Downtown Knoxville is a mecca of arts, entertainment and cuisine

A sign advertising a daily lunch special for the Little Havana restaurant on Gay Street sits on the sidewalk as construction crews work on the 100 block of the street in the background.

Photo by Adam Brimer // Buy this photo

A sign advertising a daily lunch special for the Little Havana restaurant on Gay Street sits on the sidewalk as construction crews work on the 100 block of the street in the background.

A sign advertising a daily lunch special for the Little Havana restaurant on Gay Street sits on the sidewalk as construction crews work on the 100 block of the street in the background.

Photo by Adam Brimer

A sign advertising a daily lunch special for the Little Havana restaurant on Gay Street sits on the sidewalk as construction crews work on the 100 block of the street in the background.

Knox County

  • Population: 423,874 (2007 Census estimate)
  • Founded: 1792; named after first U.S. Secretary of War Henry Knox
  • County seat: Knoxville, population 183,546; oldest of Tennessee's four largest cities; Tennessee's first capital when the state was admitted into the Union in 1796
  • Other cities/towns: Farragut, population 20,083; incorporated in 1980; named in honor of American Civil War Adm. David Farragut, who was born just east of Farragut in 1801; originally known as Campbell's Station, site of a fort and stagecoach station
  • Attractions: Blount Mansion; East Tennessee Discovery Center; East Tennessee History Center; Fort Loudoun Lake; Ijams Nature Center; James White's Fort; Knoxville Museum of Art; Knoxville Zoo; Marble Springs State Historic Site; Old City district; Women's Basketball Hall of Fame; World's Fair Park and Sunsphere

Discover is an annual guide to living in Knoxville and East Tennessee.

Downtown Knoxville has become the epicenter of local arts and entertainment, with a nightlife scene that continues to show strength in the face of national economic woes.

While recent years' development gains in downtown's commercial and residential sectors have begun to show some slowdown, several notable projects have still come on line within the past year. In particular, Knoxvillians' appetite for dining out appears to be as hearty as ever.

Little Havana unveiled its menu of authentic Cuban cuisine and coffee in February, optimistically opening its doors on the trendy 100 block of Gay Street despite the first lane closures of a major city streetscape renovation project that will completely close the block to all vehicular traffic for a year beginning this spring.

Also joining the list of new downtown eateries are the French-themed Le Parigo on Clinch Avenue and the New York-style slices of Dazzo's Italian Castle Pizzeria on Gay Street's 700 block.

The heart of downtown, Market Square, welcomed the adjacent addresses of Cafe 4 and its counterpart, the Square Room performance venue.

The new music hall was quickly enlisted among several downtown stages to host February's Big Ears Festival, a critically acclaimed collection of dozens of lesser-known musicians. The inaugural offerings, produced by Knoxville-based AC Entertainment, of Bonnaroo fame, caught the attention of The New York Times and left local aficionados hoping that the first-of-its-kind event becomes an annual institution.

The roster of downtown venues also includes the historic Bijou Theatre, which now is celebrating its 100th year after a $2.1 million publicly and privately funded renovation that saved it from foreclosure in 2006.

On the residential front, the upscale condominiums of the Holston Building, at 531 Gay St., set a new downtown benchmark in August when one of its 14th-floor penthouse units sold for a little more than $1 million, a first for downtown's burgeoning condo market.

Details of the long-awaited S&W Grand Cafe were announced in December. Set to revive the empty space of the former S&W Cafeteria, which closed in 1981, the modern spin on the fully restored local landmark is expected to open this September with new twists on many of its predecessor's traditional dishes.

Still hungry? The new S&W will be joined next door by Coolato Gelato, a classic Italian cafe offering gelato ice cream, as well as espresso and panini sandwiches.

Meanwhile, the $78 million Metropolitan Plaza could break ground later this year on the Locust Street site of the state Supreme Court Building. The project envisions two towers encompassing a 200-room boutique hotel, 125,000 square feet of office space, approximately 24 condos on the top two floors and ground-floor retail space, as well as a 450-space parking garage - all within a block of the Knoxville Convention Center.

Hayes Hickman may be reached at 865-342-6323.

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