Toot's Little Honky Tonk
The autumn chill had set in and all about the streets in Happy Holler crisp leaves fell from the trees. The moon glared in the sky like a menace on this clear, cold October night. My mission was to sing some songs, hopefully old-time country songs, with a few friends at Toots Little Honky Tonk.
I had been nearby many a time at Relix and a few times at Central Flats and Taps, but had never stopped in to see what folks were talking about on karaoke night. Tonight was the night.
As we approached the door, my friends and I could hear the sounds of karaoke bliss coming from inside. One singer was nailing the June Carter-Cash vocal in the song "Jackson" while her male counterpart was barely coherently mumbling Johnny's part. Now, as my loyal readers know, I don't do karaoke bars often; I have generally opted for the establishments that had live entertainment. However, due to repeated suggestions from close friends, Toots was a place I just had to check out.
The Happy Holler neighborhood has been moving and shaking over the last few years, acquiring new businesses like Relix and Three Rivers Market in addition to Central Flats and Taps. Toots, I had been told, stuck to its beer and old-time country karaoke. So much so that I had been told Toot's was the place hipsters went to sing Hank Williams songs. Now, I am not talking about Hank Jr. or even Hank the III, I am talking Senior in all his dying-in-a-Knoxville hotel glory. Had I found a mecca of sorts? Was this place possibly haunted by the spirit of Hank? Or was this place just in close proximity to a neighborhood of vinyl-owning, PBR-drinking, dark-rim-glasses-wearing late twenty-somethings?
I started to walk in the bar and found directly behind the fellow that had been destroying a Johnny Cash classic. You see, they set up the karaoke singers right in the doorway, so as to create a grand entrance directly onto the 'stage' for any newcomer. I stepped back outside and politely waited for the song to end before re-entering.
The room is a box of sorts. You can see the back wall when you enter. The ceiling is dropped down slightly right by the front door, and to the left is the bar all along the wall until nearly the end of the room. In the very back is a single men's and women's restroom decorated in the spirit of the season by a witch and a mummy, respectively.
One of my friends approached the bar as we made our way to a table in the middle of the room not too far from the action. He returned with some beers and we returned to a random conversation we had been having on the way up to the bar.
"I feel instantly comfortable here," one friend said. The other began digging through a karaoke book attempting to find a specific Gun's 'N Roses tune to warm up his lungs with.
Just then a woman came directly up to me from behind and started talking to me "You like to dance?" she asked. "No." I replied without much thought. I do like to dance, just wasn't sure if she was asking me to dance, in which case the answer was actually indeed "No." No music was playing at the time so I figured this was just some awkward kind of icebreaker. "Well, I do like to dance, just not right now," I even more clumsily replied to her, correcting my previous statement.
She smiled and said her name was Jeanie. She quickly began talking to my cohorts, and then wandered off after another minute or so. For some reason the appearance of this being some type of pick-up quickly diminished when we began having similar conversations with just about every person around us at the bar. It seemed that this multi-generational crowd was quite truly interested in who we were, and was dead-set on making sure that we had a good time.
My friend took to the stage and performed a Hank Williams tune, midway through being ambushed by my other friend who by this point had intensely lowered inhibitions.
Enjoy their butchery of the tune, and make the smart move to stop in to Toots on a Friday night for good folks, good country and who knows, maybe a hipster or three.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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