Welcome Back to an Entirely Different City: Knoxville Hosts Big Ears

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Last Sunday I was talking with Ashley Capps about the upcoming Big Ears Festival (podcast here) and he mentioned that friends of his were coming from New York and they said they couldn’t wait to return to a downtown restaurant they enjoyed. Ashley immediately thought of all the great restaurants which have opened in the last year which he’d like them to enjoy.

I started thinking about what had changed in the last year. Many of the participants in the Big Ears Festival travel – some of them from Europe and beyond – and have most certainly not seen Knoxville in a year. It’s easy for us to think it’s the same place, but it’s not. I thought it might be helpful to any of them who find this article and to those of us who are immersed in the changes to take a look the changes a visitor who hasn’t been here in just one year would find if they returned. It’s stunning and it underscores the remarkable era in which we live in this rapidly evolving city.

So, To the Visitors Who Haven’t Seen Us Since Last Year:

The heart of downtown, near Market Square, has seen its share of changes. You may be pleased to learn there is now a public place to relieve yourself in the Market Square area without being arrested. New restrooms opened just around the corner in the Market Square Garage this winter. You might have grabbed a sub at Lenny’s on Gay Street last year. If you liked it, you’ll be sad to learn they are gone. On the other hand, a great new sandwich shop took its place when Potbelly’s opened this past December in the same location. You have one fewer location to get barbecue downtown, as Archer’s BBQ on Gay Street closed while you were away.

If juices are your thing, we’ve got you better covered than ever this year, with the opening of the Juice Bar at 2 Market Square (October) and the Juice Box at 1324 N. Broadway, which opened last April. If you want to take home some vintage sportswear, Tailgate opened last October on Market Square and they can set you up. You may have eaten at Uncorked on Market Square. It’s still there, but with a new menu and cool books and vinyl giving it a more funky feel, after transforming itself to Uncorked Bar Books and Vinyl Bistro.

Tori Mason Shoes, 29 Market Square, Knoxville, July 2016

One of the most anticipated restaurants probably ever in downtown finally opened in September as Beard Award winning chef Joseph Lenn opened J.C. Holdway on Union Avenue in September. The building in which J.C. Holdway is located, the Daylight Building, has transformed in the last year from apartments to condos. You might remember Bliss Home on Market Square. It’s gone, but the owners have opened Tori Mason Shoes in the same spot. You’ll probably notice that our most famous marquee and blade sign shines just a little brighter as we’ve refurbished the signs on the Tennessee Theatre to bring them into the current century.

Some of you figured out last year that we do have a proper pharmacy downtown. I’m told that the Phoenix Pharmacy on Gay Street quickly sold out of earplugs (they’ve stocked up this year), but last August the Phoenix Pharmacy added “and Fountain,” to their name an opened an old fashion soda shop with great ice cream confections. I know some of you will find and love it.

You might have enjoyed a great burger and whiskey at Stock and Barrel on Market Square last year, and you can do that again, but you can also branch out to Tacos and Tequila at Chivo Taqueria on Gay Street which shares a chef and some ownership with Stock and Barrel. Opened last July, with everything made from scratch and over 120 different tequilas, it’s something to look into.

June brought bowling to downtown with the opening of Maple Hall on Gay StreetKaizen, fine Asian cuisine at modest prices by one of Knoxville’s finest chefs opened in June on Clinch. Chef Matt Gallaher’s food may be familiar to you if you found Knox Mason on the 100 block last year. In May he opened Emilia, a second, celebrated, restaurant. This time on Market Square.

Co-Owner Nolan Sherrill, Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, August 2016
Maple Hall, 414 S. Gay, Knoxville, June 2016

You may remember our Visitor Center at the corner of Gay and Summit Hill. The good news? The same helpful folks are ready to direct you as needed during your visit. The better news? The Visitor Center recently got an upgrade and looks and feels much better than you remember. Pick up a good cup of Green Mountain coffee while you chat about the city.

