Merchants of Beer Slated to Open This Fall in Old Diner

First Rendering

We’d all be doing pretty well if we had as many lives as the diner located at the corner of Summit Hill and Central. The property and the structure are owned by Hatcher-Hill and have been offered for sale. While Hatcher-Hill will retain ownership of the property, a new business co-owned by Henry Sadek and Bobby McCarter will occupy the fifties-style diner. Called “Merchants of Beer,” the new business will offer craft beer on tap, will feature a humidor and high-end bar food.

Enterprise Car Rental, Summit Hill and Central, Knoxville, October 2015

The Diner: Former Home to Enterprise Car Rental

Construction will begin as soon as permitting allows, which the group hopes will be in the next few weeks. The group hopes for a September opening if all goes well. Current plans call for as many as 23 taps at a 24 foot bar. They will also have a grab-and-go case available for take-out. A beer garden is in the plans, though details of that have yet-to-be approved.

Fourth Rendering

Third Rendering

The most notable changes will be to the exterior where the diner’s appearance will be freshened up a bit. The green panels currently lining the bottom of the diner will give way to metal panels which match the upper portions of the exterior. A canopy which will include and support two signs will be added. Contrary to the plans shown here, Meghan Frederick, Designer at Studio Four, says the end of the diner will have one door instead of the two shown in the renderings. There are currently two windows on that end.

She also clarified that the channel letters will be lighted with LED lights, not neon as would have been the case in the diner’s original era. A vertical garden will be added to one end along the back portion of the building and while, the current approval process does not include details for outdoor/patio seating in the front and a beer garden to the rear, these will be components of the final business and applications will be filed later for those portions.

If the current design drawings for the parking lot remain the same, the new business will utilize much of the currently available parking, but design changes will make it less aesthetically offensive. The preliminary plans show vegetation and other landscaping serving as a buffer between the sidewalks on Central and Summit Hill and the parking lots.

Second Rendering

So, the diner returns to food-service and remains onsite as “Merchants of Beer.” It will be significantly more attractive and the corner entering the Old City will be enlivened a large portion of the afternoon and evening. It also provides a pedestrian-attractive business in the space between uptown and the Old City. Summit Hill gains a business which will attract activity.

Yes, I’d like to see a four or five story building fill that corner and connect the two parts of downtown a little better. I’d also like to see Summit Hill reduced drastically in scope making a business like this one more attractive by traffic calming. But this is an improvement over a rental car lot. Considering the fact that we retained Enterprise, but moved them into a garage and we’ve added a pedestrian-friendly and more visually appealing business to the entry to the Old City, this feels pretty good turn of events for the short-range.

Programming Note: As I’ve said, I’m trying to take a few days off each week for the summer, so since I’ve not done so well to this point this week, I’ll take tomorrow and Saturday off and send out your weekly “Ten Day Planner” on Sunday. Have a great weekend and say “hello,” at Pridefest.


  1. They’re gonna need to do some serious work to make that building look anywhere near halfway decent. Personally, I think that building and the lot behind it would have been a great spot for a new high rise. We need some more of those in Knoxville.

    • Downtown Worker says

      I can’t tell if you’re serious or not. Personally, I think the building is charming and I’m glad it’s being used as-is. We hear a lot of talk about preservation of 1920’s era buildings, but what about the 1950’s? Sure, it looks out of place but so do many older buildings downtown. That’s what gives a city charm. We already have a lot of high rise and 4-5 story buildings downtown and many are up for sale or are sitting dilapidated. Why not use what we have first and not let the carriage get before the horse.

      • I am completely serious. It’s very out of place, and I personally believe we don’t have enough big buildings. We haven’t built a 20+ story building in 30ish years. And I actually am a huge fan of mid-modern architecture. But my understanding is that that was built in the 80s or 90s simply to resemble thay style of architecture because it used to be a 50’s diner before enterprise moved in

        • Skyscrapers in a city this size are a failed experiment. Walk the streets around our current high-rise buildings. It’s a dead zone that closes up completely after five with the only evening life nearby in a four-story antebellum multi-use structure across the street.

          I’d love to see a properly scaled mixed-use building on this site, but for now this is good.

          • We’ve reached the point where not every building downtown has to be open after 5 for it to still be thriving. The area that people consider downtown is slowly creeping north past the railroad tracks and (very slowly) south across the river. It is definitely not too small of a city for more high rises. Personally I think that Altard state should open up a store, and have their headquarters located above a new mid to high rise building in the area, with more floors available for lease. They’re a true local success story with almost 75 stores throughout the south (Texas included) and Midwest. As of right now they’re in a drab office park in cedar bluff

          • Art Wagner says

            The word “skyscraper” conjures up mental images of something really tall of glass and steel with little character. Clearly, Knoxville’s two examples on Gay Street are attractive from a distance, but offer very little at street level for city life. However, urban height doesn’t have to be 20+ floors or be of shiny glass. Obviously, such a thing would be a ridiculous sore thumb next to the low-rise charm of the Old City. But you can have reasonable height and architectural character that adds density to the neighborhood and enhances urban life without being a waste of space.

