It had been three months since I initially saw Buckethead Tavern come up on my radar whilst searching newly issued beer and liquor permits in Knox County. I had kept up my checks online via Facebook to see what the status of the opening was. Finally, I got a text from one of my friends who is privy to my column and they let me know this new nightspot was finally open for business.
I got myself together and hurried out to see the place before attending one of my comedy events. In tow were two of my comedian friends from Pensacola, Fla., Bubbs Harris and Anthony Taylor. They were eager to get some grub after a long trip to Knoxville that took the better part of the day. We arrived just after 8 p.m. and the parking lot was completely full. I made up my own parking spot similar to the way a few others had and got my camera and stuff together to head inside.
Buckethead Tavern is near the Hooters and Red Lobster on Ray Mears Boulevard in West Knoxville, in the same space formerly occupied by Rolf Lans Ski & Outdoors. As a result, the ceilings are high and the space itself quite large. On one wall is a mounted wild boar's head. The theme is a Colorado Mountain-style sports tavern. The staff is made up mostly of attractive younger female servers, as typically is the case in sports bars just about anywhere.
We took our seats and we ordered our drinks and entrees. Well, Bubbs ordered his entree and we awkwardly stared at him while he ate it, like broke comedians tend to do. He reported at the conclusion of his chicken sandwich that it was one of the best he had ever had. A tall guy buzzed by our table and checked in with us. I stopped him to chat for a second because he seemed to be the one in charge.
This was Buckethead owner Troy Hale, who just so happens to be a former receiver for the Tennessee Vols. He told me about his vision for his establishment, and from the energy with which he spoke and gestured, I could see he was very passionate about his venture. He told me how he wanted the place to be the premier location for people to come have dinner and watch any major sporting event happening all year round. He also told me the origin of the name Buckethead. Seems Troy's brother, Jeff, told his kids that Troy's name was Buckethead. Whenever the kids would come around he would try to tell him his name was really Uncle Troy, but his brother would diligently correct him whenever he wasn't around, once again reinforcing to his kids that he was Uncle Buckethead.
Linda Hale, Troy's wife, also stopped by my table and gave me some insight into the reason behind opening the bar. "Troy and I were often at odds when it came to where to go watch the game," she said. "He liked the big-screen TVs at some of the sports bars in town, but I didn't like to deal with all the smoke. I liked going to watch the game on the smaller TVs at the Bistro (by the Tracks) because there was no smoking. That's what gave us the idea to open Buckethead Tavern."
While smoking may have been a major factor in their split on the ultimate venue to watch a sporting event, the new establishment allows smoking as well. The main difference is the split from one side of the bar to the other between smokers and nonsmokers. Purifan smoke-eating ceiling fans cover the entire room. It was a compromise the couple came to that seemed to be properly doing the job of removing any type of residual wafting smoke from the other smoking side of the bar.
Two dart boards were positioned in the far corner of the bar in the smoking area. All around the tavern the energy was high and conversation was overflowing from all ends of the bar on their first Saturday night in business. Obviously the buzz amongst those close to the Hale's and those that lived in the area of the bar was great. I asked Linda what promotions had been done to pack that place and she looked at me, smiled and said "None, really."
With this kind of a crowd right off the bat with no promotions, The Buckethead Tavern may have just put themselves in the right place at the right time in West Knoxville nightlife. Go out and have a drink, grab some grub and watch a Vols game. Get the chicken sandwich because Bubbs said it was awesome.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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