Re-visiting old haunt kills Urban Bar burnout

Chip Daves, left, Ryan Foltz and Maragaret Morales sit inside Urban Bar in the Old City.

Photo by Greg Wood

Chip Daves, left, Ryan Foltz and Maragaret Morales sit inside Urban Bar in the Old City.

Urban Bar & Corner Cafe

Downtown - Knoxville


American, Other, Sandwiches

109 N. Central Street


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— It's been a while since I checked in on Urban Bar. I've exhausted the place. When I first discovered it I went every week for months. Every time I meet new people, they always want to convene at Urban Bar.

It's gotten old to me.

Since I used to love the place, I figured it was beyond time to check it out. To get a new perspective, I invited along a friend of mine who had never been.

Right off the bat he made jokes about how "urban" he felt, pointing out the space-age style wavy silver bar and flooring. But he also noticed that the urban flair ends there - the bar is one of the only ones in town that sports mostly tube TVs (not flat screens), and the two pool rooms lie under a smoky fog making it feel more like a bar in the middle of nowhere than a downtown hot spot.

I agree that as you move toward the back of the venue the urban feeling wears off, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Urban Bar's layout gives your evening multiple possibilities. The porch overlooks the main crux of the Old City and serves as one of the best spots in town to drink a beer outside. Just inside the front doors is a rotunda with a few tables and TVs, leading into a much larger, open seating area. With lengthy tables along the left side and tables bracing against the windows on the right side, which overlook The Melting Pot, even when Urban Bar is at its most packed there's almost always somewhere to sit.

In the main room there's a lack of TVs. They hang over the bar and there's one in the back corner, but it's not somewhere I'd go to watch a game. The TVs are more a forced afterthought.

Up a small flight of stairs is a swanky, modernized bar area with a handful of pub tables that seat only a few. In this area you're subjected to the wrath of the jukebox. Fortunately, the Urban Bar clientele has decent taste in music. Over the course of an evening you might hear Black Sabbath, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Animal Collective, Nirvana and the occasional '90s one-hit wonder. In many spots it's difficult to hear the jukebox, but on the upper level it practically deafens you.

Each area serves a different purpose. Part of the dynamic of the place is that as your evening trudges on, you're likely to relocate to several different tables, meeting friends or making new ones.

The Urban Bar clientele remains one of the best crowds in town. It's mostly people in their mid-20s through late 30s. The place serves as a choice venue for people who have beaten the Strip lifestyle to death but still enjoy several drinks on a small budget. In my years of heading there, I've had my hazy evening lead me to the tables of complete strangers more times than anywhere else. It's just that kind of place.

On my recent trip I confirmed a suspicion I've always had - that the Urban Bar crowd is a bunch of die-hard, loyal bar-goers. We headed down on a recent Thursday evening that was at least 20 degrees colder than the weather we've been having, and I expected the place to be dead. (The two things that kill bar attendance most in this town: rain and cold weather.)

I talked to a group of patrons in their early 20s who said they all lived in the area and go to Urban Bar because it's close. The young woman spoke up and corrected herself. "I used to live around here," she said. "I moved about a year ago, but I still come back all the time."

The night of the week doesn't matter with Urban Bar. They have $2 pints on Thursday, which I suspect brought in the crowd that night. But it's packed on Friday and Saturday nights, and the occasional Tuesday or Wednesday.

We sat at the bar for a few hours taking advantage of the cheap beer specials, but ultimately our evening was the typical Urban Bar experience that hasn't changed in years. Although my friend took a few cracks at it initially, Urban Bar's nothing to scoff at, and my first trip back in ages refreshed me.

I might've even caught the Urban Bar fever again.

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