Recently I've had multiple people ask me about Baker-Peters Steak Mansion and Jazz Club. Most of them have never been but always wanted to go, and some of them have been but didn't know what to think.
Baker-Peters has a distinct role in the nightlife scene, since it has the stronghold on local jazz venues, but this also leads to misconceptions.
It's very upscale. And although you can't just walk in wearing anything you want, it's still laid-back. It's classy, but it's still welcoming. It does carry an exclusive air about it, but they're still going to serve you and accommodate you.
Baker-Peters doesn't always dish out jazz, either. There's some R&B on the menu as well as blues. That's understandable, since the Knoxville jazz market might not be that large. But some speak of the place as if they can just pop in to catch a trumpet, upright bass and small drum kit grooving into the night. While that might be the case, you might want to have an open mind when you stop by.
Baker-Peters isn't avoiding jazz, nor has it otherwise changed its format. The common dominator is laid-back music. At the very least, it's old fashioned (like the building itself, which has been around for 100 years). You aren't going to hear a Green Day cover band or see two guys with laptops make pinging noises for two hours.
That said, Baker-Peters' genre expansion works. The music always fits the environment.
Similarly, when people think of jazz clubs, they tend to think of music going long into the night, with near-pitch-black ambience and wavering trumpet notes lingering like cigarette smoke in the air. This leads to another misconception of Baker-Peters, that the place is a nightlife powerhouse.
It is and it isn't. Baker-Peters has last call before midnight with the venue usually shutting down shortly thereafter. Its crowd skews toward an older demographic than most nightclubs, with people in their 50s and 60s being most common, so it makes sense that the place shuts down earlier than many bars (though midnight's not exactly early, either). But jazz trios don't improvise until the early-morning hours.
In fact, Baker-Peters is focused more on dinner and post-dinner drinks, peaking between 8 and 9 p.m. The menu boasts succulent meats with savory sides, not on the cheap end.
The building features wooden floors, glass doors and dark red draperies throughout the downstairs, consisting of two dining areas. If you step in before 8 p.m. on any given evening, these rooms are usually filled with diners.
But the layout is mysterious. The venue is an old house that's something like a compacted Biltmore Estate on Kingston Pike. Every time I go I think I know the layout, but then I glance in an open door to find a room I've never noticed.
There are two outdoor, screened-in wings, commonly used for outdoor dining on warmer days. If you're there earlier in the evening, there's often someone playing an acoustic guitar and singing, further expanding the venue's musical offerings.
The most common area for casual patrons is the upstairs bar. It's like a regal living room, with sofas and high tables serving as your seating options. Martini glasses dangle from the top of the bar. This is where the nightlife comes into play.
Bands typically perform in one of the corners of the upstairs room, feeling similar to a swanky house party (but fortunately sounding much better than such an informal setup). The room is intimate, yet it's rarely too loud.
On a recent trip, my girlfriend and my friend Alex and I stuck around the upstairs venue for two hours on a Wednesday night absorbing the music of Jazz Continuum. The band whipped through originals and covers, even playing "Happy Birthday" for my girlfriend, and frequently bantering with the small, tightly knit crowd.
Our waitress kept our drinks full as I downed martini after martini (I swear they make the best in town, and they very well should, given their theme). The bar also boasts a cigar menu, which is a route I've never taken, but I'm keen on trying a stogie on my next trip.
The full package of quality live music and high-class atmosphere can't be beat, and fortunately there's no cover charge. There's no good reason not to check out Baker-Peters for yourself.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!