Ray's ESG has winning formula for sports fans

matt ward/special to knoxville.com
Michelle Leak, left, and Meredith Tarplee enjoy a night out at Ray's ESG.

matt ward/special to knoxville.com Michelle Leak, left, and Meredith Tarplee enjoy a night out at Ray's ESG.

Located in the West Hills Crossing shopping center is Ray's ESG. The ESG stands for Entertainment Sports Grill. Ray's ESG has been a staple in the West Knoxville sports bar scene for more than a decade. I heard about this place from folks the moment I moved to Knoxville. Ray's is located on a stretch of Kingston Pike that includes a cornucopia of various types of shops and restaurants. The large sign is easily visible as you drive down the street from either direction. Many a time I had passed Ray's ESG, but this time I was making it a point to drop in and see what all the buzz was about.

When I arrived, I parked in the narrow parking lot but could see a large lot across the street that likely made the perfect overflow parking on Friday and Saturday nights. On this occasion, I was OK squeezing into a closer spot up near the entrance. I did notice they had valet parking signs out front, which I hadn't seen since Tin Roof in Rocky Hill. Although I didn't fit the target of someone who desired valet parking, it did seem to immediately add a touch of class to what otherwise appeared to be from the outside, a sports bar.

Before I had even pulled in the parking lot I could hear the harmonic sounds of live music being played streaming from the patio. I made my way to the entrance listening passively to both the table conversations and acoustic performer strumming away. Inside I was rather surprised at the layout. The bar had multiple levels, which made it seem more like a family restaurant and there were these almost-private booths recessed into the wall on the far right side of the bar, which would be great for larger groups or families. It sorta seemed laid out like the fictitious restaurant Shenaniganz from the movie "Waiting."

The main bar was positioned directly in front of the entrance with a bit of distance between the two. A few gentlemen were stationed at the front door keeping an eye on folks coming and going as well. On the opposite side of the room from the recessed booths were some video games and a few pool tables. This is also where the door to the patio was. I headed that way to check out more of the music that had caught my attention from outside. To the right just as I entered the patio area was the section where a solo acoustic act was set up. His name J. Luke, and in the time I was there he covered about four different genres of music stretching as far as country to old-school rap. All on an acoustic guitar with a drum machine and a harmonizing effects peddle on his voice.

I had chatted back and forth online with Natalie Michele, Ray's new entertainment booker. I asked the bartender where I might find her and they pointed me up to the DJ booth near the side of the bar with the booths. I introduced myself and we chatted a bit. She told me that Ray's started around 2001 and before that was called Kingston Alley. She also told me about the weekly schedule including Nashville Mike from the band Southern Drawl Band every Wednesday for Songwriter's Night, and Service Industry Night every Tuesday.

I looked around the room and was happy not to be completely overwhelmed by multiple TVs turned to full volume playing 14 different games. While the place had no shortage of TVs, they did not have them cranked overly loudly and they seemed to have the events divided up to certain parts of the bar. One of my favorite parts of the bar was a small secondary bar back toward the restrooms on the right side. It only had room for a handful of patrons, but seemed to me where I would find myself if I were there just trying to have a drink and watch the game.

Perhaps one day the inner-sports fan in me will escape and I will more enjoy watching the events on TV in a public place while having a drink and something to eat. In the meantime, if I do find myself at such a venue, it likely will be the result of some form of live entertainment such as the acoustic juke box J. Luke. Kudos for booking him, Natalie.

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Ray's ESG

Address: 7355 Kingston Pike Phone: 865-330-0159 On the web: www.raysesg.com

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