Five Bar Restaurant Opens on Gay Street

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Today is the official opening of Five Bar Restaurant (Facebook) at 430 S. Gay Street. Yesterday a soft opening allowed staff to practice before opening day and the restaurant was packed. Small wonder, given the prices (free), but like Urban Woman and me, I’m sure that many of those customers will return with friends. Even with normal opening-evening bumps, it was a very pleasant experience.

Charles Morgan III and Cris Eddings, Co-Owners, Five Bar Restaurant, 530 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Charles Morgan III and Cris Eddings, Co-Owners, Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Charles Morgan III, Co-Owner, Five Bar Restaurant, 530 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Charles Morgan III, Co-Owner, Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Co-owners Charles Morgan, III and Cris Eddings generously agreed to sit for an interview earlier in the day and give me the details. I knew a few things from my previous article focusing on the coming restaurant. You can also go to that article to see what this space looked like just a few months ago. It was a long way from what you’ll see there today.

The two men are partners in a group of restaurants which include Five Bar Restaurants in Gainesville, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Athens and, now, Knoxville. They are also partners in Camille’s at Crystal Beach and Chuck’s Fish in Tuscaloosa. Additionally, Charles owns Red Bay Grocery in Red Bay, Florida, Harbor Docks Seafood in Destin and Dharma Blue in Pensacola.

Charles Morgan III and Cris Eddings, Co-Owners, with Rick Emmett at Five Bar Restaurant, 530 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Charles Morgan III and Cris Eddings, Co-Owners, with Rick Emmett at Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Harbor Docks Seafood plays a role in the other restaurants, including the new one in Knoxville. Harbor Docks is not only a restaurant, it also is a wholesale market, getting fish fresh from the Gulf and distributing them to restaurants all over the country and into Canada. Before fish are shipped to New York City, Boston, Montreal and Toronto, however, they are flown directly to this and the other restaurants in the group, assuring fresh gulf fish every day. The catch of the day is literally what was caught for Harbor Docks. They also own some of the boats, making it a very in-house operation.

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

I asked about use of local foods and Charles said, “I want to buy locally as much as possible, because it makes common sense, not because it’s a movement.” He made it clear that he doesn’t do it to make the restaurant look good, but rather because local is fresher and the company wants to be involved in the community. They plan to be at the Market Square Farmers’ Market Saturday morning meeting local farmers and determining what might be possible on that front. They age their own beef in-house and are hoping to contract with Benton’s Bacon. Cris added that, “simplicity helps us focus on the best available products.”

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Beyond the food, the labor is local –  they bring in very few employees from other cities – and they focus on local art. The decor, I noticed, has a number of local touches, such as Johnny Majors’ photograph and a Cormac McCarthy painting. The music for the soft opening was provided by jazz combo Gypsy Hombres from Nashville and the venue will feature live jazz every Sunday for brunch hours (which also includes a Bloody Mary Bar). I suggested that a wealth of jazz talent may be found inside our fair city, so they may look locally for that, as well.

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

The concept, as I’ve noted before, is to offer a choice of five appetizers, five entrees, one dessert, five white wines and five reds, along with five featured cocktails, though any cocktail will be available from the full bar. The thinking here, according to Charles is to strike a balance between offering too little and offering an overwhelming assortment of choices. He wryly notes, “Life is complicated enough.”

With fewer dishes to prepare, service can be faster and the kitchen staff can focus on the quality of what they provide. Salads are served with the entree and are not listed on the menu, also improving service time. One of the larger restaurants downtown, Five Bar can seat about 140 and accommodate private gatherings for about fifty in the mezzanine.

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant Mezzanine, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant Mezzanine, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

The decor and design for each restaurant is decided by a committee, but one common theme is noticeable immediately upon entering (or even passing by – I’ve had several people ask me, already) and that is the chandeliers. Several dozen boasting a wide range in style, size and color dangle from the ceiling. Charles said that lighting in restaurants is one of the most complicated choices and once they thought of the concept, customers seemed to like it, so they replicate it at new restaurants. The lighting consists primarily of chandeliers from 1930s and 1940s Italy and France by way of Belgium (it’s complicated). One exception is the largest chandelier which came from the home of Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves second baseman.

