How’s this for different, Knoxville? A Jamaican restaurant and bar with genuine Caribbean cuisine cooked on an outside grill and an honest reproduction of a bar one might find in the islands? Not possible for downtown? Well, you might want to think again, as Bar Marley is set to host their grand opening September 20.
It’s in that area I’ve struggled to name. I suggested Happy Holler East Side, but Greg pointed out that HHES doesn’t make a very good tshirt and suggested NO40 for north of I-40. Maybe that’s better, but there can be no question at this point that the area of North Central from Broadway to the west is hopping. It’s situated somewhere between downtown, Happy Holler and Old North, and with Holly’s Corner, Magpies, Three River’s Market, Hops and Hollers, Central Collective, Ironwood Studios and more, this is a section that is becoming it’s own thing. The slow burn is about to move to another level.
I met Reida Gillespie and Caleb Boyers on a recent morning at the location of the pending establishment on Stone Street, which is just off Tyson – the street between Dixie Kitchens and Old Gray Cemetery. The only clue as to which building would soon house a new establishment was the bright blue paint. Very tropical. It sits behind a cinder block building, currently falling in on itself, which is likely being destroyed as you read this to make way for parking and, eventually, a beach volley ball court. Both were part of the Sanitary Laundry business, established in 1905 and closed in the 1970s. The operation also included a building on Broadway that Caleb hopes to be able to renovate.
The project is a culmination of nearly ten years of planning and hard work. Caleb Boyers, the owner and proprietor describes himself as a former hippy who had his eyes opened on a boat trip ten years ago. He captained a tugboat from Puerto Rico to Panama and observed an organic fishing operation, as well as ongoing and looming destruction of natural habitat both on land and sea. Witnessing the clash of new money flooding the traditional culture changed him and gave him purpose.
He returned to the states and began to execute a slowly developing plan. He waited tables while living as frugally as possible and saved money to buy a foreclosed home in old North which he renovated while living in a tent. He is trained as an engineer, though he only practiced for a brief time years ago. He also has a background in construction and a family willing to help.
Once the first house sold, a series of similar projects followed. While accumulating money, he had the satisfaction of saving older homes. But that was just the beginning. Ultimately, he used the money to buy the properties on Stone Street for back taxes in order to move to the next phase of his plan: opening a Jamaican beach bar in order to raise money for purchasing and preserving some of that threatened property in central America.
His passion is reproducing the true beach bar experience through music, fresh organic foods and re-purposed materials for every use. While providing a cultural experience, he’ll also be modeling a re-purposed lifestyle foreign to many of us, while making money to preserve endangered habitats. It’s a big plan, but he’s executed major portions of it already, so I’m betting on him to see it through.
The place itself is set to be great fun. In addition to the beach volleyball court, the outside will feature seating inside a bamboo fence constructed from bamboo removed from Caleb’s family’s property. Inside the bar a 1970s re-purposed speedboat has been transformed into a booth with seating for eight.
Five aquariums will carry the beach theme, along with a large central water feature incorporating an eight inch wave pool providing the sound of the ocean. A tree sculpture with LED lighting will also be featured, along with a mural painted by local artist Chris Cornett (who I’ve featured a number of times on this blog) will grace an inside wall. Other art will be displayed and Caleb has hopes of starting an art library of sorts, with money from memberships going to the artists.
But there will be some significant differences in this bar that will be obvious immediately. Since everything is reclaimed or re-purposed, nothing will match. Each table will be a unique surface, flatware will be mis-matched and Caleb promises a completely different environment from any other restaurant or bar in the city. It’s the way a bar would be made in Jamaica – with salvaged materials from the environment. The tables are from Habitat for Humanity re-sale, windows and fixtures have been taken from warehouses.
Whenever possible, live music will keep the island vibe going with reggae or Jimmy Buffet-styled beach music. That starts on opening day with the music of Roots of a Rebellion playing from 5:00 – 7:00 PM. In addition to the planned beach volley ball court, a steel drum for patrons to play is planned for the outside seating area. Latin dance lessons are planned for Saturday nights.
Musicians may be tipped on the bill with a line item specifically for them, which may be a first in the city. Ordering food may be done the traditional way – through a waiter or waitress – or patrons may order directly via computer kiosks located around the restaurant.
The food will emphasize healthy island eating with all meats grilled on an outdoor grill and a full menu available. Caleb describes it as “Caribbean-fusion tropical food,” though he says he won’t be afraid to include African recipes, for example. A major component of the menu will be fruits and these will be all fresh and all organic. The specialty tropical cocktails will include all-organic ingredients. As much as possible, everything will be farm-to-table, with nothing frozen and he plans for all foods to be GMO-free. You’ll find the initial menu here.
There will be beers on tap, Jamaican beers, such as Red Stripe, and, of course PBR. The beers on tap will include some regional beers which will rotate out. A punch bowl of Sangria is planned, complete with punch glasses. Eventually, coffee and breakfast foods will be offered for early hours of the day.
In addition to his time in the islands, Caleb brings years of experience in dining. He’s hired Reida Gillespie, who many of you know as a local tax preparation professional to manage the bar. Reida previously managed the bar at Relix. Caleb told me in parting, “I have lived severely beneath my means to make this happen,” and the intensity in his voice communicates his overwhelming determination to make it work.
The grand opening, in addition to live music, will feature an odd island twist: a shell from the beach gets your drink and samples from the menu. It promises to be a party and one of those nights people remember fondly for a long time. You’ll want to be able to say you were there. Check out more information on their website and make your plans.