World's Fair Park is one of my favorite parks in Knoxville. Located directly downtown, as the named indicates, the park hosted the 1982 World's Fair. The architectural icon that resides directly in the middle of it is the Sunsphere.
The Sunsphere is probably most know for its portrayal as storage for unsold wigs on Episode 148 of "The Simpsons." Wait, did I just type that? OK, let me reword that: It is most famous to people around 30 years old as being storage for unsold wigs, in episode 148. ... You get it.
No one really recalls the World's Fair, unless they were around when it happened. A few years back a bar called Skybox existed on the fifth floor but closed in 2010 after three years in business. Now it is open again as a high-altitude spot for sipping quality cocktails while discussing your razor-sharp business acumen as you plot to take over Knoxville's "fill-in-the-blank" industry.
Or you can just go up there to watch the sunset and thank your lucky stars you don't live in Southern Ohio or somewhere equally awful. (Author's note: I am from Southern Ohio; 23 years there gives me the right to say this.)
I parked a meandering distance from the Sunsphere after thinking about snapping some shots from afar for possible use in this piece. As I walked past the closed lawn at World's Fair Park I saw a purple glow at the bottom section of the sphere that seemed to encircle it. As I got closer it had changed to blue and I felt I could see tiny little stick figure shadows in the windows. I made my way to the elevator where I was greeted by a simple sign that said "Icon Ultra Lounge." No guidance as to where it was, not "Floor 5 for Icon Ultra Lounge." Nothing.
However, thanks to the amount of info I had already heard about the place, I knew where I was going. So, up the elevator I crawled, achieving likely 5 or maybe 6 miles per hour at one point.
I arrived at the fifth floor and the doors opened to a room filled with the lights I had seen from the ground. The lights on the ceiling were strategically placed and expertly connected to a light board mounted behind the DJ to my immediate left. The reflection of the curved glass interior made the lights appear as bright rings that almost seemed like separate lights themselves on the outside of the glass. I immediately felt like I was aboard the Starship Enterprise. Picard era, not Kirk era. I was greeted by Caryn Geren, someone I had met in my comedy travels. She was the ambassador for the club on this evening. We talked briefly and she introduced me to the bar manager, Corey Elder.
I was kicking myself for not getting up to the bar earlier in the day. My original mission had been to arrive at the bar in time to watch the sunset. However, life makes plans for you sometimes, so I ended up there after dark. In the dark, however, it is no less surreal peering at the city lights glowing all around. I still get a little scared of heights on rare occasions and the dark made it a lot easier to deal with it, so maybe I did myself a favor.
I made my way to the right to the bar on the end (turns out there are two bars on either side of the elevator), and there awaited Melissa and Tripp, two lovely bartenders dressed as a German barkeep and a pirate, respectively. They engaged in some friendly conversation and eventually posed for a picture. Nearby was a gas fireplace. I found it interesting that you could put your hand almost directly into it, but that came in "handy" (get it?) because my fingers were not used to the sub 50-degree temperatures that we were suddenly experiencing.
I ventured past the life-size R2D2 and headed to the opposite side of the bar. Oh wait, I guess I forgot to mention that. When I first walked in, directly in front of the elevator doors was none other than R2D2 himself. As I walked by him this time, however, he whizzed, whirred and came to life. I jumped a little then smiled as his remote-control operator enjoyed a good chuckle. Turns out he was courtesy of Richard Rackley from Fountainhead College of Technology.
I have to say I was impressed by how much actual seating space exists in this bar. I made my way to the second bar and it had a bubbling water feature behind it that definitely upped the ante on the class of the establishment. There was another pirate behind the bar on this side as well. I suppose we had a theme or at least a like-minded group of service-industry workers, true pirates of the world's workforce I had a seat and casually listened to conversations.
The mix of clientele was pleasing and the lack of smoke in the air was as always quite refreshing. The DJ turned on some tunes and just as I hit the door to depart R2 busted into some intergalactic moves right at the chorus for "Gangnam Style." I laughed out loud and turned when I heard the ding from the elevator door.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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