irwin wasn’t able to find or get in touch with Stillings. The love of his life was gone.
Irwin grew up with no parents. He was stabbed once and shot twice (legend has it he cleaned out his own bullet wound with whiskey and stitched it up himself), so it goes without saying he’s a man very comfortable getting back on the horse. He moved on from Angelina and began working odd jobs around Nashville and bartending on Lower Broadway throughout the 1970s.
Somewhere along the way, Irwin was painting a woman’s home. While the two swapped stories, Irwin discovered that the woman was in touch with Angelina Stillings. The woman called Angelina up, put Irwin on the phone and after 30 years of silence, the two were finally reconnected. After a week of talking, the couple got back together and have stayed that way since. Which keeps Nashville natives, karaoke fans, and dive bar fanatics eternally grateful, because it was largely Stillings’ encouragement that got Irwin to open up Santa’s Pub.
Since Spring of 2011 the Christmas themed Karaoke bar has been a home to good singers, bad singers, large parties, outcasts, or anyone willing to follow Santa’s rules. Irwin wants all of his customers to have a grand time filled with good, clean, fun; so he enforces a few rules to keep things in the bar simple, tame, and well-spirited. First of all, the bar doesn’t serve any hard liquor. In Santa’s words, “Whiskey makes people stupid.” He’s really not wrong and is quite proud of the fact that there has never been a fight in the pub. While the absence of liquor is probably partly responsible for the non-hostile atmosphere within the pub, Santa’s other rule: “No touching girls,” also likely plays a large role. Santa expects a jolly good time, but he also expects respect and dignity.
For nearly eight years, Santa’s Pub has delivered all of the above. There are few dives with more character than Santa’s, and certainly not one in Nashville; so when you’re in music city and you want to let your karaoke pipes ring without risking shame in the Broadway honky tonks, Santa’s Pub is your place.
It’s much closer than the North Pole.
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