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Menu, Five Bar, Knoxville, September 2014

Menu, Five Bar, Knoxville, September 2014

Being a part of the community is also important to the restaurant, and here Charles made a distinction between “giving back to the community,” a phrase he doesn’t like, and simply doing what any good citizen of a community should do. The restaurant currently employs about thirty-five people and manager Sean Lakos said, “that will nearly double when we start serving lunch,” which comes sometime in October. Sean recently re-located to Knoxville where much of his family is located, so he said it was like coming home, for him. Additionally, Cris will live predominately in Knoxville for the foreseeable future in order to make certain the restaurant operates as intended and gets off to a good start.

Alexandra Hersch, Waitress, Five Bar, Knoxville

Alexandra Hersch, Our Most Excellent Waitress, Five Bar, Knoxville

Gypsy Hombres, Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

Gypsy Hombres, Five Bar Restaurant, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2014

All employees will be encouraged to do community service for a 501C3, whether Habitat for Humanity or a local no-kill animal shelter or other group. How do they encourage it? They will pay their employees up to 100 hours through the course of a year to volunteer.They also offer their own 501c3 opportunity: They will soon have a local food truck called American Lunch, which distributes soups and gumbo, bread, iced tea and water, free to those who need it. Many of their employees in other cities choose to volunteer through that effort.

There are other differences in how the company treats employees: They pay 60% of health insurance premiums for employees – no matter how many hours they work. Employees who reach the six-month mark are also eligible for a 401K. Employees who agree to work out twice a week are provided a free gym membership. They feel that all these things make for healthier, better employees. Charles added, “We want our employees to be able to afford to eat in the restaurant where they work.”

Baked Avocado with bacon, shrimp and spicy sauce, Five Bar, Knoxville, September 2014

Baked Avocado with bacon, shrimp and spicy sauce, Five Bar, Knoxville, September 2014

Paneed Chicken with shallot caper cream sauce and mashed potatoes, Five Bar, Knoxville

Paneed Chicken with shallot caper cream sauce and mashed potatoes, Five Bar, Knoxville

Another program which may or may not make it to Knoxville this year, but they have done in their other Five Bar Restaurants is a free Thanksgiving Dinner. Donations are accepted and the money goes to Habitat for Humanity or Destiny Harvest, which is a program for distributing food to the needy.

I asked them how they came to select Knoxville for one of their restaurants and they mentioned Gary Higgins, an acquaintance, who lives in Knoxville. At his suggestion they came to Knoxville and looked at the Tailor Loft Building and loved the space. They have no interest in locating in strip malls or in building new construction. They also noted that the restaurants downtown are full and felt there was an opportunity to do something different. It seemed to fit. Charles pointed out that Mr. Johnson, who owns the building, traveled, unbeknownst to them, to Tuscaloosa to eat at the Five Bar there, before giving them his approval. They respected that.

Stuffed Shrimp with crab meat, bacon-wrapped with chef's risotto, Five Bar, Knoxville

Stuffed Shrimp with crab meat, bacon-wrapped with chef’s risotto, Five Bar, Knoxville

White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Five Bar, Knoxville

White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Five Bar, Knoxville

So, how was the food at the soft opening? Very, very good. Urban Woman and I ate far more than we should. We worked our way through two appetizers; Baked Avocado and Uptown Shrimp. I’ve always said I don’t like avocado, but I may have to change that assessment. The shrimp was absolutely amazing. Urban Woman got the Paneed Chicken and I got the Stuffed Shrimp and both were great. We also ate the White Chocolate Bread Pudding and it was light and just sweet enough with our coffee. We also enjoyed a superb margarita and a glass of pinot grigio.

The portions were such that next time we’ll likely order one appetizer and one entree to share. We’ll also try to hit some of their specials like happy hour from 4- 6 (half price wine and beer and $5 cocktails), Wine-down (Half price bottles of wine on Wednesdays). In any case, we will definitely return. Five Bar is a very nice addition to the downtown restaurant selection. Give them a try and tell them you read about it here.

Comments

  1. Charmaine Nichols says

    My partner and I had a late dinner there last night at the suggestion of a friend. We wanted to go somewhere with a nice atmosphere and at the same time that served good food that was a little eclectic. What a lovely and satisfying experience the evening turned out to be! We had to arrive late, but since the restaurant wasn’t that crowded at such a late hour, we chose to eat at the bar. A young woman named Ashley was bartending and was both entertaining and knowledgeable about nearly everything on the menu. She tolerated our questions in good cheer. The dishes were not everyday fare and we wanted to know what she thought of some of them, particularly we had never heard of the dish before. We relaxed with a cocktail while we chatted with her and then proceeded to split the bacon avocado shrimp appetizer that was beyond delicious. I grew up in Florida with fresh avocados and would never have thought I would like one bakes but I was wrong.

