This will be the first of a series of posts on the new sponsors you may have noticed popping up on the right-hand side of your screen. These are people who are paying money to advertise and, at the same time, support the work I’m doing with this website. Please support them. Every ad is a link, so click it. Every time you visit their business or store, or see the owners on the street, please thank them for supporting something you enjoy.
It’s impossible to talk about Preservation Pub without talking about its owners, Bernadette and Scott West. Theirs is a winding and complicated story that has often been recounted elsewhere, so I’ll just hit the highlights in this article.
In the 1980s the Wests lived in Fort Sanders and noted that Knoxvillians were often embarrassed about their downtown. By the 1990s, with Bernadette continuing to work as a full-time flight attendant, the West family opened several businesses in the Old City including Earth to Old City and West Photography Gallery. The business subsequently moved to Market Square and is operated by Scott’s family members including his mother and father, Vada and Jim and sisters Paula, Sandy and Antoinette.
The family opened Venus de Gaia Victorian Shop and the Big Dipper Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour on West Jackson. Scott wrote a cover story on the Old City for the New York Times and an Old City brochure introducing visitors to downtown. They co-funded the Old City Folk Festival through sales of an Old City gift card. Scott became the president of the Old City Neighborhood Association and was succeeded by his sister, Paula.
The City of Knoxville hired them to photograph east Tennessee for a year for the Downtown Gateway Regional Visitor’s Center (located at the current location of Outdoor Knoxville). Scott participated in the Nine Counties One Vision effort and Co-chaired the Downtown Development portion.
As the 2000s began, they turned their attention to the forlorn and virtually abandoned Market Square. They purchase six buildings which could easily be condemned at 16, 18, 20, 22, 28 and 36 Market Square. The day after the purchase the city placed “Danger! Do Not Enter!” signs on the fronts of the buildings. They borrowed 1.4 million dollars from Bernadette’s mother and 1.35 million from a non-downtown bank because no downtown bank would give them financing, as well as hundreds of thousands from friends.
They argued before City Council to fund a major overhaul of the square including building a stage. Events began to happen and a glimmer of hope could be seen for downtown, but cash was tight. Scott borrow money from his brother which was illegally earned. The City approved $9 million to renovate Market Square. While others wanted a two-way street and parking on Market Square, Bernadette argued for a pedestrian-friendly town square. The West family began to open businesses in their buildings.
Preservation Pub opened at 28 Market Square in 2002 and has hosted fundraisers for Mayors Haslam and Rogero and performances by thousands of bands including the Dirty Guv’nahs and the Avett Brothers. In 2003 they opened Oodles/Uncorked at 18-20 Market Square and World Grotto and Marketplace at 16 Market Square in 2004. I really enjoyed World Grotto and it is the first place I remember seeing Scott. Later that year they opened ThInQ Tank on South Central and created the Old City Courtyard.
2004 also saw them co-sponsor Sundown in the City on Market Square with Ashley Capps, and they opened 11 residential lofts in 16-22 Market Square. The News Sentinel called them the “poster couple of Downtown Revitalization.” They served on various boards which served to bring more businesses and events downtown and helped create the Market Square District Association.
In 2006 it all began to unravel. Scott was indicted as a conspirator in a money-laundering operation for having used drug money in his development efforts. I remember the Sunday morning we awoke to the news that Scott and Bernadette had been arrested. It was not a good day for the city and I feared downtown momentum would be killed. All six Market Square buildings were seized and sold at auction. $2.1 million in marijuana profits were seized, but the businesses were found to not have profited and remain in family hands.
While in separate federal prisons for four-and-one-half years, the couple used their time productively. Bernadette, who has a MFA from UT, taught yoga, soccer and art. Scott, who has a Creative Writing degree from UT wrote four books and composed songs. During this time, 28 Market Square, originally purchased by the West’s for $120,000 was purchased by Paula West for $550,000.
On their return, Scott and Bernadette began to expand Preservation Pub. It had long been a one floor bar (at least dating back to the Mercury which is the name under which I first visited) and they opened a second, non-smoking floor. Acoustic shows and an expanded kitchen added to the entertainment possibilities of the pub. Open mike nights in music and comedy (the longest running in the city) offered opportunities for local talent. Later they opened a Moonshine Rooftop Garden which became the first roof-top bar in the city featuring the Magic Beer Tree and Greenhouse. Over 200 artists play Preservation Pub each month.
They have continued to produce events on Market Square and in 2012 they purchased 32 Market Square and have completely altered its interior to prepare for the opening of Scruffy City Hall later this year. They describe it as a “miniaturized Bijou Theatre with balconies overlooking the first floor stage, a recessed balcony overlooking Market Square and a non-smoking interior” with seating for about three to five hundred people. The exterior balcony is currently the source of a battle with the Historic Zoning Commission.
The current major event happening is the Band Eat Band competition. It happens this Saturday on Market Square from 4:00 t0 10:00. Six bands remain and will vie for $3,000 cash and a week in a recording studio, among other prizes. The order will be randomly selected at 4:00 and a winner will be announced at 9:55. The after-party begins at 10:00 in Preservation Pub. The bands in the final include Backup Planet, Baseball the band, CrumbSnatchers, Grandpa’s Stash, The JoJax, King Super and The Excellents and Vagabond Philosophy. This is a great chance to hear excellent local music from the comfort of your lawn chair. You don’t generally get an opportunity to hear this many great bands in one venue.
Preservation Pub is a local treasure. I hear more live music there than anywhere else. The performance photographs in this post are from a phenomenal show last week featuring Jodi Manross, Laith Keilany and Russell Tanenbaum. It was an amazing live show with Jodi wailing on the vocals and Laith destroying the guitar. That’s the kind of mid-week treasure you can find at Preservation Pub. Check them out. Attend Band Eat Band. Tell Scott and Bernadette you are glad they are advertising on Inside of Knoxville.