Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria
In 1910, much of the Old City neighborhood of downtown Knoxville was under construction. A large warehouse building was built at 200 Jackson Ave., convenient to the major intersection of railways just across the street. It served its purpose as a facility for multiple companies throughout the years before remaining vacant for decades. In October 2002, the old warehouse was renovated and Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria Knoxville was born. Today there are five total locations that uphold the same premise but are not owned by the same folks. The original Barley’s opened in Asheville, N.C. (where it remains to this day) in 1994. In 1996 a second location opened in Greenville, S.C., but was sold to its general manager a few years later, losing the “Taproom and Pizzeria” part of the name in the process. The Asheville location and the Spindale, N.C., location are owned by the same folks. The Knoxville location was purchased by Randy Burleson. Randy is known locally for founding the Aubrey’s chain of restaurants. Confused? Yeah, so was I during the research.
Fast forward a decade later and Barley’s has become an anchor in the Old City. At one time it shared this title with a few other venues nearby, but today it is the only one remaining. New ownerships and names have changed Old City restaurants and bars like the ebb and flow of an entrepreneurial tide. Barley’s is busy, always. Well, at least for as long as I have been here and going out and about in the Old City. The parking lot always seems to be full just about any night I pass by. The times I have gone inside were weekdays and still found it challenging to make my way around the bar.
It was a recent Saturday night and I had just stepped off stage at The Pilot Light where I had performed a stand-up comedy set. I tugged my hat down over my ears and zipped my coat as I proceeded the few short blocks down the street on foot to check out the Hackensaw Boys, who were playing that night. As is typical I passed a few young ladies with super-short skirts who were doing their mandatory shiver-march down the sidewalk to one of the Carleo’s venues, no doubt. As I got to Barley’s front door I reach into my pocket, grabbed some cash and the metal business card holder that contains my driver’s license. Because, after all, I want to believe they will need to see it at 38 years old.
Two fellows were poised near the entrance ready to collect the $5 cover and confirm I was old enough to be there. I paid, thanked them and proceeded to the stage area. To my left was a large staircase as I started toward the middle of the room. To my right was seating for about 80 people in the form of rectangular and ovular booths and more traditional tables and chairs. The stage was located oddly to the left so it almost played directly into the side of the bar that stretched the length of the wall to the left. It was not ideal stage placement. I mean, ultimately you want the bar to be far enough from the stage to be able to hear drink orders, don’t you?
Around the room were 12-by-8-foot pillars with jacket hooks all adorned with the various winterwear patrons had chosen for the evening. The Hackensaw Boys were well into a set of music. Their strings bouncing off the flat walls of the room with a pleasing resonation. The middle of the room was filled with tables. To the right, an exit to the downstairs patio for the smokers and folks looking for some fresh air.
I wandered to the back of the bar, peeking around in ignorance for a way to get upstairs. It was then I remembered the large staircase I had encountered at the front of the room. I headed up the stairs, skipping every other step like a elementary school student in a sluggish jog. The stairs came to a dead end directly in front of some tables, a lone table-top Ms. Pacman and hallway to the right, and another section of tables leading to the main game room to the left. I took a left and passed four pool tables before getting to the bar. This bar had 48 beer taps. The bartender informed me that they had a different beer menu in the downstairs as their were only 40 taps. I made my way past the bar and found myself face to face with all of the staples of a Tennessee bar: Big Buck Hunter, Golden Tee, you know the rest. Beyond that was a gigantic empty hallway leading to one of the largest outdoor patios I have seen in Knoxville.
Overall, the place was endlessly impressive. The band was good and the people were friendly, AND I found out a new favorite band of mine named MAN MAN would be playing there in January. If you can handle busy bars, Barley’s must be a stop for getting the real Knoxville nightlife experience.
Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria
200 E Jackson Ave,
Knoxville, TN 37915
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-11pm Fri-Sat 11am-3am Sun 12pm-12am
Smoking Indoors: No
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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