Soft spoken and self-effacing, Thomas Boyd exudes quiet determination. We met at his parents’ well-known Old City establishment to talk about his new venture. It marks a sharp departure from the trajectory he’s followed since high school.
Growing up in Knoxville he knew from a very young age he wanted to be in a band. He pursued his dream for about ten years, the last five with the band Oh No Fiasco. Ultimately the band signed with Eleven Seven Music and recorded for their indie label Five Seven along with artists like Blondie and the Dirty Heads. Ultimately the stress and strain of being a traveling band resulted in the band’s demise. He had an interesting way of framing the road to success, telling me, “The key to success is you can’t have a back up plan.”
Thomas kept busy with side projects during his tenure in the band and afterward. At different times he bought and sold musical instruments on Ebay. He also booked bands for the Bijou Theatre incarnation of Tennessee Shines and also for the Blue Plate Special and for Boyd’s Jig and Reel. He continues to work on a development project with a friend in China.
Since the demise of the bands he has also been involved in selecting wine and other beverages for Boyd’s Jig and Reel. He said the family has always had a great appreciation for good wine. He says learning about wines is, “like traveling without going anywhere while learning about different cultures.”
His new project, the Old City Wine Bar, will sit just a few feet from Boyd’s Jig and Reel in the John H. Daniel Building I told you about a couple of weeks ago. It will be his own independent business, though there may be some cooperation with the kitchen at Boyd’s.
When the topic of the Old City, his home for the last five years, is mentioned he becomes passionate: “I want it to be the best it can be. There are so many unique buildings and so much history.” He sees a Wine Bar as an important step, telling me, “If you are going to have culture you need to have a wine bar.”
He lived in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood before moving to the Old City. Traveling with his band only made him appreciate his home town all the more. He talks as if he feels a mission to do his part for Knoxville. When I asked why not make his mark in some other city, he said, “New York is doing fine.” Still, he sees this project as bringing a big-city feel to the Old City. He noted that many establishments attempt to cater to a wide audience but big cities have niche restaurants and businesses. He feels Knoxville is ready to support such efforts.
The Old City Wine Bar will feature a rustic/industrial aesthetic reflective of the industrial building in which it will be housed. Reclaimed metal from throughout the building will be utilized as will re-claimed wood from there and elsewhere in the Old City. The old tables from Patrick Sullivan’s (sans booths) will make an appearance in the new business. In a departure from most dining and drinking establishments in Knoxville, he has no plans to include televisions on the wall.
Over fifty wine choices will be offered by the glass and one-hundred-fifty will be available by the bottle. Food offered will focus on small plates and items such as charcuterie plates. He’s open to coordinating with the kitchen in Boyd’s to bring a wider variety of food to customers if they like. He’s also considering providing small bites with each drink simply to complement the beverages.
The street-level space will have room for about forty-five seats, but tall, standing tables and drink rails along the walls will add to the capacity. Interestingly, the space below the street will also be utilized. In addition to serving as a wine cellar, it will double as a small event space for twenty to thirty people. He is formalizing plans for wine classes in the space and already has sommeliers lined up.
He sees the project as a way to elevate wine culture in the city, “much in the way Java has elevated coffee culture.” He wants to help demystify good wine and bring it to people who might be intimidated by the complexity of the topic. His servers will all be very informed about the wine the bar provides and education of the customers will be a focus.
He’s working on a price-point for the various wines, but he plans to make it accessible to the people who live in the Old City. While there will be higher priced wines, he mentioned $6 as a likely price for some glasses. He hopes to open minds at an affordable price. In a nod to those who aren’t into wine, there will be a few beers on tap and a few specialty liquors. Clearly, the other beverages will not be the focus.
He’ll open in the afternoons – probably around 4:00 PM and hopes to provide an afternoon place to relax, maybe a place people will bring a computer and finish the work day. He plans to be open to midnight during the week and as late as 3:00 AM on weekends. He hopes to provide a quieter, more cultural alternative to the bars now available. And he hopes to do it by October.