The 100 block of South Gay Street also saw numerous changes. Some of you may have stopped into the Patricia Nash showroom on Gay Street last year and you’ll find it is no longer there. It is, however, in a much better facility for them, just a bit away on Sixth Street. If fancy bags are your thing, plug in 1132 N. 6th Street on your GPS and check out their fantastic new location in an historic building. A year ago 135 S. Gay Street was empty. As of April, Sugar Mama’s took over the spot offering great beer, lunch food and baked goods.

You may remember checking out any number of cool murals when you last visited. Sadly, you’ll notice that one has disappeared – we lost the History of Knoxville Music mural you may remember seeing from Barley’s. We’re working on bringing it back for your enjoyment for next year. In the meantime, there’s  a really cool new one in the basement of the Emporium. Be sure to check it out as you pass through the 100 block of Gay Street. Nest Knoxville, home furnishings and decor, opened on the 100 block of Gay Street in July.

Dr. Jane George, Body Mind Realign and Gratitude Bar, 111 Central Street, Knoxville, March 2017
Rala’s New Location, 112 W. Jackson Ave., Knoxville, March 2017

Lots of changes have come to the Old City. You’ll find a new chiropractor who also sells cool gifts and “gratitinis,” a non-alcoholic essential oils drink at Body Mind Realign Chiropractic and Gratitude Bar. She’s in the Old City and you’ll pass her spot numerous times this weekend. You’ll remember that charming little gift shop with lots of local and regional art on Union and you’ll be sad to see it’s not there. The absolutely great news is that Rala is bigger and better than ever and now located in the heart of the Old City. There’s a new upscale hookah lounge, Exhale Old City, which opened this winter. If you like smoking a hookah, this may be a cool spot to relax and recover from the shows while you’re in town.

You may have visited Pretentious Glass, the very cool glass blowing studio last year. Now they’ve doubled in size and added Pretentious Beer Company, a craft bar beer next door where you can sip out of their glasses – and take home a few. You might notice a colorful office on Jackson that wasn’t there last year. That would be the Dogwood Arts offices – the folks who keep us festive all spring. They moved there last August.

You might remember a very cool, empty building at the corner of Central and Jackson in the Old City. It looked like a colorful old saloon, which it was in a previous lifetime. Last June it became Lonesome Dove, opened by celebrity chef Tim Love and specializing in wild game. It quickly became the city’s upscale go-to space. You’ll find a great new children’s boutique in the Old City, as White Buffalo opened on Jackson last May.

Will Brady, Matthew Cummings, Brett Honeycutt and Johnny Miller, Pretentious Beer Company, 133 South Central, Knoxville, October 2016
Brian Strutz, A Dopo Pizzeria, 516 Williams St., Knoxville, September 2016

Just outside the Old City, things have changed rapidly. Tennessee Valley Bicycles will have your bikes for loan, just like last year, but you’ll have to look a couple of doors down, as they’ve moved. You may have found Nostalgia on McCalla last year. You’ll find great mid-mod, eclectic and more collectible jewels in the same great location, just out Jackson/McCalla from the Old City, but now it’s better than ever and has a fresh new name: Red Brick Market.

To the North of the Old City, if you feel like a workout or two while you are here, there’s a new option on Broadway at KyBra Athletics which opened this winter. A Dopo Pizzeria opened on Williams Street offered wood-fired, sourdough pizza. A funky new collectibles shop, Pop Weasel Emporium, opened last August at 611 N. Gay Street. Blue Slip Bistro opened in the Southern Station just behind the Blue Slip Winery, so you can drink some local – or imported – wine and have a fresh meal.

We picked up another location – on Central near the Old City – for bike repairs or sales. You can pick up some gear at DreamBikes and check out their used bikes. You’ll notice a building on the corner of Central and Depot that looks really cool – and much better than when you saw it last. That’s the 1894 Saloon Building which was empty when last you visited, but now is full of residents upstairs and businesses are soon to inhabit the bottom. We’ll  have those for you next year. If you find yourself wanting a pick-up game of chess during your visit, you’d be in luck this year, as Urban Town Chess opened in June on Central Street.

