The Corner Lounge is Returning to Its Original Location!

The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018

When Steve Brandon and John Harbison talk about their plans to bring back the Corner Lounge in its original home at 842 North Central, the excitement comes through in everything they say. Steve said, “The idea is to bring back the original vibe.” He clarified that perhaps without some of the seedier elements of some of its earlier incarnations, but he wants it to be a true neighborhood bar and a place where grownups like to congregate.

For readers new to Knoxville or otherwise unfamiliar with the earlier incarnations, Jack Neely wrote an article about the spot (thanks to Ian for its availability) in Metro Pulse about fifteen years ago. He said the spot first opened as the Dutch Diner around 1937. After a couple of other incarnations, it became the Corner Grill by 1942. In the 1960s it began to be known as the Corner Lounge and featured, famously, Con Hunley, on its stage for a decade. The bar merits a couple of mentions in Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, which is set in the early 1950s. Read Jack’s article for much more information.

The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018

The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018

In the last fifteen years, the address has been through various incarnations, including Central Street Books. Most recently it was home to Holly’s Corner which opened in late 2013 and closed in December of 2017. The building is owned by Holly’s sister Peggy Hambright and Scott Carpenter and is adjacent to Magpies. When Holly’s was set to close, Peggy asked Steve if he’d be interested in doing something there and he enlisted John immediately and the two knew precisely what they wanted to do: bring back the Corner Lounge. He said he told her, “I want to make it a place that when you have been snowed in for three days, this is where everyone comes to catch up.

Steve got his start in the hospitality world working at the Helmet Head, a biker bar, at the cabana across from what is now Barley’s. He moved from there to Manhattan’s, where he got to know Peggy and worked as bartender, helping run the business. He also operated Wild Mountain Honey. His friend Shawn Blair first put him behind a bar and he says, “I found out what I’m good at. I love this city and taking care of people.”

There’s a mural that once hung in the Corner Lounge – and might possibly hang there, again – that portrays Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and others in a lounge and that’s part of the vibe he’s trying to bring back – the classic era of lounges from the 40s and 50s. He mentions Toots Shor, the legendary New York saloon keeper as a paradigm. It’s, “back when you went into a saloon or bar, got an original cocktail and you were engaged. We want to take care of the neighborhood.”

The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018

The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018

He says they are bringing in experienced bartenders and servers and says, “Bartending is knowing when to talk and when not to talk. We engage customers to make sure they haven’t been over served and we maintain that connection that makes patrons feel safe. We do not want them to over drink.  We want them to be safe and comfortable and they will come back.

The original bar will be returned to its spot after a refurbishing. A beautiful wooden panel harvested from the Southeastern Glass building will likely be retained. Tall and short tables will fill the center of the room and a bar shelf will be added to the perimeter of the room. A small stage will be constructed and music will be featured on the weekends initially, but may expand. They expect to have a range of genres, but jazz was mentioned several times. “There are so many talented musicians in the city.”

They will offer simple cocktails and good wine, along with several beer taps. They hope to work with some of the nearby breweries and other businesses. “We’ll have nice, well done cocktails with as many local ingredients as possible. We’re keeping it simple. Sometimes complicated gets complicated.” He said the last part with a chuckle. They will have a beer engine, two quarter pulls and firkins and pins of special releases. They will also have simple food, focusing on fresh sandwiches.

Steve Brandon and John Harbison, Owners, The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018 (Photo Courtesy of The Corner Lounge)

Originally from New York, his family moved to Morristown and he left home at nineteen to work in the family horse business in Florida. He made his way home and says he remembers coming by the lounge when Ed Corts owned it. He lived on Oklahoma in those days and would stop by on his way home from the Old City.

John, born in Knoxville and raised in the area, has spent twenty-seven years in the service industry and the two have known each other for many years. When his job was recently discontinued, he was looking for a new direction. He and Steve had been talking for a long time about the possibility of a venture from a food truck to a restaurant or bar. When Steve pitched this idea, John was on board immediately.

The hours and days the bar will be open are still in flex, though it will be roughly 4:00 PM to Midnight or 1:00 AM. It will not be the bar to shut the night down. Their friends have been excited and the Facebook page already has nearly 400 followers. Join in by liking the page and following their progress.

