Despite the challenges of 2020, Knoxville definitely got cooler.
From elevated food experiences to unique shops, here are 10 businesses that opened in 2020 and elevated East Tennessee’s livability and entertainment factors.
Saloon 16 and Graduate Knoxville
You know where The Sheriff will be when he’s back in town.
Peyton Manning unveiled his Saloon 16 in August, a bespoke “watering hole” inside the new Graduate Hotel on Cumberland Avenue.
The hotel, also new, is University of Tennessee athletics themed, complete with a Vol Navy boat for a front desk. The hotel features photos, artifacts and memorabilia depicting Vols fandom.
Graduate CEO and founder Ben Weprin, who attended UT, said the hotel is an “authentic love letter” to Knoxville. Graduate properties are all unique to their locations and can be found in college towns nationwide.
Saloon 16 is full of photos depicting Manning’s time at UT. The Tennessee football and NFL icon spent time selecting the memorabilia displayed inside.
“You don’t want to live in the past, but every now and then you can go down memory lane and reminisce about being in college,” Manning told Knox News in an exclusive interview in August.
Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus
East Tennessee’s cidery finally expanded into Knoxville this fall with Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus on Lamar Street.
Stephanie and Aaron Carson are fermenting a new line of wild ciders at the Knoxville facility, which includes outdoor seating, a 3,000-square-foot taproom and a restaurant.
The Bohemian includes a menu of cider-inspired international dishes. Inside the facility is a 4,000-square-foot event space called TAPestry.
This cidery will be one of only a handful of wild-only cider facilities in the U.S. Look for Gypsy to launch wild lambics, barrel-aged bretts and sidra ciders.
It’s a long time coming, Aaron said, as Knoxville fans have been traveling to Kingsport for Gypsy Circus cider for years.
Cal Johnson Building
Representing critical historic preservation and redevelopment spreading to secondary streets downtown, the Cal Johnson Building was completed and welcomed new residents this year.
Built in 1898, the historic building at 301 State St. includes lofts and commercial space. It was renovated by Conversion Properties.
Cal Johnson was a Black entrepreneur, investor and politician. Born into slavery, he became one of Knoxville’s most prominent philanthropists and leaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Early tenants of the building included a clothing manufacturer and a machine shop.
The three-story building features eight apartments, all but one now rented, and room for a retail or restaurant business on the ground floor.
“There’s a really big story of our community in that building that I think is important, and a significant piece of our history, and it took a lot to save it,” Conversion Properties vice president of development Daniel Odle told Knox News.
Blount County’s food scene got a little funkier this year with the addition of Diamond Jack, owned by Micah and Rachel Talley.
The wine bar and restaurant, which opened in August at 298 Highland Ave. in Maryville, offers upscale casual food in a one-of-a-kind setting.
The menu includes items like appetizers, charcuterie, sandwiches and desserts. Micah Talley spent years working East Tennessee foodie havens J.C. Holdway and Blackberry Farm.
“We wanted the experience to be exclusive and kind of have a little bit of a speakeasy type vibe,” Micah told Knox News.
Our shopping choices got a little hipper in 2020, too. Long a fan of college towns, clothing retailer H&M finally made its way to Knoxville.
Now open at West Town Mall in the old Victoria’s Secret storefront across from J.C. Penney, H&M opened in November.
Knox News announced in late January that the retailer was headed to East Tennessee and would take up a massive footprint — about 23,000 square feet. H&M is one of the largest clothing retailers in the world.
Founded in Sweden in 1947, H&M has locations in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga. It has 500 locations nationwide.
West Town Mall will have another new tenant in 2021: Dick’s Sporting Goods is set to open inside a new build where Sears was once located.
Hen+Hoc Butcher Shop
Downtown Knoxville anxiously awaited the opening of Hen+Hoc Butcher Shop, the latest project from OliBea’s Jeffrey DeAlejandro and Chef Jon Newman. The butcher shop opened at 123 S. Central St. this summer.
The artisanal market includes local meats, cheeses and other goods, as well as to-go lunch items. The concept was first announced in December 2018.
Now in the former home of The Crown & Goose, Hen+Hoc features beef, duck, chicken, seafood, sausages, charcuterie, cheese, hummus, salads and more.
“Butcher shops and markets are doing well,” DeAlejandro told Knox News. “People want to eat (to-go); they don’t want to sit down.”
Adding a new element to downtown retail, designer Georgia Vogel opened Honeymouth in the Old City this summer.
The shop includes handmade leather goods including whimsical keychains, wallets and pursues. It also features jewelry, housewares, hats, belts, masks and more.
Honeymouth is located at 125 S. Central between the newly relocated Kaizen and Hen+Hoc. The store is decked with murals featuring inspirational women leaders from activist Malala Yousafzai to Dolly Parton.
“It includes the Stevie Nicks quote, ‘Don’t be a lady, be a legend’ and reminds me to channel my inner rock star on days I’m not feeling it,” Vogel said of the mural.
Knox Box Karaoke
Harold Goldston first told Knox News in January that he was opening a “big city” karaoke bar on Gay Street. The pandemic put his plans on hold for a little while.
Knox Box Karaoke finally did open this fall in the basement at 522 S. Gay St., accessed by a door just to the right of the new KoPita Meat.
The bar has more than 20,000 songs on rotation, from classic rock to hip-hop, and a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches.
“I’m trying to show Knoxville a new side of karaoke. We kind of have these honky tonk type places that are smoking bars,” Goldston told Knox News in January. “This is definitely going to have more of the big city, neon vibe.”
Knoxville’s first Bohemian plant boutique opened in Old North Knox this October. It was the next step for Oglewood Avenue owner Jade Adams, who’d been running her business online.
The 3524 N. Broadway store is full of more than 1,000 plants, from tiny air plants to massive tropicals. Adams also offers plant styling for homes or businesses.
“Plants make me so happy that I want to provide them for other people. And I’m always there to educate and help. There’s a bond — when I turn it over to somebody I obviously want it to live and thrive,” Adams told Knox News.
Treehouse Grove at Norton Creek is now fulfilling your childhood dream of escaping up a tree and staying there for a while. Norton Creek Resort is a Knoxville family-owned business in Gatlinburg.
The Ayres family partnered with “Treehouse Masters” star Pete Nelson to custom design eight 300-square-foot treehouses on the property. Each fully furnished treehouse has two bedrooms, one full bathroom, screened-in lounge, balcony and modern amenities.
“It’s all about creating a community and having a sense of being in the woods, “Joe Ayres told Knox News. Reservations for 2021 are now open.
And a shout-out to 9 more businesses that made East Tennessee a little bit cooler in 2020: Scruffy’s Cafe, Five Thirty Lounge, Whimsy Cookie Co., Vow’d, The Donut Shop, Xul Beer Co., Knox Brew Hub, Cumberland House Hotel and Soaky Mountain Waterpark.