KNOXVILLE — Over the past few weeks the Roaming Gnome on UT's Strip has come highly recommended to me. While hanging out at Tin Roof, I struck up a conversation with a group of patrons in their early 20s who told me they're at the Gnome every single night. I assumed that was somewhat of an exaggeration.
But as I found myself wandering the Strip on a Friday night I decided I might as well pop into the Gnome and see what was going on. Lo and behold, the same group that I ran into who claimed to go there every evening was standing at the bar as I walked in.
I've only ever been to the Gnome a few times. I ended up at its previous incarnation, Charlie Peppers, more frequently.
The Gnome utilizes its giant porch by having an additional bar, making the outside environment at least as good an option as hanging out inside. What fascinates me about the Gnome is it's layout - there's a grouping of secluded tables directly inside the front door and just before the porch. There's a lengthy bar with ample seating, showing off the plethora of taps and liquor drinks, leading down to a small room of tables and stools.
In short, your evening has plenty of options.
The crowd hasn't changed much over the years - it's almost exclusively college students (specifically under 25). More so than Charlie Peppers, the Gnome seems aimed at the UT crowd, with excessive UT decor, including a mural.
Even so, the Gnome has a comfortable environment. With a large fireplace next to a big-screen TV, it's almost like being at home, if your home experience includes blaring loud rap music with the TV muted. (On this particular evening the music selection wasn't to my liking, but it wasn't too off-putting.)
I grabbed a Coors Light and joined my new friends at the pool table adjacent to the venue's front windows. Right off the bat I ended up chatting with people I've never seen before. I've found few crowds to be so welcoming. In fact, I've never been out by myself before and ended up engulfed in someone else's evening.
We ended up talking for quite a while about college, bringing on a bout of nostalgia for me. They told me that they were heading to a party in the Fort afterward, which brought back the glory days for me. And I'll be honest - I don't feel like I'm too old to randomly end up at a house party in the Fort.
Tara also explained to me that the Gnome is a pretty versatile venue - you can enjoy a calm evening there, but you can also get rowdy if you want to. In my experiences, it tends to lean toward the rowdy side. But we all hung out, played pool, chatted and otherwise had a laid-back evening together.
At one point I took off to wander the crowd, looking for people to photograph. I found a couple standing by the bar and quickly struck up a conversation with them. Like Tara and her friends, they spoke highly of the Gnome.
"Bobby's my favorite bartender in town," one of them said, going so far as to actually pull Bobby aside and introduce him to me. "I like all of the bartenders here, but he's the best," he added.
More so than anywhere else I've been recently, the Gnome's crowd has a sense of joy and friendliness.
I didn't stick around too late, taking off around midnight, which is when the Strip usually starts peaking. I've never been at the Gnome much later than that, but I decided to play it safe and stop my evening while it was still a winner.
My experience heading in by myself was pretty top notch, and I'll always keep an open mind about the Strip's Roaming Gnome.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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