Downtown Knoxville has long been the city’s cultural and commercial center. Though the city has continued to migrate west in suburban fashion, downtown still maintains a passionate spark and quaint charm that even people who have lived in larger cities appreciate. When The New York Times did a “36 hours in Knoxville” piece on the city, most of that feature focused on downtown. As all-encompassing as it might seem, downtown Knoxville really is an attraction in its own right.
Think of Market Square as the centerpiece of downtown. The square gets its name from the market house that once stood there. Farmers would bring their wagons to the square to sell their goods. Today the square is a pedestrian zone surrounded by local restaurants and shops.
If you’re hungry, choose from vegetarian, Latin fusion, homemade breads and soups, sushi, pasta, Thai, ice cream, pizza and more. Dine indoors or outside if the weather is nice. If you’re up for a concert, you’ll find those, too. Check out the historical monuments, including the quotes from books about Knoxville tiled into the ground, the bell from the old market house and the statue commemorating Tennessee’s role in women’s suffrage. Splash through the water play fountains if you’re feeling warm. Tip the street musicians if you’re feeling generous.
Market Square is also where you’ll find a variety of events and festivals throughout the year. There’s a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays seven months out of the year. During the spring and early summer the free Sundown in the City concert series brings local, regional and national musicians, and a huge turnout. Shakespeare in the Square provides free theater, and the occasional celebrity sighting (Michael Emerson from TV’s “Lost” has been seen there). The winter months mean ice skating and a Christmas market. New Year’s Eve, also known as First Night, has its own set of festivities, including a ball drop, fireworks and plenty of entertainment options. And, really, that’s just scratching the surface.
Krutch Park is adjacent to Market Square on Union Avenue. The scenic park is named for Charles Krutch, who descended from a pair of German immigrants and went on to become a staff photographer for the Tennessee Valley Authority. His work was later exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The park features waterfalls, a flowing stream and picnic tables.
A block away is historic Gay Street. As with Market Square, there’s a lot going on on Gay Street. The Tennessee Theatre, a 1920s-era movie palace, is here. So are the Bijou Theatre and a Regal Cinemas multiplex. The East Tennessee History Center, which serves as a regional history museum, historical archive and genealogy research library, is also on Gay Street. Gay Street is where you’re likely to see a concert, a play or a parade.
The Knoxville Visitor’s Center is found at 301 South Gay Street at the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Avenue. The award-winning Blue Plate Special visit www.wdvx.com/programs/blueplate.html radio program is broadcast from the Visitor’s Center. The Blue Plate Special features live concerts performed in front of a studio audience. Past acts have included Ricky Skaggs, Over the Rhine, David Wilcox, Todd Steed, Tenderhooks and Julie Lee. The Vistor’s Center also has a café, as well as maps and tourist information.
Gay Street is also home to several art galleries. If you love art, whether purchasing it or just admiring it, Gay Street will keep you in a sense of wonder. On the first Friday of each month, shops and galleries stay open late, providing free food and entertainment, and display the work of local artists.
The Old City is also downtown, just a couple of blocks from Gay Street. Roughly comprising the National Register historic district of the Jackson Avenue Warehouse District, the Old City is home to unique clubs, restaurants, shops and bars. The Old City has plenty of beer on tap, pub fare, pizza, musty old first edition books, cigar and scotch shopping, coffee shops and even a cereal buffet.
For more information about downtown Knoxville, visit visit www.downtownknoxville.com or visit www.knoxvillemarketsquare.com. Free parking is available after 6 p.m. on weekdays, and all day Saturday and Sunday at the city-owned Market Square Garage, Locust Street Garage and State Street Garage. Metered parking is also available. Trolleys and buses run during the day and evenings.
© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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