    My beau and I split the main course so we could save room for dessert and an after dinner drink. The wine was beautiful, the atmosphere soothing and one would have to be pretty much in a bad mood or snarky to find anything negative to say about this place. I liked everyone whom I encountered and felt that each person, regardless of their position, went out of their way to make sure that we felt welcome even though we were late arrivals. Between work and travel, I eat at a lot of restaurants and would have to have had gone way out of my way to find anything ugly to say about a single person there, the restaurant itself, the food, or the service. This is my new favorite and I will be recommending it to a lot of friends. And congratulations to the owners, builders, wait staff, and everyone else who had a hand in pulling this lovely place and unusual concepts together to be create such a nice, relaxing and deliciously unique dining experience! Thanks to all.

  2. We ate there as a party of 6 early December before a show at the Tennessee Theater. Great location easy walk from free State St. Parking. The atmosphere was lively. Loved the chandeliers and decor. We were seated quickly and service was awesome. Food was very good. I’ve had better rib eyes and don’t like my meat on top of the potatoes but not a deal breaker. Tasted friends’ shrimp and chicken and lovely. Warm bread pudding to die for. Menu is limited ( duh check out the concept of Bar “5”) Great addition to K-town! Will go back.

  3. martin rupley says

    Just curious as I am not familiar with Gay st or anything but am wondering where you would park if I choose to go there.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      There is on-street parking which is pretty easy on a holiday, but just a block to the east of Gay Street via Clinch/Union is the State Street Garage – free nights, weekends and holidays.

  4. Impressed that they offer so much for their employees and community. Not many restaurants offer any health insurance for any employee or paid time for community service. Hope to try the restaurant out soon.

  5. Will somebody please feed James?! He is clearly just hangry. As somebody with food restrictions, I know it can be frustrating sometimes in Knoxville to find what you need or have an understanding server help you get it. But ask to speak with a manager, James. They are a new place and it’s a lot more effective than finding a place like this to complain where it won’t likely reach the correct people or make any positive difference for anyone else who might also be interested in finding vegetarian/vegan options. People are more likely willing to help you if you are clear about what you want and need.

  6. Great Food! Gulf to Table seafood. I have worked for CM and he would do anything for anyone to make sure that their needs were met. I’m sure if you would of asked to speak to someone a little higher up you would have been told “Yes”. Recall this is a soft opening with new employees. Always top notch food!

  7. Sounds great looking forward to visiting the new place in Knoxville.
    Vegans if you do not like the food try another place. SIMPLE…….

  8. I’ll have to resist the urge to walk in and say “wow, this is the fanciest Arby’s I’ve ever seen!”

  9. Rick Johnson says

    My Dad (Ed Johnson) was one of the managers of Spence Shoe Co. In that same building when I was growing up !! Mr. Shirley Spence was the second generation owner . We would always get the “Tall Ladders” out for the Christmas Parade !!! My Mom (Martha Johnson) always worked at The Lawson McGee Library up on the Hill and then down where it is now !!!……I started at the”Y” when I was six…..and have been roaming around town ever since !!!!…..It’s In My Blood for sure !!!!…….RickJohnson….70 down….32 to go !!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thank you for believing in that building and making great things happen. It’s a beautiful testament to what can be accomplished in Knoxville.

  10. And the address is 430, 530 or 536 S. Gay Street?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Well, thanks, Wes. I guess that’s a peril of writing an article at 2:00 AM. It is 430 S. Gay, and I’ve corrected the mistakes to reflect that. Thank you.

  11. The food was amazing. To call the bread pudding simply that is almost criminal. It deserves a better name! Hostile and unfriendly? There wasn’t anyone with an M16 standing out front checking for carnivore club membership…..

  12. I must say that interior looks nothing like I thought it would. I rather like it for being different. I bet it looks even better in person. The menu looks fantastic! And I like that the mezzanine can accommodate 50 for a dinner. As a person who plans dinners for my company private event space in a restaurant for 20-40 with top notch food is harder to find than you’d think.

  13. Great coverage, Urban Guy. Can’t wait to try it!

  14. Looks really good to me! Hope the best for them.

  15. I’ve only been to Destin once, but Harbor Docks was on our “must do” list, and we loved it. This makes me VERY optimistic about Five Bar! It sounds AMAZING, and I am drooling over that food right now. I’m super impressed.

  16. Oh good, yet another downtown restaurant hostile and unfriendly to vegetarians or anyone else who wants an alternative to unhealthy food.

