Blue Chips Sports Pub & Grill
KNOXVILLE — Since I've spent the past several weeks hitting up bars with live entertainment, I decided to mix it up and explore another wildly common motive for bar-going: to watch sports.
Fortunately, March Madness was in full swing. One place I knew would deliver: West Knoxville's Blue Chips.
It's intimate but it doesn't feel cramped. There are plenty of TVs, which come in handy when multiple games are on, but there isn't one major screen dominating the evening. (It's always bothersome when your game of choice isn't the one the bar's focusing on - it makes you feel like the bar doesn't agree with you).
It's just one open room in a shopping center across Montvue Road from West Town Mall, but there's plenty of seating for a good 50 people. It's cozy enough, especially when it's less crowded. Several of the high tables have comfortable chairs with back support, making a lengthy event not feel as such.
When we rolled in on Sunday night to catch the UNC vs. Kentucky game in the Elite Eight round of the tournament, I expected Blue Chips to be more crowded. About 10 people were scattered throughout the bar with buckets of beer. The bartender pointed out that beer buckets were on sale during the rest of the NASCAR race, which it became apparent most people were there to see. Not planning on drinking that much, we grabbed a Fat Tire and a Boddingtons (which I was surprised to see that they carry given that it's a smaller neighborhood bar).
With small sports bars a dime a dozen in this town you're always faced with the question: Why are you choosing a specific one?
In the case of Blue Chips, the environment is favorable over many similar establishments. Because it's only one room, there's a connection you have to the other patrons. There aren't separate levels or rooms to distance yourself from the crowd, but it doesn't feel intrusive. It helps that the crowd and staff are always cordial. (But even though the bar was basically empty, we ended up with cigarette smoke coating us, so those with weaker noses take heed.)
It took a while before I started socializing with the small crowd - most people were involved in their own conversations. But I struck up a conversation with a couple as they were closing out their tab, hoping to get a photo of them for my article. They declined, but explained to me that Thursday and Saturday nights are the best times to come to Blue Chips.
"Most people stop by on their way home from other bars," the guy told me. "Come 11 o'clock you can't even move in here." He explained that they have karaoke on those nights, which draws in the crowd.
As he was speaking, a man in his 50s sitting next to us chimed in, explaining that Monday nights also were extremely popular since they serve cheap wings. Everyone in the crowd (as well as the bartender) raved about the food, which I regret to say I've barely even sampled.
Not that I don't enjoy Blue Chips on Friday or Saturday nights, but heading down on a weeknight is highly underrated. With basketball and hockey coming to a close over the next few months and baseball just stepping up to the plate, there won't be any lack of excuses for a midweek adventure. And if you live in the vicinity, it's apparently worth stopping by on the way home from other outings. (It stays open until after 2 a.m. every night of the week.)
It's evenings like my recent one that make me wish I made it to Blue Chips more often.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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