Note: Please contact us and let me know of any places I should try to eat at downtown. The Market Square area is where I tend to be most of the time.

I got the news late last week. On Monday, I was to report for duty to work on a large project for a downtown client. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I haven’t worked downtown since ’97 or so, and the prospect of dealing with the crappy commute I’ve tried so hard to avoid just made me happy as a target at a shooting range.

So, I’ve been down here just over a week. And I’m still alive!

For fun, I decided to start documenting my activities and experiences with the “new” downtown Knoxville.

Pessimism aside, let’s continue into one lone suburbanite’s forced insertion into downtown Knoxville. The content of this article will be updated as things happen. This is like a blog, only…not. But it will be continuously edited and updated, so that means I might change something you’ve read already.

First, let me start by addressing the parking situation. Everybody talks about how parking is a pain in the ass down here most of the time. What I’ve discovered is that by saying “parking is a pain in the ass”, they’re really saying it is if you have to pay for it. I’ve discovered that the following situations can really cause parking to suck: a) if you already pay for it (monthly) but the parking pass system breaks at the garage, b) they randomly close roads and you have to follow the maze of one-way streets to get back a block behind you, c) anything is going on other than just a regular working day, or d) you get here any time between 7:45 and 9:30. Parking really is not difficult if you just give up, pull in a lot, and fork over some cash. Not many big cities have free downtown parking. And you can typically find a lot close to where you want to go.

They now allow parking on the sides of Gay Street and that sucks. We need the spaces, but we need the lanes too.

Now, what about the commute? If I leave the house by 7:15, I can just breeze right on in. Actually, leaving at 8:30 wasn’t too bad, but the interstate can back up from the James White Parkway. Not to mention the messes on Kingston Pike and Papermill, my particular route. The smoothest commute is before 7:30. After that, and the eight-o’clockers start filing in.

Going home is like rolling dice. Some days you get lucky, others you don’t. I prefer to take the I-40 Merge O’ Death route (James White merge onto I-40’s left lane). It usually isn’t that bad and you can whip through town after that. But by the time you get to the Sentinel building, hit the rightmost lanes and you can bypass a lot of the 640 interchange mess. Just be sure to switch back over or you’ll exit onto 640. Most times I-40 is backed up starting at 640, but the right two Papermill exit lanes are always empty, so once through the bottleneck, it’s home free for me.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there are actually people now. Back when I worked down here before, at lunch time I could walk from the Millers building on Henley all the way up to Arby’s on Gay Street and not meet a single person on the street. Except the random hair stylist trying to get me into her shop for a cut. These days it’s hard to find a park bench or a spot to stand out of the way, especially on Market Square. And there is plenty of scenery walking around to make summer more enjoyable, which was very much missing before.

Speaking of lunch, I’ve officially lunched (or other) at the following downtown eateries:

  1. Arby’s: What can you say about Arby’s? The food was pleasant, service fine, and I can easily grab a large Mello Yellow when the mood strikes.
  2. Macleod’s: I had eaten here awhile back. It was tolerable then, and it is tolerable now. The baked spaghetti was excellent, but the chicken fingers were overcooked. Our waitress was good to us, but I watched someone order as we got our food, and they were still sitting there looking hungry after we had paid and were leaving.
  3. Cafe All Day: I could probably learn to like this place. Kind of like a convenient store downtown, but with a cafe in the back. I had the philly cheesesteak and fries and am happily munching away on some Reese’s Pieces I bought on the way out. Very friendly staff.
  4. Preservation Pub: Went there the other night for the track club’s celebrity bartending. After work, it’s sort of nice to have such a short walk to a watering hole. Anyway, they poured some very nice stiff drinks. The little waiter we had to begin with acted like he couldn’t care less whether we ordered or not, but after we moved to the bar, the barstaff was excellent.
  5. Riverside Tavern: Can’t go wrong with this place. Good every time we’ve been.
  6. Tortilla Mac’s: I end up going to the same places over and over, but today we decided to try out Tortilla Mac’s. That place was really good. I’ll try to do a formal review later. Friendly staff, good food and plenty of it, and pretty reasonably priced.

Week three has started and I’m too busy to do much of anything downtown but work. Barely have time for lunch, and today it’s raining. One thing us suburbanites take for granted is how pleasant it is to park right next to your building so you don’t get wet or really have to fool with carrying an umbrella. Fortunately, I had an umbrella in the car. Blew off the cobwebs and opened it up. It actually kept the rain off. Those things are kinda cool.

The good news is that I’ve lost about 5 pounds since coming down here. Not sure if that’s due to the extra stress, walking up that hill, the lack of fast food and snacks, or a tapeworm. If I had a tapeworm, he’d be named Sven, no doubt.

Up on Market Square, a new establishment is gearing up to open called the Hard Knox Cafe (I think). Wonder if that’s related to the website?

Today we ate at the Riverside Tavern. The sweet and sour chicken about brought a tear to my eye. Maybe it was due to how hungry I was, but it was pretty darn good. The smell of drowned river rat permeated the outside air, but once inside, their filtration system must have been effective because it just smelled like good food. Our waitress looked and sounded like Anna Faris, so that really helped out a lot.

OK, so I’m standing out on the corner of Union and Gay a few moments ago, and this guy is trying to figure out how to park his Chrysler Hugeass Mobile. That intersection is kind of long because Union is offset coming off Market Square crossing Gay. This guy pulls in on one side. Can’t get parallel parked. So he waits til pedestrians have the cross walk sign, and he takes his giant car and tries to make a 15 point u-turn in the middle of Gay. He finally gets turned around and half-way into a spot too small for his car, waits for the light to turn green, and noses out in traffic to block it. Over the next 3-4 minutes, he waddles back and forth, getting ever so closer to the curb. In the meantime, I meet who I need to meet, have a conversation, exchange what we need to exchange, and walk away, as he’s still sitting there scratching his head. That was fun. Great way to start off the weekend!

Stay tuned for more downtown details!