This nightlife column has spent a lot of time in the Bearden area. Between myself and former writers, Bearden venues have been covered more than a dozen times. Aside from UT campus and the Old City, there are few other places in Knoxville where there is such a diverse collection of restaurants, bars, stores and people.
This week we take a trip to a bar under new management. EXile, opened in January, is in the space formerly occupied by Kurt's. Now, we are not going to pull any punches here, Kurt's was a gay bar, and EXile is also a gay bar.
If you have never been to a gay bar, let me introduce some new stereotypes for you. Gay bars typically have cleaner bathrooms than straight bars, better use of space, more practical yet stylish furniture, better sound systems, more polite bartenders and a better selection of liquor then most non-gay bars. I am not saying all gay bars are better then straight bars, I am simply saying they feel the need to turn up the aesthetic elements of their establishments often overlooked in other nightlife venues.
I snapped a couple shots from outside the bar after parking my car in the strip-mall parking lot where EXile is located. It's not really even a strip mall, more like a random collection of businesses including a hair salon snugly hidden near the railroad tracks behind the Kroger on Kingston Pike in Bearden. It definitely is the closest I have seen a gay bar to a Chick-fil-A. Leading into the bar is a stone walkway where a normal sidewalk would be in most bar-fronts.
When I entered the bar, a slightly elevated stage with railing surrounding it sat to my left, then the restrooms, then the long bar, which stretched in front of me then off to my right. Also to the right were a series of high tables and a doorway to the courtyard. I walked out into the courtyard just as a train passed and the sound made me quickly aware how close the venue was to the tracks. I noticed cameras in the patio/courtyard area, which made me curious to see how many more there were, mainly because of how conspicuous these two were. After a stroll around the bar I noticed 22 cameras. "Hmm," I thought, "Must be going to film a reality show here."
I stepped up to the bar and saw a neon sign that had the drink specials and the name of my bartender, Jaclyn Burdette. I introduced myself to Jaclyn and she warmly filled me in on the history of the venue and its changes as she made me one of her specialty drinks, Strawberry Lemonade. She told me the main change between the current EXile format and Kurt's was that the place is now 18 and up and non-smoking.
Jaclyn and I hit if off as if we had known each other for years. However, I felt like that was just who she was, someone you instantly knew. A true sign of an awesome bartender (who I later learned held a two-year title of Best Bartender in Knoxville).
To my right was a bundle of energy who tossed out one-liners with each comment like he was a comic himself. His name was Britt and when he introduced himself he informed me he wasn't gay, "just very accommodating." As I met some more of the staff, Britt continued to riff and say stuff that made Jaclyn look at him and say "Britt!" like she was scolding an ornery child. I think that might describe Britt better, a cocktail wielding grown-up unwilling to suppress his inner-ornery child.
I stayed for a few more drinks and met the owner. I enjoyed my time at EXile. If there is one thing you can say about this establishment, it was that it is full of personality. People you will remember and a spot where you might be able to have conversations you won't forget.
My suggestion: Stop in to EXile for three cocktails at 5 p.m. right when the bar opens, then go grocery shopping at the Kroger. Please email me the random stuff you bought. Oh, and request a Strawberry Lemonade; it's not like the one you get at Sonic.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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