        • I’m 100% with you jeremy most cities our size have many more modern high rises than we do. What can Knoxville do to get some of these large headquarters such as pilot, Scripps, Bush beans, to move downtown. We have a huge amount of potential for our downtown.

          • Anonymous says

            Scripps isn’t going anywhere. I think they prefer the “secluded” feel their location has now. I don’t know much about bush brothers, but Pilot could certainly afford to move there with all their “rebate savings” alone.

        • The reason why a big building hasn’t been built in decades, Knoxville isn’t big enough and law firms, etc are going to rent in vacancies in the two bank buildings on gay street near the courthouse that’s within walking distance.

          First Tennessee Plaza was built 3 years before the World’s Fair.

      • Well I disagree with most of your message. There are not many “dilapidated” buildings left in the immediate downtown area. IF someone could convince Jed Dance at Bacon & Company to move to a more appropriate area and open his two or three buildings to redevelopment, there would be precious few buildings left to upgrade. As for the diner building with the ’50’s look… was built in the ’90’s to house Sullivan’s Diner. It was not built in the ’50’s. Although I do think the rehab will look great and be a nice addition to the area. THE space that needs a three to five story building is the parking lot across the street. Thanks!

  2. Art Wagner says

    I wholeheartedly agree with Jeremy. The diner is NOT a 1950s-era diner; it was merely built to look like one at a time when downtown was not popular and quirky uniqueness was a motivator. At the time of its construction, no one talked about wasting space or being a useful addition to the neighborhood–but we do now. This structure, however nicely re-configured, is simply a waste to downtown and its movement. I had hoped someone would recognize the need for more density as a gateway to the Old City and build something that draws pedestrians, adds height, and a retail presence to that corner.

    • Downtown Worker says

      I was not aware that this property was not built in the 50’s, so I stand corrected on that issue. However, I still believe that we don’t need to bulldoze everything that isn’t a mixed use space. To make my point, look at Balter Beerworks. That (gas station) property has been renovated beautifully and is hardly a “waste to downtown and its movement.”

      • I agree. But this space is directly between downtown proper and the old city, while Balter is not. It is located next to a large four star hotel, which makes it an ideal location for another tall building.

        • Downtown Worker says

          Jeremy, I think you and I will have to agree to disagree on what development should look like in Knoxville. However, I am happy that development is happening at all. I wish the best for this business and I intend on visiting as soon as it is open. However, I worry that there is somewhat of a brewery/bar bubble happening and I am not sure Knoxville can support all of the new drinking establishments at once. I hope I am wrong. Thanks for informing me about Altar’d state, which I was unaware had its roots in Knoxville. More shopping opportunities are needed in the downtown area to keep families engaged.

          • It seems that way. But agreeing to disagree is a good thing and I hope I did not seem combative 🙂

        • Jeremy, I’m sorry, but I’m confused. I’m trying to mentally locate a 4-star hotel either near the intersection of Broadway and Jackson Avenue (location of Balter Beerworks) or the intersection of Summit Hill and Central Avenue (location of the former Diner/Enterprise) — but just can’t place it. Or did I miss an announcement regarding the former McClung Warehouses site or something else going up in the parking lot across Central from the former diner?

  3. Arthur B Carmichael III says

    This article mentions a humidor. Will they allow smoking in the bar? If so, I’ll appreciate it only while walking past.

  4. Patience, patience folks. Downtown and Old City property values are rising, and this at least represents more investment in the area that continues that upward trend. If we can sustain our revitalization of these center-city areas, the property values will continue to rise and sites like this will someday become financially attractive to developers for construction of a larger structure (think of the mixed-use, multi-story building going up as a replacement for Big Don’s just a block down Central).

  5. Bill Lyons says

    Just as an update / clarification, we at the City of Knoxville worked at great length with Altar’d State to bring their store and their HQ to downtown. I personally attended many meetings with them and developers and discussed various ways we could help make that happen. However they decided for their own reasons to locate the HQ is a different type of setting and decided against locating a retail outlet downtown at that time.

    • I had heard about that, but I figured since that was a few years ago when they could still be considered more of a “Tennessee and maybe North Carolina” company, the size and space was appropriate. I was just thinking that with their rapid pace of growth they would outgrow that space.

  6. Considering the suburban design of Summit Hill Drive, the diner seems completely appropriate. It’s nice that someone is activating the space.