    • We have a TON of vegan options in Knoxville. Don’t be so crass.

      • That’s funny–in one comment intended to insult a person you don’t know, you revealed that you don’t understand the definition of “vegan options,” “tons,” and “crass.” Now that’s ironic.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          Well, James, we could all be a little nicer, don’t you think? I’m all for more vegan and vegetarian options, as well, and I’ve written about our need for greater culinary variety in our little city, but calling people who you’ve never met “unfriendly” and “hostile” when, for all you know, they may personally be vegan, isn’t very nice is it? Let’s all hope for the other restaurant options we’d like, while not disparaging the ones we don’t prefer, shall we?

          • “Vegetarian-friendly” and “friendly-to-vegetarians” are quasi-industry terms used to indicate a non-vegetarian restaurant that has a nice percentage of non-meat items or the willingness of the kitchen to accommodate or substitute. (Tomato Head is an example of “vegetarian friendly.”) It has nothing to do with one’s personality and that certainly was not my intention. I assumed most people understood the term. As far as “hostile” goes, if a host/hostess blatantly gives a unpleasant “NO” to a friendly vegetarian inquiry, that’s hostile in my book, something I got when I poked by head in the door yesterday.

            I will say, FiveBar is a big visual improvement to that corner. I just wish for more food variety downtown.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            I’m sorry you got a “no” from a waitress that seemed unpleasant. As for the owners, they are what they are, as far as I could tell. They didn’t use words like “vegetarian friendly” or “friendly to vegetarians,” nor “locally sourced” nor “farm to table” nor “giving back to the community.” They recognize those for the buzz words they have become and while they may do a lot of that, they say they do it just because it’s the best way to provide good food to their customers. Again, I’m sympathetic to the desire for vegetarian and vegan restaurants. This isn’t one.

        • Try looking around for once. There are restaurants around town that have entire vegan menus–all you have to do is ASK. Imagine that.

          • OK, name them. If there are tons as you claim, name them.

            You make the patently false assumption that those looking for non-meat dining are inexperienced in how to find it and have never tried. Quite the opposite, my snarky friend.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            OK, James, I’m going to reply and ask that we let this tangent go. If you’d like to write a guest post about vegetarian and vegan options in Knoxville and what we might do to fill the void, I’d be really interested. You started this thread by calling the restaurant “hostile toward vegetarians,” which seems like a pretty “snarky” thing to say about an entire business based on one conversation you had with a waitress who was working her first day. I allowed that point, but you’ve made it. I don’t mind contrary opinions, but it’s time to move on and hear comments about the restaurant from some others. It sounds like you know a lot about what is and is not available, so why not write a guest post? I’d love that.

          • Tomato head, Gosh, Chez Guevara, Taj, and Sunspot to name a few vegan-friendly establishments. You’ll just have to ask them yourself and explain your preferences, but they have accommodated my (polite) vegan friends in the past. There are also countless other places that have vegetarian friendly dishes.

          • And I never said “tons” nor should you confuse me as your friend.

    • Hi James,

      I have known one of the owners of this restaurant group for a long, long time and eaten at most of his restaurants – including FIVE in Tuscaloosa and Athens. I’m sure they will be accommodating to any dietary needs as I have friends that also have these needs and eat there frequently. They serve a salad as an entree, but that is not listed on the menu because their menu is tailored to the “FIVE” concept. Their sides also include brussels, fries, potatoes, mac & cheese (which is ahhhmazing), etc so I’m sure they will help you out with your needs. This restaurant group delivers some of the most consistent and tasty food I’ve ever eaten, so you really should give them a try. I will be in Nashville at the beginning of November and can’t wait to eat here 🙂

      • You said: “…so I’m sure they will help you out with your needs.”
        That’s not what I was told yesterday. Obviously, this is NOT a place for anyone wanting non-meat dining.

        • You know if Knoxville is so hostile toward vegetarians and lacks vegan restaurants and there is nothing here to support you then I suggest you might look for somewhere else to live. But it appears others with your same vegan needs find it suitable here.

    • Great restaurant. I would give it at try and then make a decision/comment about it … you might be surprised

    • We have a Vegetarian Burger with a grilled portabello mushroom cap and all acoutrements sided fo your choosing. And yes we offer a gluten free bun, and a house salad with the dish. Please be kind and take another at our restaurant before condemning us as hostile.

      Thank You,
      A loyal Employee

    • then DON’T GO!! not EVERY restaurant should have to cater to your self-imposed restrictions.

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