Knoxville, Tennessee may be glazed over in tourist books and travel guides but the city has a southern charm, beating cultural heart and meat appetite to rival the most red blooded of Southern outpost.
The grisly, concrete exterior should be endured to ascertain in the city’s historic, red brick innards. Knoxville plays host to over 40 different festivals each year, so it is certainly worth browsing online to see what cultural delights may be in store upon your arrival. Its crowning jewel, and the host for many of these festivities is the Market Square. This central hub boasts a wealth of lively restaurants and bars. As I walk through the city’s kernel, a hot July day, somewhere in the mid 90’s, a company of actors take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and grapple with the eternal questions of life, death, love, loss. Much the same can be pondered over a drink at down-market, yet undeniably charming Scruffy City Hall. The dingy, antiquated bar smells of wet wood and hops with a true rustic feel that comes only from the beer soaked floorboards of many a drink spilled in jig fuelled jubilation. With a huge range of craft beers, there is certainly enough here to suit all levels of craft connoisseur. The burly, plain speaking barman is only too happy to run you through a few of his favourites, or as in my case, quiver the words ‘what lagers do you have?’ and you’ll be presented with the barman’s choice. Take said drink up to the 4th floor roof terrace which over looks the Market Square. Music and chilled vibes seep from the hazel brickwork adorning the terrace. Soak up a little Tennessee sun here with a cold glass in hand and best of all there is no need to traipse southward to refill, as each floor comes with its own bar. Scruffy’s also acts as a great spot to people watch and if you’re as lucky as me perhaps you’ll catch that famous dane grieving solemnly toward his skull clasped hand.
Head away from the Market Square for an evening of carnivorous ecstasy at The Lonesome Dove. This swanky steakhouse boasts influence from ‘all of the ingredients and cultures that have been a part of the West since the first adventure began on the Goodnight-Loving and Chisholm Trails, with an added level of modern sophistication’. The Dove serves a strange yet sumptuous blend of traditional and exotic meat varietals. Truly American in style the ‘Teaser Menu’ offers dishes including ‘elk-foie gras sliders’, ‘rabbit-rattlesnake sausage’, ‘lobster hushpuppies’, I would advise to get stuck in to as much of the unique food here as your waistline will allow. Mains include game heavy, rich meals ‘Stacked Duck and Rabbit Enchiladas, Roasted Garlic Stuffed Beef Tenderloin, Sugar Cane Skewered Pork Belly’. Neath the salivating carnivores lies a warm ambience, relaxed yet sophisticated. The staff here are attentive and welcoming, without clambering over you, certainly a great restaurant for adventurous meat lovers looking to deviate from the corporate drab of a ‘Ruth’s Chris’.
Walk through the World’s Fair Park, which played host to energy themed 1982’s edition, AND where the ‘Cherry Coke’ was unveiled to the world. Though, it’s nicer to stroll through and admire the scenery than to ponder on the origins of that syrup laden, artificial gloop. Through the park wind your way to The Tennessean Hotel to enjoy a drink at the lavish ‘Drawing Room’ bar. A ‘world of thoughtful creation and intentional design’ may be a step too far for any bar, however the setting is quite lovely. Stop for a ’Smoked Ol’ Fashioned’ which arrives in boozy splendour, smoking in musky, distinctive mist. Followed by a refreshing ‘Holstein River Lemonade, Vodka, Lemon, Cucumber, Basil’ the delicately balanced, sweet, sour, savoury flavours dance lightly to combine in a fresh hit to the palette.
Round off a days strolling here. The building that houses the hotel itself was built for said World’s Fair, sleek modernity cascades nicely in to 2018, once a headquarters for the State of Tennessee it now offers a mid-priced luxury feel, the monochrome marble floors contrast nicely against the bold, distinctive furniture. Looking more like the type hotel you would find in suave city locations like Soho, London, or New York’s Meatpacking District, there’s an urban edge to the hotel that oozes metropolitan style. The hotel staff are happy to help with the smallest whim, and often go beyond to ensure the satisfaction of the customer. When offering personal recommendations, the staff are local and proud of it, happy to share some inside tricks and tips on places to avoid and some lovely spots to check out, all with the stamp of approval only a local can provide. The Tennessean serves up a sumptuous positioning for those hungering for exploration of this southern gem, connected to the city, without the hassle and bustle of being amongst it. Standard rooms start at around $180 depending on seasonality, with the most exclusive rising to $3000 a night for the 1,800 square feet for The Governor’s Suite, the premier accommodation offered at ‘The Tennessean’.
Final sight to see, my home for the week, The Tennessee Theatre. Ornate, opulent golds adorn the interior of this broadway outpost, catch a show here and marvel at the splendid decoration a fierce adversary and competitor to the action onstage.
Perhaps not a city you’ll frequent regularly, Knoxville to me feels underrated, my expectations clashed somewhat with what I found. However if you are in the area, you should absolutely make the trip!