Nightlife in Knoxville Makes a Big Comeback
Knoxville nightlife got a jolt of excitement in the last few years. The rebirth is a thrilling shock.
Back in the 1980s you could hear a pin drop in this city after dark. Exactly how the change began is open to debate, but nobody denies that downtown is the place to be at night. You can walk from bistros to bars, music venues to movies.
Market Square, an open pedestrian area framed by shops, bars and restaurants, was once the center of commerce. It was the verge of structural collapse when entrepreneurs took a chance. The Tomato Head became a hip lunch place for downtown office workers wanting something more than the ordinary meat and three. Now, people have many options at lunchtime and in the evenings. Often, a street band strums away amid the buzz of conversations at dozens of outdoor tables.
Just a block over, Gay Street remains downtown’s main business avenue but much has changed. The bank towers are still in place, but the old department stores are now residences, funky shops and restaurants. The Woodruff building is home to Downtown Grill & Brewery which fills nightly. Sapphire prides itself on its fine wines and Nama offers sushi late into the night. These gathering spots and others are anchored by the restored Tennessee Theatre, a venue for big-name performers and touring shows, and the ultra popular Regal Riviera Theater. The Bijou Theatre keeps entertainment booked regularly. Sidewalks overflow with visitors staying at downtown hotels, University of Tennessee students, suburbanites looking for a change of pace, or city dwellers who thrive on urban sights and sounds.
Walk a few blocks north to Summit Hill, turn right, and make a left on Central. This is the Old City, another entertainment district with roots dating to the mid-19th century. Here, night spots come and go with frequency, so there’s always a reason to discover what’s new. The Crown and Goose, an English pub with a large brew selection, features music on some nights. So does Barley’s Taproom, a mainstay for the 20-somethings. You might wander over to Carleo’s late at night.
Other blocks are making a comeback. North Gay had a facelift and holds a cluster of artsy shops and eateries. A short car ride north, a historic area called Happy Holler slowly builds a list of party places like Central Flats and Taps. And, over to the East on Depot Avenue, the Marble City Brewing Company is making a name for itself and offering tastings Wednesday through Saturday nights.
Finally, let us pay homage to The Strip, about a mile west of downtown and next to the University of Tennessee campus. It’s the classic college avenue with beer joints like the Longbranch Saloon. The Copper Cellar is a favorite restaurant. Just as in the Old City, the bars have the nervous habit of coming and going, but you can always catch some music and action.