Jamaican Restaurant and Bar: Bar Marley Set to Open

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

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.

Caleb Boyers of Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Caleb Boyers of Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Caleb Boyers and Reida Gillespie of Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street, Knoxville, August 2014

Caleb Boyers and Reida Gillespie of Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street, Knoxville, August 2014

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.

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

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.

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Bar Marley (view from Jennings Street), 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Building to be demolished, Stone Street, Knoxville, August 2014

Building to be demolished, Stone Street, Knoxville, August 2014

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.

Caleb Boyers of Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Caleb Boyers of Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Sanitary Laundry Building and Neighboring Buildings, Broadway near Central, Knoxville, August 2014

Sanitary Laundry Building and Neighboring Buildings, Broadway near Central, Knoxville, August 2014

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.

Bar Marley, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

Bar Marley as seen from Broadway, 760 Stone Street NW, Knoxville, August 2014

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.


  1. Heather says:

    What is age limit for this facility?

  2. Love this place!

  3. Was just curious what the status of this place is lately? Just yesterday they posted on their FB page “coming soon.”

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I don’t know any more than you know. I’d love to learn that Caleb is back and ready to go into business. I’ll check and see if I can learn anything.

  4. NoKno Resident says:

    Pertaining the discussion about racism, cultural appropriation is, indeed, a form of racism.

    Additionally, minority groups do not benefit from inter-generational privilege they can wield against whites/the dominant power structure.

    Racism requires power, so minorities in America actually have no way of being racist against the dominant (white) power structure. Without power, negative racial feelings might be discriminatory or prejudiced, but they certainly are not racist.

    Finally, the use of 1st, 2nd and 3rd world references for a privileged person or group’s entertainment is not necessarily racist, though it is certainly tasteless and insensitive.

  5. NoKno Resident says:

    I went by this place and met the owner before the “shell exchange” party. I offered the guy free help to get the place up and running (I own a truck and had some free time). He flat turned me down, despite his female companion’s opinion that they may, indeed, need extra hands to get the place open.

    Anywho, I hope they make it, but at this point I don’t care who or what moves in there, as long as they can find a good use for the space.

    Driving by it today, it looks like the place is more of an attractive nuisance and fire hazard than it was before it changed hands; more’s the pity.

  6. Whoever wrote NoBro, that was the first thing I thought of, too. It’s catchy.

    Think this will be a great addition.

  7. I don’t think the name of the establishment is inherently racist, but the spice levels of the food being listed “1st world, 2nd world, 3rd world” may seem a little insensitive?

    • please think says:

      I have to respectfully disagree with this too. So many words that we use to describe peoples & areas of the world have become off limits because they are “offensive”. Where does it end? We’ll run out of new euphemisms soon. It’s not the word that is used, that is good or bad, its the intentions of the user. Hence why we keep having to find new ways to refer to things, because the true racists will always use even the New words in a mean way. This owner wouldn’t have picked this theme for his bar if he thought the cultures of the1st,2nd &3rd worlds were inferior.

  8. please think says:

    Racist? Wow, did you think about what you wrote? The fact hat YOU think a “white guy” shouldn’t do something like this is super racist against “white guys”. Isn’t the idea that we are all equal? Therefore, white guys should be allowed this sort of thing too. Too bad most of those that are crying “racist” in this decade are in fact, racist themselves. Makes the word lose meaning & takes the focus off actual racists 🙁 Hurrah for this bar owner to represent a culture he respects, no matter his heritage!

  9. Bob Cargile says:

    Looking forward to the opening and hope the food (and beer) are as good as the name would imply. I think the name is a tribute to Marley and not in any way racist.

  10. Located in the scenic Prostitutes Central. I live in the area & I sincerely hope new businesses in the area will prompt officials to do something about the rampant crime in the area. As a mere resident they have chosen to ignore my pleas for help. Good luck guys!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Well, at the least maybe it will prompt that business to move elsewhere. Where there are empty buildings the likelihood of crime increases, which is another reason for development. I think this area will be changing considerably in the next months.

  11. blueslover says:

    apparently it’s open today?!?!

  12. As a very close neighbor, I’m excited by this effort. My only reservation is a “a steel drum for patrons to play is planned for the outside seating area.” I hope the skill level is monitored! lol…. Seriously, welcome to the neighborhood.

  13. Also, maybe someone should solicit name ideas for this area and present the suggestions to the public to see which is most popular. You might be just the man for the job, Urban Guy.

