Where to Drink in Knoxville, TN

Knoxville is a great visit whether you like whisky and a hoedown or hiking and avocado toast with goat cheese.

The lifestyle in Knoxville is one of the reasons I moved inland from coastal cities. The area is the perfect balance of rural and urban, where I could enjoy affordable elbow room as well as a spectrum of activities. Knoxville is a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll.

Following Nashville and Memphis, Knoxville is the third-largest city in Tennessee. It was once the capital of the state as well and hosted the 1984 World’s Fair.

Since then, the city has seen significant changes. While downtown still has architecture from the 18th century, residents and investors are revamping its oldest buildings and homes.

As such, the renovation created a chasm in the nightlife. One of the main intersection in Old City, for instance, is a lively nightclub, smokey dive pool bar, a Scottish pub, and an upscale four-dollar-sign restaurant.

Knoxville Bars, Pubs & Clubs

Tourists can procure both expensive and cheap drinks in Knoxville, TN. Downtown has a mixed bag of dive bars and upscale cocktail lounges.

Jack isn’t just a name, it’s the best damn whiskey you’ve ever had.

Polly Powers Stramm

Market Square & Gay Street

Market Square has tons of options for those who want a walkable bar crawl including Preservation Pub (for those who still like to smoke in a bar), Scruffy’s, Stock & Barrel (great burgers), and more.

Likewise, Gay Street is populated with bars, restaurants, and stores as well as the Tennessee Theatre. There is plenty of free parking in the area if you arrive after 6 pm.

Two places I like to go when I want to dress up:

  • If you are looking for a posh night out, then the “fine food and fancy drinks” at Sapphire is where to go. A friend, born and raised in Knoxville, describes it as “the place to go when you want to pretend you’re in Los Angeles.” The drinks have fun names like “I Am Groot” and “Weird Flex”.
  • The Peter Kern Library at the Oliver Hotel is a speakeasy that has impressive old school craft cocktails like old fashions and sassafras as well as modern concoctions named after literary characters. To enter, walk down the alleyway off Union Ave (between the hotel and the Causal Pint) and try the door under the red light.

Old City: Quirky & Alternative

Between the highway and Gay Street is an area with artisan cafes, trendy restaurants, and bars galore. It’s where I like to go when I want to drink heavily, smoke too much, and dance until my legs hurt. Some places to check out in Old City:

  • Any whisky enthusiasts will need to head to the Scottish bar Boyd’s Jig & Reel, which serves nearly a thousand different whiskies. Connoisseurs can enjoy their drinks or flights with live music nightly in the homie environment.
  • Cheap drinks, smokey air, and pool tables sound like your pint? Then, head to Urban Bar for the friendliest dive bar around. In addition to pool tables, it has darts, a modern jukebox, and bar games.
  • Don’t let the name, Hanna’s Cafe, fool you. This nightclub becomes more raunchy as the night goes on. The drinks are heavily poured and the crowd includes mostly college students and 20-somethings.
  • Just down the street from the three adjacent venues above is Pretentious Beer Co. Serving a craft beer menu that changes as it sees fits, the place holds up to its name. However, I’ve always found the staff very friendly. On New Year’s Eve, it hosted a silent disco!

Just outside of Old City are two bars I really enjoy. Central Depot was the first establishment I went to in downtown so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s small but the drinks are delicious and there’s always events.

When the weather is good, I like to enjoy the outdoor seating at Public House along with its craft cocktails, beer, and wine – the pub grub is pretty good too!

How southern is Tennessee?

Of course, there is sweet tea and residents will ask you “who your people are”. Phrases you are likely to hear include:

  • “Have a blessed day!” – in lieu of ‘have a good day’
  • “I appreciate, y’all.” – another way to say ‘thank you’
  • “He was drunker than damnit!” – very intoxicated
  • “I wouldn’t pay a bucket of spit for…” – worthless

People talk and move a little slower in Tennessee compared to New York or Miami. But it isn’t because they think slow. Don’t believe the negative connotation that Southerns are stupid.

Residents’ insults are so tactful that you might miss the jab. The following sayings sound sweet as sugar but are actually putdowns:

  • “Bless her heart.” – usually precedes an insult
  • “God love ‘um.” – cause the speaker doesn’t
  • “Common.” – which is the equivalent of ‘basic’
  • “We don’t go to the same church.” – having different opinions

But Knoxville is also a metropolitan area with imports. Not every man is a gentleman who will hold the door and women cuss like sailers too.

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