Steve Brandon and John Harbison, Owners, The Corner Lounge, 842 North Central, Knoxville, June 2018 (Photo Courtesy of The Corner Lounge)

The construction is being handled by David Decker and Holston Construction and architectural design is by Colleen Riordan and Johnson Architecture. Outside the building, as you can see in the photograph, there is some serious street work underway, which should conclude about the same time as the internal construction, making everything pop for the opening which, they hope, will be in August.

Steve wraps it up, “People have to realize how sweet this town is. I want it to be a time machine and I want people to feel at home.”

Comments

  1. My late father, Bob Stewart, used to play the old Corner Lounge back in the day. Con Hunley would sometimes come down and sit in with dad. From a personal standpoint, I used to hate having to load dad’s music equipment in and out of this gig. There was window air conditioner above the door enterence and the water would constantly drip out of that thing every time I had to go in and out the door with dad’s equipment. But many great memories of this place from back then. My late pa paw even once brought his steel guitar up from North Carolina along with my uncle and they had a family jam session in there one night. The new version of lounge sounds promising, but give me the old one instead.

  2. Rita Ballinger says

    Do you think you might can get Con Hunley to come one night and perform?

  3. Kay Newton says

    So glad this is happening! The Corner was the first bar I ever wen to when I moved to Knoxville in the early 60s, and I went there often over the years. I know it originally had country music, and then blues & rock with my old friend Ed Corts, but I’d vote for jazz this time around!

  4. Debbie Pickett says

    Spend many Thursday and Friday nights there in the late seventies early eighties. Looking forward to this endeavor

  5. Nan Dickinson says

    Looking forward to finding my seat at the bar! I know Steve and Harb will do it right.

  6. I can’t wait. I miss the original ut look forward to the new one too.

  7. Respectfully it was Ed Corts * ( not Cortz) who owned the place in the early 2000’s. He was a well liked man and were it not for him ( and his children who were very involved) many people my age wouldn’t have become familiar with the Corner Lounge at all. Things could get wild there but something about the place made you have a real affection for it. I look forward to Steve’s incarnation of the bar.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thank you for the correction and the added information.

    • Scott Carpenter says

      Yes, we would have wished for Ed, Adrienne, and crew to have run the Corner forever but sadly it wasn’t to be. Ed closed his run at the Corner of his own accord in February 2008.

  8. Woohoo!

  9. Oslo Cole says

    My old Jescoe used to play there back in the early-mid aughts. So happy it’s returning!

  10. Anonymous says

    Awesome news!

    Alan,
    Have you heard any recent developments with the Flour Head / Brown Appliance Parts project? I’m really looking forward to that spot filled in. It will connect Schulz Brau with Central St perfectly!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I haven’t, but I’ll ask.
      Alan

      • Anonymous says

        Thanks!
        I saw a sign on the building (that I believe was just recently placed) that Brown Appliance has moved out officially (with their new location listed). Maybe the deal was on hold temporarily? Fascinated to see what Flour Head has planned! It is bound to be a great addition to the neighborhood!

  11. Mark Shetterly says

    Seems like it’s going to be a nice place, but doesn’t look or sound from the description anything at all like the original Corner Lounge.

  12. Mickey Ketron says

    “Bartending is knowing when to talk and when not to talk”. So true and a forgotten art, probably one of the best things I learned from bartending in New York. My favorite trick is getting people to talk to each other. These guys sound like they know what they are doing. I’m excited to check this out.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It’s funny you mention getting people to talk to each other: Steve talked about that specifically.

    • jeana vaughn says

      You are exactly right. I always loved to get patrons interacting!
      I’m very excited for this place to open.

  13. I spent many happy Thursday nights in The Corner Lounge. Con Hunley playing and singing; local celebrities galore (Zane, Coach Majors, a lot of Majors’ assistants); legislators on the way home from Nashville on Thursday, etc. Ernestine Purkey owned and operated it in that incarnation. I had known her all my life. She was in restaurant mgt. and my mother worked as a server for her at several places, most memorably the Ranch House on Magnolia when I was a little kid. I live in Rocky Hill, but I look forward to a few beers in (at least near) Happy Holler again.

  14. Finally! I have thought since the revival of Happy Holler that it would only be right to have the Corner Lounge back where it was. Now there should be ample parking. It should be a natural in the neighborhood.

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