Two New Businesses Planned for the Holston Building on Gay Street: Vida and The Vault

Jim and Lori Klonaris have announced the addition of two new businesses to their growing portfolio. The owners of Kefi, Cafe Four, The Square Room, The Press Room, and City Catering have purchased the bottom floor and basement of the Holston Building. The Holston, located at 531 South Gay, first opened in 1913 as the Holston Bank. The top thirteen floors were restructured into condos in the early 2000s, but the bottom floor and basement have remained vacant.

In the wake of a failed attempt to open a restaurant in the spot, the space was sold for a second time to Rick and Ryan Chinn. This past Friday, the sale of the two floors to Jim and Lori Klonaris became final. The couple told me there was a lot of interest in the spot and they, “feel blessed that they understood our vision and intent.” The couple was very familiar with the building and had hoped to purchase it earlier. When it returned to the market last spring, they took a walk through and made an offer. Within days they had a contract.

The Holston, 531 S. Gay St., Knoxville, August 2016

The couple had attempted to purchase the building in 2015 when it was sold to the previous owner. They’d hoped to open their Kefi concept there. When it didn’t work out, they found a new location for Kefi on East Jackson Avenue in the Old City. A significant amount of work has been completed on the interior of their newly purchased space, with the wiring, plumbing, sprinkler systems and a massive above ground grease trap in the basement, which was originally a suggestion to the previous owners by Jim Klonaris. They have also passed a number of codes inspections.

The Klonaris have contracted with Johnson Architecture for the design work, which will be very different from the previous owner’s plans. They will utilize their previous plans for the spot, but with a new restaurant concept. They feel very fortunate to finally have the opportunity to return the beautiful space to use. Lori said, “I really believe some things are meant to be.” Jim added that they hope to “make something spectacular. The building deserves that.”

Future Home of Vida, First Floor of the Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

Future Home of Vida, First Floor of the Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

Future Home of Vida, First Floor of the Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

Vida will be a pan-Latin restaurant, occupying the main floor and the patio on Krutch Park. A sidewalk will be extended from Gay Street to an entrance located on the park side. A new facade will be constructed on that side of the building, with large windows that echo those on the Clinch Avenue side, and materials that compliment other exterior surfaces of the building.

Vida means “life” and the couple intends for the beautiful space to resonate with the idea of “living life to its fullest, of community, and of celebration.” The original Art Deco touches in the interior will remain, and as much of the original marble as possible will be preserved. With twenty-five-foot ceilings and beautiful lighting, the couple says to expect beautiful views both inside the restaurant as well as from Krutch Park on the outside. Expect an elegant atmosphere designed for conversation (there will be no televisions in the restaurant).

Future Home of Vida, Front Room of the Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

Art Deco Details, Future Home of Vida, First Floor of the Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

Art Deco Details, Future Home of Vida, First Floor of the Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

The food will be pan-Latin, featuring cuisine from seven Latin American countries and incorporating an Asian influence. Lori pointed to some of the cultural blending happening in Brazil, which has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan (about 1.5 million). The restaurant will focus on shared plates and unique cocktails with a Latin focus. While the menu is still in development, Lori says it may surprise some patrons with the healthy and light options that will be offered. You might expect seafood cooked with juices, grilled meats, and empanadas.

The couple plans to offer a unique restaurant to continue the recent strides Knoxville has made in eclectic fine dining. Jenkins and Stiles will complete construction, and Robin Easter Design will develop graphics, while SK Ballard will design the interior. Saying they are very grateful to have this team assembled, the couple hopes to have Vida open by early summer.

As for the basement . . .

The couple is also very excited to announce The Vault, a special retro cocktail bar in the basement of the building. The entrance for the cocktail lounge will be through the same door on Krutch Park, but patrons of The Vault will follow a marble stairwell down into what originally held the vault and safe deposit rooms.

The couple said to expect an early 1900s-style cocktail lounge. Using words like “classic” and “swanky,” they said to expect a lot of black, gold, pewter, and copper colors. The dim, rich space will include seating at the bar and throughout the interior caverns that stretch out under the Clinch Street sidewalk. Lots of nooks and small spaces make the interior very different from anything in the area.

Stairwell in the Future Home of The Vault, Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

Future Home of The Vault, Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

One of Two Original Safe Doors, The Vault, Holston Building, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2020

The fascinating safe doors are still in place and will add to the decor. The lounge, which will likely feature acoustic music or soft jazz, will be completely separate from the restaurant above, with plans to stay open into the morning hours on the weekends. It will also have its own menu of charcuterie and other boards. Jim said it would be a perfect place for a snack and a cocktail before or after dinner, or as a spot for a meal in itself.

The lounge will be first-come, first-served and will be open to the public, with the exception of patrons who purchase a VIP membership and can make reservations. It will seat about seventy-five and is also available for private groups during early hours. With the small capacity, the couple anticipates waits for the unique space, and waiting will be provided upstairs.

While saying they feel honored to have the opportunity to bring these spaces back to life, they likened their feelings about this and their other properties to being ambassadors for Knoxville, saying they plan to “honor the space and highlight its features as much as possible.” Like Vida, The Vault should be open this summer.


  1. this sounds like it could become a very classy place to visit. i especially like the plans for the basement. i just wish something could be done to add more buildings downtown on the lower east part of gay st. buildings with style and different types of architecture and all sorts of new restaurants booming in that area. but with neyland drive cutting through there and james white parkway and the topography of that area, i guess it just cant happen. and the lower half of gay st. the east side is just so bland and boring. i wish plans could be made to bury the james white parkway and neyland so new buildings, including skyscrapers and condos could be developed there. guess its not gonna happen though with the topography the way it is. it is just like you come from the east side and boom you have classy gay st. but nothing much before it. im just a dreamer i guess.

  2. Lisa Shirey says

    Jim and Lisa will do a fabulous job with the Holston space and it’s exciting to hear their plans to honor the beauty and period of this lovely building. We wish them all the best.

  3. Very exciting stuff!

  4. Wonderful news and two great additions to downtown Knoxville. Best wishes to Jim and Lori on this venture.

  5. Jim and Lori are going to have another big success with Vida.
    Their contributions to Knoxville are fantastic!

  6. Rusha Sams says

    So excited to learn about these two new additions to downtown Knoxville. Thanks for info and photos!

  7. I’m sure whatever Jim and Lori design for these two spaces will be over the top using Kefi as a barometer. Glad they are keeping the Art Deco decor instead of just ripping everything out as was done at one of Bearden’s most venerable establishments a year or so ago. When you can blend in the new with beautiful older decor and fixtures you have the future and a nod to the best of the past.

  8. Regina Santore says

    I could not be happier that Jim and Lori are heading this up – they are a “sure thing” and I’m certain the finished product is going to be fantastic and exactly what is needed there. This space has had to wait a very long time to have someone take over who could bring it to the finish line; I’m so happy for The Holston that the wait is finally over. Congratulations, Lori and Jim, and thank you for all your hard work on this.

  9. Handicapped access for the vault?

  10. Exciting news! If Vida is as well done as Kefi, it will be a wonderful addition to downtown Knoxville.

  11. Gorgeous!!! And no television! Absolutely chic in these times- I say, the jazz needn’t be “soft” in Knoxville. Towards the later hours please- let it rip!!!!!😎

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