You may never have considered the building as a whole, though you may have eaten at Frussie’s recently or the Laurel Mountain Eatery before it. The building at the corner of Cumberland and Gay is also home to Cook Loft, a 2200 sq. ft. luxury condo (2 BR, 2 1/2 baths) on the top floor. Now there will be a new event venue on the side facing Cumberland, at 221 Cumberland. 221 will have its grand opening tonight starting at 6:00 PM.
Cook Loft, on the top floor of the building can’t keep up with the demand, most of which is for evening events. Last December saw twenty-six events in the space, with double bookings a number of days. It is available for single day or week-long rentals and has been used by Woody Harrelson, Alison Krauss, Glenn Frey and Al Green among many others. Each of the next two New Year’s Eve are already reserved.
The building, constructed in 1924 by Joseph Edward Cook is still in the family. It seems reasonable to guess it may be the longest family ownership of any downtown building. Mr. Cook’s four grandchildren now own and operate the building. Originally built as the home for National Cash Register, they remained until the 1940s, after which the building has had many tenants.
Gateway Newstand operated out of the building until sometime in the mid 1970s. A range of businesses followed, including a tailor shop and Garo’s Famous Hot Dogs. The businesses above followed and Frussie’s seems to be doing well, though all the support they can get during the construction (two more months) would be helpful.
The lower level, just around the corner from the front of the building, at 221 Cumberland has a very interesting history. While it has most recently been a dance studio and before that a game store, its 1950s incarnation is its most noted. The Huddle was a bar with flair. In a time when liquor by the drink was illegal, local citizens may have been able to quench their thirst as they wished in the Huddle.
Thomas Hensley, one of the current owners, remembers going inside as a child to collect the rent. He describes it as a place where judges, transients and transvestites mingled freely. It lasted for nearly thirty years and during that time, porn was playing in the Bijou and massages were available upstairs. It also has been noted as one of Knoxville’s first gay bars, with Lost Womyn’s Space stating that by the late 70’s it served primarily a lesbian clientele.
Most famously, The Huddle is depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree in a particularly vivid scene (though, aren’t they all?). Saying among other things, “The Interior of the Huddle was cool and dark, the door ajar. They came down the steep street and turned in two by two . . . The light from the door fell upon the long mahogany bar. A pedestal fan rocked in its cage and huge flies droned back and forth from the plumbing hung from the ceiling. Whores lounged in a near booth and light in dim smoked palings sloped in through the dusty window-panes . . . At a table in the rear a group of dubious gender watched them with soulful eyes.”
It is into this historic space, filled with the ghost of Suttree, you are invited. You’ll find an excellent collection of historic Knoxville photographs along with a piece of the recently unearth trolley tracks from the block. A 75 inch television screen sits at one end – perfect for parties to watch a sporting event, or for use in presentations for business meetings. A kitchen with a commercial freezer and refrigerator, warming cabinet and ice machine as well as stove and a kegerator. Ground level access to the kitchen is available from the rear.
Subtracting the kitchen and restroom area, 1500 square feet is available to set up events. It should serve 50 to 60 for a cocktail event or forty to forty-five for a sit-down dinner. It can also be set up as a classroom. A portable bar can be set up in the entertainment area or moved to the kitchen to provide more space.
Tonight’s festivities will include a DJ, catering by Frussie’s and an open bar. If you’d like, parking is available across the street. The party starts at 6:00 PM and lasts until it ends. If you are interested in leasing either space, call (865)310-2216.
A couple of other notes:
A follow up to yesterday’s article: In what seems to be a response to the destruction of the music mural, the building owned by Leigh Burch was vandalized Wednesday night, with obscenities spray-painted on store-fronts and on the former mural. People are angry. Let’s hope we can direct some of that energy to having a new rendition of the mural.
Finally, a reminder: Today at 4:30 PM I’ll be joined by Mahasti Vafaie at the Chamber of Commerce (17 Market Square) where we’ve moved from the Entrepreneur Center (it’s just upstairs) for a second installment of our series focused on business. We’re calling it a “fireside chat,” and I joked on FB that we wouldn’t actually have a fire, though, as it turns out, that would have probably been a good idea. Join us to hang out for a while and hear what this pioneering entrepreneur has to share.
Afterward you can check out 221. See you out and about.