Hanna's Cafe on the Strip
Hanna’s on the Strip is one of the first bars I ever went to in this town. It ended up being a staple of my college experience. But I never make it back anymore, mostly because I associate it only with that time period, and because its crowd is almost exclusively people who are 21 or 22.
Recently, I rounded up a handful of people who had either never been or hadn’t been in years to see what we thought about the place now that we’re a little older.
What we discovered is that Hanna’s has (and always has had) a lot of potential. There’s a dark ambience with dark red and orange hues shining through. Windows span the east and south sides of the building, providing you with a full view of the Strip. Tables line the windows, with a row of seats and booths as an island in the center of the room, with the lengthy, mirrored bar on the west side of the building.
There’s a small, elevated stage in the back corner of the building where I’ve seen my share of hippie-esque guys with acoustic guitars covering those same handful of bands college students love (Steve Miller Band, Sublime, Journey). But behind it is two bookshelves decked out with publications of various sorts.
If you walk into Hanna’s when school is in session (or well before midnight, like we did on our recent trip) it almost seems like a half-coffee shop/half-bar where English majors would hang out by day, reading their Faulkner, and then let loose at night with a PBR.
Almost. It almost seems that way.
There are several things that tip it off. On our evening, we walked inside to see a chalkboard advertising $3 “Shooters.” Curious, I went up to the bar and ordered one. I asked what was in it, and the server told me “like, a lot of liquors.” Her nondescript answer intrigued me in the dangerous, potentially ignorant way Hanna’s intrigues me, so I ordered it. It ended up being a pink mixture tasting remarkably like the New Orleans favorite known as the Hurricane. I’m not fond of Hurricanes, but they get the job done. As did the “shooter.”
My girlfriend and I sat at a booth in the center of the room as we waited on various friends we invited to come by. Most everyone I texted seemed surprised I was at Hanna’s, mostly because it’s a place for the younger crowd.
But because school wasn’t in session, it really wasn’t so bad. We jammed out to songs by bands like Warrant and Motley Crue (who were popular before today’s college crowd was even born, so I wonder if this specifically was a nod to the semi-older crowd present on the evening) and, as happens at Hanna’s, had to yell at each other just to have a conversation.
As the evening rolled on, more people stumbled in, but it never got very crowded. People loitered at the bar, ordering drinks and socializing. Tables started filling up, but the place wasn’t by any means standing-room-only. I could feel the rowdy pull of the crowd, but it wasn’t overwhelming.
Hanna’s is one of those places that, when it gets crowded, you’re not getting a drink anytime soon. People start ordering two at a time because they have to wade through a sea of sloppy college students unable to form a coherent line.
When it doesn’t get crowded, it’s not such a bad place.
It’s Old City counterpart, however, comes with a different vibe. It’s a slightly older crowd (but still around mid-20s), and dancing is a main focus. There’s usually a DJ who plays songs in their entirety and not mash-ups (I prefer the former), and the crowd lets loose.
I’m not entirely sure what approach the Hanna’s on the Strip is taking. Sure, there’s some dancing, but there are so many tables it feels like dancing in a diner, which is unnatural. There’s also some socializing, but the music’s usually so loud you have to shout.
Whatever it is, Hanna’s still provides atmosphere, cheap drinks, comfortable arrangements and (usually) a fun evening. Especially if it’s not crowded.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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