Knoxville, TN Night Life (Bars, Dancing and Live Music)

(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.)

East end

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 dancing and goth styling in the Old City, there’s Fiction, formerly The Underground. If Fiction is your kind of place, you’ll probably like the KnoxGothic web site and the events they post.

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!”

Knoxville Night Life Links

17 Responses to Knoxville, TN Night Life (Bars, Dancing and Live Music)

  1. Kristi says:

    Hey there! I’m a flight attendant and found out today that I’m going to be based there in Knoxville. I’m 22 and from Indianapolis, IN so I have no idea where to party. Can someone please e-mail me and give me a few more details about some of the fun places to go? I would really appreciate it!

  2. Sabra Taylor says:

    My name is SABRA TAYLOR and I am a touring singer/songwriter. I am looking for more Venues every day. If anyone knows good places to sing and play original, folk/country, acousitc music, please let me know! Thanx

  3. Chad Smith says:

    Like Sabra, I am also looking for cool places to play original folk/country acoustic music. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know @ Thanks!

  4. Ryan says:

    Kristi I will be in town form NYC for the UF game on Sept 18th. I will buy you a drink, haha!

  5. Cajunjo says:

    I want to bring my 16 year old granddaughter to Cotton Eye Joe…. …. Just want to go in and dance……. CAN SHE GET IN???? I know if FL they stamp the hand and DO NOT SERVE and if with a parent,,,, DO thay do that there? NEED TO KNOW QUICLKY!!!!!! CajunJO

  6. 25042mike says:

    Can anyone tell me where the 30 to 40 single crowd goes in Knoxville for a cold drink, and possibly meeting someone? “Meet” markets are cool!

  7. katie says:

    Hey! I’m from Kentucky and I was wanting to know how old you have to be to get into clubs in Knoxville, because I’m 19. Thanks. I know that Cotton Eye Joe you have to be 18 and up and club liquid, but that has been back when school was in.

  8. steven says:

    looking to visit and enjoy gay life in knoxville area for the first time all info would be greatly appreciated see you in march peace

  9. stacy says:

    I am 29 and thinking about relocating to knoxville. I have no idea where to begin…What parts of town should I avoid? What side of town is the more young fun place to live (without being too young or college crazy) I want to be close to the city like 10 min away max. I have e-mailed so many random people and asked these simple questions no response as of yet? Pros and cons aboutliving in knoxville???? Help!!!

  10. amy says:

    Hello me and my girlfriend tring to find a lesbian bar or club here in knoxville?

  11. Nowslimmer says:

    Enjoyed your site and seeing my picture and your words from your hike to Mt. Collins Shelter on October 18, 2005.

    Best wishes,
    Paul E. Johnson
    Melbourne, FL

  12. Bob Merrick says:

    PLEASE forget about the 4620 club. the band will drive you nuts and the dance floor as been remove. Owner said if you don’t like it don’t come back. I wan’t. Was a nice place once.

  13. Emmalee says:

    Hey I’m a show manager looking for bands in the Knoxville, TN area who would be interested in playing clubs and restaurants on a 20,000 dollar P.A. system. We set it up and break it down…You just show up and play!


  14. Kevin says:

    Hi Knoxville, We are an Oldies/Motown cover band from Kentucky looking for venues in the Knoxville area to fill up our winter 07-08 calendar. Web site is Please let us know of any clubs or other venues that prefer our style music.

  15. I am in a band that will be in the area (Cosmic American Derelicts). We play honky-tonk country and blues. If anyone knows of any cool venues that host such music. We’d be much obliged. Thanks

  16. We are a five piece band, we play country and old rock. you may contact me by phone at 423-429-8679 or 423-438-8759. I will be posting our new cd on myspace in a couple of days.

  17. crystal says:

    Hey Joe’s is deffinately the place to go if you ‘re looking for an enexpensive way to finish off the weekend. Sunday nights they have free pitcher of beer nights and they teach line dancing. That’s dancing that goes with the country songs they play. Alot of the dances they do are upon request. So get to the line dance instructor Bubba. He’s great and the bar tenders are awesome. If you want somewhere that really talks about respect and takes it to the next level it’s at Cotton Eyed Joes. The bouncers are great people but always follow the cardinal rules as you go along and you’ll do just fine.