  7. Art Wagner says

    It’s worth noting that before the “diner” at that location (what was Vine and Central before Summit Hill Drive was constructed), there were buildings of roughly the same age and appearance as the Old City buildings that still exist. The reasons they were demolished were probably the same reasons that most of the demolitions happened–an owner did not want to maintain them.

    However, that corner occupies a significant, and embarrassing, place in Knoxville history. If you don’t know this story, you should.

  8. What we need is more places to drink beer, especially ones that have “beer” as part of the business name! Seriously, open a decent restaurant instead, we have far to few of those.

  9. I have to say I hate that inauthentic ugly building and was hoping it would be torn down for something more in character with the old city. We seriously need to fix the appearance of downtown gateways, and this is a major one.

  10. It would be nice to see the City take out the turn lane from Summit onto Central and install a hefty pedestrian island. Besides improving safety, that would go a small way toward improving the gateway appearance. I once saw two girls with their large dogs get stuck on the small bit of median that is there now. It was scary. On a differs note, the Old City area could use a 24 hour reasonably priced breakfast place. Maybe a Waffle House but without the onsite parking.

    • Actually, that’s exactly what the diner was in the mid- to late-1990’s, until it closed. It was open 24 hours, and was a great place (clean, good homemade food, nice comfortable atmosphere with both counter and table service), especially, for late night dinner, early breakfast, or just for a quick cup of coffee or a snack on the run. I still miss it!

  11. I always thought It cute. Read what is says about high buildings in “a pattern language” love this book. You should read it.

  12. One of the things about the diner that, I think, dooms it: its odd orientation to the streets and lot. It sits catty-cornered and is unpleasant to the eye and sense of balance. It is also too close to the streets to take advantage of its (limited) visual appeal, but too far away from the streets to give it any sense of connectedness. Some of its problems could be corrected, but it was out of place and fake when it was built, and I don’t think superficial changes can save it.

    Also, a high-rise here would be as out of place as the diner. The street snuggles in a little valley; a high-rise here would jut up and out like a sore thumb, be totally out of character with the nature of the street, and for the first eight to ten floors at least, height would be irrelevant. I can’t see siting a high-rise in a “hole.”

    I would like to see some striking new buildings as well, but they should be on higher ground or along the river for maximum impact and desirability for tenants.

    Sooner or later, developers are going to realize that one of the best spots for new buildings is the land now occupied by low-income housing on Summit Hill between East Hill Avenue and Hall of Fame Drive. There is plenty of space; transportation links and parking conditions are excellent; downtown is a 5 minute walk away; the auditorium and coliseum are next door and soon to be upgraded; and the views are knockout–some of the best in Knoxville.

    But what to do about all those pesky poor people currently living there?

    This might be fertile ground for investigation of a coming controversy. The land is too valuable and desirable to be ignored much longer.

    • Did you really just call poor people “pesky”?

      • Did you really just miss the irony? The satire? Guess so.

        The poor will indeed be “pesky” to the developers who want that land. Just watch what happens when financial incentives trump (no pun intended) history and common decency.

        Save your righteous indignation for that, please.

  13. Hmmm…Paris, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, is charming and beautiful because of the LACK of giant skyscrapers. The more human-sized scale of the lovely old buildings is friendlier and allows sunlight and comfortabke air flow along the streets. Why would anyone want downtown KTown to resemble Wall St. with skyscrapers that create street-level caverns and wind tunnels? You want skyscrapers, really?! Ugh.

  14. Apparently this project is going completely nowhere with no sign of renovation work done on the building as of the end of 2016.

    • I have seen cars in the parking lot. Seems there was one of those trash bins there. I assumed they were completing the deconsruct before build out. All projects seem to have there own shelf life before actual construction begins. Where is the Regas Square condo development for instance. The announcement party was months ago. Not a shovel has turned!!! Hmmm!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I *think* there is news on the horizon.

  15. Regas said right off the bat they were not building until spring 2018. Merchants of Beer said they’d be open in September, after making a big ruckus in the immediate vicinity by telling local residents to not walk dogs anywhere near the place this past summer. The recipe for success with a new business, after all, is to piss off people that live within a radius of a couple of blocks of there before you even open.

  16. Great business plan!! I love the look and design!!
    I will definitely be visiting once it opens. Can you see the taps? It is like almost 100 different beers, very cool!

  17. Jean Keller says

    Greatly enjoyed the article about the new Beer emporium on Summit Hill in Old city. Hooray for enlightened city planning! The accompanying ad for Gentry Griffey Funeral home and Incinerator inspires me to mention that we here in Fountain City would love to swap GG and their late-night burnings here in the heart of our little neighborhood for the lovely, community-friendly new beer restaurant.

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