Doing Knoxville Like a Local

Just in time for the International Biscuit Festival in the Knoxville's Market Square (May 17-19), we enlisted friendly downtown locals to share what's happening in their rapidly growing 'hood
Article: Cory Bordonaro

Knoxville has always been home sweet home for Ty Pattison. In 2007, five years after he and Sarah (a UT Design School grad) married, he joined her at The Happy Envelope—her custom invitation design studio—as details manager. Their style and execution now draws clients from far and wide. (They're producing a wedding suite for a Vatican wedding this year, for goodness' sake.) Their reach may be global, but when they're not working out of their downtown studio, they shop close and eat local. In late 2010, The Happy Envelope was just the second tenant in the newly revitalized Daylight Building behind Market Square. "We've seen tremendous growth and change along the periphery of the square," Sarah says. "We live about 20 miles out, but we are very enthusiastic downtowners. It's got everything, and it's so walkable. We do all of our date nights down here."

The day starts off right when Ty and Sarah begin with a walk through Market Square to The French Market Crêperie (526 South Gay Street; 865/540-4372). Pop into this European "street food" shop for expertly crafted lattes and hot-off-the-stovetop crêpes, both savory and sweet. "I don't know why you'd waste your time with anything but the lemon-and-sugar crêpe," Sarah says.

Around the corner, the couple stops by another favorite shop, Bliss (24 Market Square; 865/329-8868). One of the first stores to open after the downtown revitalization started in 2003, the cheery place is stocked with stylish gift items made by regional artists, such as handmade jewelry from Freshie & Zero of Nashville.

A couple of blocks down, Willow Creek Gallery (115 East Jackson Avenue; 865/525-1925), is packed to the gills with French antiques. Owner Brad Johnson ships rustic armoires and curvy dining chairs back from his travels. Craftspeople also work on-site to reupholster and restore items to fulfill unique requests.

Just around the corner, Ty and Sarah point out a fun way to get some local flavor. The Blue Plate Special radio show presents live music from area and touring performers Monday through Saturday at noon. Hometown station WDVX (102.9/89.9) hosts the series from the back corner of the Knoxville Visitor Center (301 South Gay Street; 865/523-7263). "We've got a great music scene," Ty says. "The [six-piece local rock band] Dirty Guv'nahs are our claim to fame, but so many good acts pass through town."

Also on Gay Street, Harry's Delicatessen (131 South Gay Street; 865/566-0732) is an upscale version of a Jersey-style deli, where a vegetarian-friendly Tempeh Reuben sandwich (made with soy, $9.50) reads on the menu right next to the traditional corned beef version ($11). Since Harry's opened last May, owners Ben and Amy Willis-Becker have cured, processed, and smoked all of their meats in-house.

Before or after dinner at Harry's, Ty and Sarah enjoy a cocktail or two at The Oliver Hotel's Peter Kern Library (407 Union Avenue; 865/521-0050). Remodeled last spring, The Oliver reopened its doors as the downtown's hippest overnight stay with 28 rooms, all smartly dressed with local art. The hotel's Peter Kern Library bar debuted just a few months ago in a cavernous space that used to occupy a local bakery. Menus are tucked between the covers of antique books, and the refreshments are named for literary characters.

House-made syrups and infusions flavor hand-muddled drinks. Sarah opts for the Holden Caulfield ($9), a mixture of Fireball cinnamon whiskey, homemade sweet and sour, amaretto liqueur, and orange juice. "It's spicy but sweet. It burns in your throat the pleasant kind of way, like a chai tea." Ring the alley doorbell and enter the speakeasy from behind Union Avenue when the green light glows, signifying vacancy. "If that's not insider-y," Sarah says, "then I don't know what is."

The Jam on the Biscuit Festival
May 17-19, biscuitfest.com
This city's third annual festival—an ode to the starchy Southern staple—has grown every year since its inception. This year, 25 vendors will set up shop along "Biscuit Boulevard" on Market Street. Five dollars gets visitors a ticket for five tastings. Other events include a biscuit bake-off and a Blackberry Farm brunch ($85). New this year is the Southern Food Writing Conference, featuring authors and food personalities such as Brett Anderson of The Times-Picayune; Elizabeth Sims, author of the Tupelo Honey Café cookbook; and (our own) Jennifer Cole, Features Editor of Southern Living ($325).