  14. Very excited to see yet another new business popping up in the area. I am a sucker for the beach and Jamaican food, so can’t wait to meet our new neighbors and eat some of their food. I also applaud the obvious creativity and heart going into this place. Kudos!

  15. seriously? says:

    white guy has a life changing experience in another country, comes back to open a Jamaican restaurant in Tennessee and call it Bar Marley……uuuhhhhhh……and the article claims this as authentic? do you not realize how incredibly racist thit is????

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      No, I do not realize how incredibly racist this is. Obviously, the name has solicited a mix of responses, but racist? It’s a reference to a bar and to Bob Marley. So, no, that’s a very serious word that I would not use in this connection, at all. I tried to delineate the ways I think it is authentic and I get it that the name doesn’t hit a lot of people that way. I didn’t name it.

      • I can’t believe how fuc#ing critical you people are! Who the hell cares what the name is .? Remember Brother Jacks? Great bar b q … Not so great a name! As long as the food and atmosphere are good I will drive and hour every week to eat there. I think it is a cool name. When I opened my store in West Knox in 1994 … If anyone had criticized me for the name … I would have told them to become a partner and then they would have a say in what I called it! If you don’t like the name then go to MacDonalds!

    • Well, Seriously (Seriously?), maybe there is a WHITE guy in Jamaica who runs a bar and Bar Marley is authentically patterned after THAT bar. Or, maybe race has nothing to do with running a bar or restaurant and you’re really reaching for something to be outraged about. If it has good veggie food I’ll patronize, if not, I won’t. I’ll base my judgments on the food, not on whether or not the owner has a genetic pedigree of which you approve. THAT notion is incredibly racist.

  16. Seriously, this guy has planned this for years and someone is complaining about the name? Great concept, definitely support!

  17. I cannot wait!!

  18. Arthur Benjamin Carmichael III says:

    North of the Border (NoBo); The Boundary; Old Gray; South North Knoxville (SoNoKno); South Broad;

  19. Two things. First: I can’t wait to try this place. It’s super exciting how the area, whatever it ends up being called, is filling in. Two: Naming the area. I would like to respectfully submit the name NoBro to the list of options. North of Broadway.

  20. !

  21. I think the name is perfect … some people find something wrong with everything….I can’t wait to visit this restaurant. Jamica is my favorite vacation destInation . Good Luck.

  22. Bar Marley? Seriously, Bar Marley? My hope is that the jerk chicken is so delicious it makes me forget the name. I understand the need for positivity on this page, but the name is as wack as a burger joint called “Cheeseburger in Paradise” where the logo is written in Comic Sans and every letter is a different color. It makes me feel like Ras Trent is going to be the manager and all the waiters are going to wear those costume tams with fake dreads while serving me a dish called the Nyabinghi Pum Pum salad (because it has pomegranates!). Something as simple as “Scotch Bonnet’s” or “Jerk’s” would have been far less offensive to anyone with basic understanding of stereotypical Jamaican culture.

    That said, I am a sucker for Jamaican cuisine and beer, so I will definitely go check it out. I do not wish to offend or down play the owners and their good intentions. I will gladly let the food and atmosphere speak for itself once they open, but please don’t play any Sublime in the restaurant.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      You aren’t the only person to react negatively to the name. It’s odd, in a sense, because great pains are being taken to make the place extremely authentic. This will not be a polished, corporately furnished restaurant. The decor and the food are supposed to be the very real thing. And saying what you think is fine on this page – we just do it nicely.

  23. Now this news makes me happy. Thanks for the heads up, UrbanGuy!

  24. NoFo might be good for a chuckle, but it doesn’t seem like a good long-term name. I’d try Dameron’s Addition (since that what the area started out as), though it’s not terribly catchy. Or maybe something like Old Eighth Ward (though the wards are so shifty — the blocks are numbered as though they’re in the 8th, and the deeds say “8th”, though the current map puts the area in the 6th Ward, which is terribly unhelpful, since it also encompasses all of downtown). Or maybe there’s something that can be done relative to the fact that this was once the northern boundary of Knoxville – when North Knoxville was its own city, the boundary was along the line of Jennings Ave.

  25. Love getting the heads-up on things like this.

  26. …and if you’re hungry ahead of time for some authentic Jamaican food, there’s an excellent place called Rocky’s Jamaican Sunrise on E. Broadway in Maryville. 🙂

  27. Awesome news. Can’t wait to try it!

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