Union Place steps up to fill Old City void

matt ward/special to knoxville.com
A newly renovated bar is one of the updates at Union Place in the Old City.

matt ward/special to knoxville.com A newly renovated bar is one of the updates at Union Place in the Old City.

Union Place

Downtown - Knoxville


Dance Club

118 South Central Street

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Let's be honest with ourselves, nightlife really means bars. On several occasions I have pursued leads on entertainment happening outside of the bar scene for this article and come up with nothing. The frustrating thing is seeing the come and go of what seemed to be promising venues. Old City Entertainment Venue was a subject of an article I did just over a year ago. The venue was new and it showed promise and had very enthusiastic owners. They had a wonderful sign erected in front of their establishment and marketed their shows with top-notch graphics. Alas, less than a year in business and they closed down. The fickle Old City had claimed another entrepreneurial victim.

I had been in the Old City Entertainment Venue several times throughout its short existence and, toward the end, began to see little warning signs they were having trouble. They would run out of beers or have only three beers to choose from; parts of the venue in need of a good mop or scrubbing would go untouched for days at a time; the bar's hours began to fluctuate wildly. The staff worked with what they could and the owners did what they could to keep things afloat. The bar closed with about a week's notice and that was that.

With little fanfare or hesitation, a new tenant signed a lease on the spot and within two months of Old City Entertainment Venue closing, they were replaced by a new bar called Union Place. I made a trip out to Union Place the weekend before Christmas to check out the venue and to see what improvements and new ideas the Union Place team had in its game plan.

I got my ID checked at the door and stepped inside to hear dance music coming from the main room not far in front of me. One thing about the space I love is that it has a substantial upstairs bar area. On this specific evening it was not open as they were still working on getting it where they wanted to be. However, having an upstairs to your bar creates the opportunity to have separate types of folks and multiple individually themed bars throughout the venue.

I ran into Rusty Penland, a friend of mine who had become the bar's general manager. Listening to him talk about the direction of the bar made me feel pretty confident things would be just fine for this new venture.

They had DJ Slink, one of the DJs from the now-defunct Valarium, spinning on an upcoming Saturday night. It didn't occur to me what a big deal was until I saw that nearly 15,000 people had liked DJ Slink's Facebook page. For those of you reading this in the print edition, that is huge! I know you many not understand the ins and outs of social media, however, allow me to put it into perspective. More folks had liked DJ Slink's page then the fan page for new UT Football coach Butch Jones.. Dude has some fans!

The downstairs bar had been completely redesigned and featured shelves stretching almost to the ceiling. The overall layout was void of clutter and very aesthetically pleasing. To the left was the main dance floor where they had built a stage complete with an actual 20-foot velvet curtain and rainbow colored lights projecting up onto it. Before, this space had just been some general seating. To enter the room you have to go through these brick archways that are what separates the two downstairs rooms. It allows it to be possible to hold a conversation when in the bar area even when the music is pumping.

I am excited for the new Union Place. My excitement is met with the healthy reality that it is not easy to make it as a venue owner in Knoxville. I recommend you stop by to check it out the next chance you get. If you like it, tell your friends, and let's keep it classy Old City.

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