If you wandered pretty far out north Central last year (like a whole five to ten minutes on a bike), you might remember the North Corner Sandwich Shop. Bad news: It’s gone. Good news? The same chef has transformed the business into Pizzeria Nora serving up excellent Italian-style pizzas. A funky new place, Modern Studio in Happy Holler, just out North Central, opened this winter featuring shows (Monday Movement is there Friday night, but you might be busy). It’s a great listening room addition to downtown. Oh, we opened a castle, too – with beer. Schulz Brau opened in May with authentic German beer brewed on premise by Germans in a German Castle downtown. Really.

Schulz Brau Soft Opening, Knoxville, May 2016
Suttree Landing Park, Knoxville, November 2016

The south end of downtown proper has also seen changes. We have a new florist, giving you a second choice from which to wire flowers back home or to grab one to stick in your hair, if you like. The Bloomers Company Florist opened on Main Street. We’ve got a new event space and short-term residential spot called the Revival in the Medical Arts Building. It followed the opening of another event space with an interesting history, called 221 on Cumberland.

The south side of the river has seen remarkable change. You may have a maker space in your city or you may wonder what-the-heck that is. We opened ours, Knox Makers, last fall and it’s just about five minutes over the south Knoxville bridge. Some of you are going to bike over to the Urban Wilderness and the Baker Creek Preserve while you visit town. The preserve opened last fall and offers a link to our forty-two miles of trails. It’s also the home of the Devil’s Racetrack Downhill, our double-black diamond trail.

You’ll get hungry and you’ll be in luck as we’ve opened SoKno Taco Cantina since you last visited and it’s located just a couple hundred yards from the preserve. If you find yourself on the south side of the river wanting a coffee, you’ll find a new option at Honeybee Coffee Company which opened this winter at 700 Sevier. We opened a new park with cool views of downtown, located across the river off Sevier. Suttree Landing Park opened last November and it’s a great place to walk, jog or chill. If you need some outdoor gear while you’re in town, Uncle Lem’s opened just over the river, as did South Landing Crossfit.

There were some losses. You may miss coffee at the Downtown Grind on Gay Street, which closed this winter. Some of you, no doubt, had crepes at the French Market on Gay Street. Unfortunately, you’ll find that space abandoned. The good news is the French Market has moved just a couple of blocks away to a new location on Clinch Avenue. The bad news? They don’t open until the beginning of April, so you’ll miss your crepes this year.

SoKno Taco Cantina, 1701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017
Honeybee Coffee Company, 700 Sevier Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

Some of you, no doubt, really liked the fashions at Bula Boutique on the 100 block of Gay Street, unfortunately, it is no longer in business, so you’ll miss that one. In case you found the Disc Exchange last year and wanted to return, there is bad news, as it has closed. A couple of businesses closed last spring, as Flow: A Brew Parlor and the Impeccable Pig ended their downtown businesses. Two business you likely enjoyed, if you found them last year, were lost in April when Just Ripe and Hot Horse Records shut their doors.

Random Changes also popped up here and there. If you brought a car to last year’s festival – or road a bike for that matter – you may remember the bone-jarring pot holes. Gone – paved this winter just for you. You might have admired our new nine-story Walnut Street Garage and marveled at the vast expanse of blank walk observable for blocks. This year it looks quite different with massive banners of historic photographs hung from the sides. It happened in July and has become a favorite stopping point for locals and visitors alike. Don’t miss the current photos of the same spots, which are mounted on the facing fence.

So, visitors, if you want to check out what’s new since last year, you best get busy. For those of us who live here, how remarkable is this? We don’t live in the same city we did a year ago. So many of these businesses are now taken for granted, but they are very new. We sometimes complain about what we don’t have downtown, but take a moment and realize the stunning pace at which businesses and services are being added.

Happy Big Ears, everybody. I’m going to take tomorrow off from publication because the crush of shows start tonight. I’ll have your Ten Day Planner on Sunday and I’ll be on WUTK, 90.3, The Rock Sunday morning at 10:00 AM with my special guest Tom Cervone, Executive Director of Dogwood Arts, to talk about all things Dogwood. It’s that time of year. Monday I’ll hit you up with tales of Big Ears 2017.