The Knox County Health Department Announces “Safe Bar” Initiative

The Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus Cider, 621 Lamar Street, Knoxville, September 2020
The Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus Cider, 621 Lamar Street, Knoxville, September 2020

Working in a bar is no easy job. While most patrons come, have a good time, and safely make it home, other patrons offer challenges. Beyond the obvious concern regarding over-imbibing and potentially driving, there is always a concern for the safety of all patrons and the potential for violence, whether physical or sexual.

A group of relevant and concerned agencies are attempting to make Knoxville’s drinking establishments safe places for everyone. Along with the health department, the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, the Title IX Office at UTK and the Family Justice Center are introducing the Safe Bar TN initiative. From the press release, “Safe Bar TN is a network of bars, restaurants, and community organizations working together to prevent sexual violence and create safe nightlife spaces.”

Boyd’s Jig and Reel Holiday Decorations, Old City, Knoxville, December 2021

The idea is to teach bar employees to “recognize signs of potential assault or unwanted behaviors and how to safely intervene,” according to Amy Rowling, KCHD violence prevention health educator. While some of the other organizations listed above might seem to have an obvious connection to the issues here, the KCHD may be thought of more as providing treatment and immunizations, they are involved in all aspects of community health.

After the staff is certified, a flyer is posted noting the training. Coasters are also made available that detect the presence of drugs in a beverage. Additional training and support is offered as needed. The initial training is free and includes “education on bystander intervention and raising awareness about alcohol’s role in sexual assault. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, alcohol is involved in about half of all sexual assault incidents.”

Initial response has been strong and our own downtown Boyd’s Jig and Reel has scheduled training for their staff and have invited the staff from another bar to join them. Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus Cider was the first bar in the city to be certified. Any business who is interested in pursuing the training may contact Amy Rowling at 865-215-5170 or email her at