Knoxville, TN Night Life (Bars, Dancing and Live Music)
April 29, 2003 17 Comments
(PLEASE NOTE: This blog post is from 2003, but people still find it on search engines. Many of these places have closed. You should call them first to make sure they’re still open, particularly if you’re coming from out of town. – Les)
I’ve been writing about daytrips around Knoxville. It occured to me to write what I know best and help visitors find their way around Knoxville. This time around I’ll write about the bar scene.
Bars tend to come and go, to wax and wane, and to get and lose liquor licenses. I’d hate to send anyone to a padlocked building, so I’ll stick to the major landmarks. I’ll also skip some neighborhood bars that I like (Toddy’s, for one) because I don’t think tourists would be interested in them. (Josh Mills writes: “So Toddy’s is not worth a description? I mean, how many bars are built upstairs from a liquor store? How many bars let drunk people throw horseshoes?” Good point.)
The best bars are on the East end of town.
The Old City
The Old City is the best place for a night of fun. Everything is within a few blocks, so you can park once and barhop on foot. (And since I mentioned cars, I should mention designated drivers. Pick one, or take a cab. We now return to our regularly-scheduled depravity.) If you’re looking at a map, the Old City is near downtown at the intersection of Jackson and Central.
There are almost too many Old City bars to mention, but some of the best and longest-standing include Manhattan’s (food and great live music), Patrick O’Sullivan’s (beautiful building and atmosphere, food, music upstairs), and Barley’s (huge draft beer selection, pizza, pool and darts, live music).
Lucille’s is a great little jazz club, what one out-of-town guest called “a classy dive.” They have fantastic (but pricey) food, live music, a courtyard for dining and music, talented bartenders, and hot waitresses in slinky cocktail dresses.
For the college experience, stumble around Cumberland Avenue, AKA The Strip, adjacent to the University of Tennessee. For old school eating and drinking, there’s Old College Inn, which was there before you and I were born and will be there after we’re all long gone. 2204 Cumberland Avenue.
Another Cumberland stalwart is the great Long Branch Saloon, which appeals to an earthier crowd. It’s where I spent my college daze. (I liked it better before they moved the bar to the other side of the main room.) 1848 Cumberland Avenue.
If you prefer something brighter and livelier, Hannah’s Cafe is great. The bar is an encyclopaedia of inebriation. Who knew there was such a thing as dark vodka? Who knew it would damned near make me puke? 1901 Cumberland Avenue.
The Carousel is a gay bar, which means one thing: lots of dancing for the ladies. It’s one block off Cumberland at 15th and White, behind the law school. (Insert your own joke.) For other gay bars, see Out in Knoxville.
There are a dozen other bars in the area that I won’t try to name, because they generate with Old Testament speed. “The University Club begat The Library, which did beget ye Barley and Hopps” and on and on.
If you’re downtown, visit The Bistro for dinner and drinks and the painting of the naked lady. The Bistro is right next to the historic Bijou theater. There are often art exhibits upstairs in the Bijou.
Depending on when you’re reading this, there’s probably a brewpub at 424 Gay Street. It was originally the Smoky Mountain Brewing Company, then Southern Brewing Company, then City Brew, and now it’s Downtown Grill and Brewery. Whatever it’s called, it’s a beautiful place. It isn’t obvious at first, but there are pool tables upstairs in the back. (BTW, Gay Street isn’t a nickname. It’s the main street through downtown. It was named back in a more innocent, Victorian age.)
Market Square area has the Preservation Pub (which was Mercury Theater a decade ago) and Macleod’s (which was Mozart’s Cafe a decade ago). For dinner, there’s the incredible Tomato Head for gourmet pizzas, sandwiches and vegetarian food. A block away you’ll find Fairbanks Roasting Room where you can get drinks, coffee, food, music and (occasionally; check the schedule) dancing. Market Square is next to the TVA Towers. On a map, look for the intersection of Market Street and Wall Street.
If you’re good with a map or have a friend who’ll drive you there, try Sassy Ann’s. It’s a big Victorian house nestled in the historic 4th and Gill neighborhood off Broadway. The second story ceiling was removed to make an open area bar with seating in the attic. There’s always live music, with a bias towards blues, and pool tables downstairs. I’ve met a lot of out-of-towners who make it their mission to visit Sassy Ann’s every time they’re in Knoxville.
West end, from near to far
Everything in West Knoxville is on Kingston Pike, which runs parallel to I-40/I-75.
Melissa likes The Spot, which has a great patio for live music. Personally I don’t like the frat boy/meat market vibe. 6915 Kingston Pike. From I-40/I-75, take the Papermill exit.
For an all out meat market, Michael’s is apparently the place. I haven’t been. Send me your field reports, Knoxville! 7049 Kingston Pike.
If you’re not on a budget or have an expense account, Baker Peters Jazz Club has outstanding food, a martini menu, and live jazz upstairs. 9000 Kingston Pike. From I-40/I-75, take the Cedar Bluff exit, head south to Kingston Pike, and turn left. Baker Peters will be on your right at the traffic light.
Bailey’s Sports Bar is always a fun place and the food is surprisingly good. Pool tables, darts, foosball and tabletop shuffleboard. 250 North Seven Oaks Drive, which is actually in a strip mall on Kingston Pike.
People apparently come from all over to visit Cotton-Eyed Joe, described as “America’s #1 Country Dance Club.” I haven’t been, but I’ll dutifully venture in one day and file a report. Then again, now that you know it’s “America’s #1 Country Dance Club” you probably have all the information you need to decide if you’ll like it. At the Lovell Road exit on I-40. UPDATE: Josh Mills writes: “Go there on family night. That is when (and I know this sounds strange on a family night thing) the ladies come out. AND THE LADIES DO COME OUT IN FORCE!”