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  The Year in Review


Old City Ups and Downs

Though many people have declared this quaint shopping district dead, a national chain moved into the old Hoo-Ray's building on Central and quickly showed what it takes to succeed—advertising. Armed with a stash of corporate advertising money, the tropical-dance club-sports bar Banana Joe's has brought more people to the Old City in the past month than it's seen in a long while. Let's hope smaller clubs and restaurants will benefit, too.

One club that won't, unfortunately, is Bird's Eye View. After about a year in business, the club is calling it quits. Bird's Eye provided Knoxville with a much needed small, acoustic venue, where every seat was fantastic and the sound great. Peruse the list of artists who performed there—Steve Earle, Freakwater, Leo Kotke, Iris Dement, Jodie Manross, The Blue Rags, Danielle Howle, Scott Miller, R.B. Morris, Blue Mother Tupelo, Sam Mustafa, and many, many more—to get a good idea of what Knoxville will be missing.

In other ways, the Old City was almost entirely in transition (much more transition than usual): Barley's undertook a major construction project to add a two-level outdoor deck and stage, and spearheaded turning an adjacent parking lot into a courtyard for concerts and festivals; BW-3 broke from its corporate sponsor and became the Old City Grill; Patrick Sullivan's closed, remodeled, and found a new manager; JFG Coffeehouse closed and was bought out by Cup-a-Joe on the Strip, who added beer, smoking, and live entertainment; Sullivan's Diner closed and was bought by the owners of the Rainbow Club, who made it much more like the diners we're accustomed to by serving up good, cheap food and staying open really late; the Rainbow Club expanded; 195 Degrees changed ownership; The Blue Moon Bakery closed and was reopened as Hogan's Bakery & Cafe (with an even better line of fresh-baked breads); The Big Dipper ice cream shop closed and became Michael's Old City Cafe; a small lesbian bar, Sisters Women's Bar and Cafe opened and closed; the Underground lost its beer license, closed temporarily, then lost its liquor license and closed again (the Boiler Room remains open); and Helmet Heads, a small biker bar opened. Please forgive us if we missed anyone. Next year, perhaps, the dust will clear and some of the business Banana Joe's is bringing in will siphon off to other establishments.

Last Show at the CyberFlix

CyberFlix closed. The writing was on the wall in late '98, but they nailed the coffin shut in '99. Founded in 1992, CyberFlix was the Boy Wonder of Knoxville business for most of the decade, a garage-band video-game company known for the immersive, interactive atmospheres it created, hit the national big time, celebrated in books like Joystick Nation and magazines like Newsweek, culminating with its 1996 million-seller, Titanic. After some misfires, CyberFlix was in sharp decline in late 1998, with founder Bill Appleton already planning to move to California. A year ago, CyberFlix was still officially only "restructuring," and several had hopes it would survive in some form. By mid-year, that hope had dimmed, and the last survivors had vacated their two-floor loft at 4 Market Square; by fall two of the company's founders were suing two other founders for damages in the eight figures.

Say It With Feeling: Yee-Haw!

While downtown mega-projects like the convention center and the Worsham-Watkins "masterplan" grabbed headlines this year, there was another spark of renewal on Gay Street that most movers and shakers ignored: the opening of Yee-Haw Industrial Letterpress. Why is this print shop important? Because there's nothing like it anywhere else. Owners Julie Belcher and Kevin Bradley didn't just truck down several tons of vintage printing equipment and stick it in a storefront—they've created a nationally-known institution. While serving both print clients (such as Lucinda Williams or Dave Brubeck) and the art market, Yee-Haw's mission is to keep the artform of letterpress alive—continuing that ancient technique of pressing reversed wood or metal type against paper to create a poster. Gathered in their renovated headquarters (a former shoe store) are millions of pieces of type, many from the 19th century—making Yee Haw not only a place of business, but a museum of printing history. Call it a crazy theory, but it's unique ventures such as these that make people visit cities and come downtown—genuine local color as opposed to monolithic makeovers. Just imagine if there were other Yee-Haws filling those shuttered storefronts downtown...

Swing Your Partner

Once again, Knox diners prove that they will flock to anything with the word "casual" either spelled-out or implied. Several new eateries with such a theme sprung up out west, like Carrabba's Italian Grill and Tony Roma's. But 1999 saw the return of some new eateries in old locations, like Banana Joe's recent renovation of the Old City Hoo-ray's space, Mike and Willy's Sports Café busting a move on the Strip where Rudy's used to be, Memories Diner sock-hopping where Sullivan's Diner was, and C.C.'s Café slipping into C.C. Coffee's Western Plaza locale. In one of the odder moves of the year, Blackhorse Pub and Grill's west location transformed into Jack's Westside Pub, only to revert back into a Blackhorse location after two weeks. And in even odder moves, Tuscany, known for its great Italian fare, moved around the corner in Homberg Place, only to close a couple of months later, while By The Tracks Bistro (and, yes, they are still by the tracks) took over the old Tuscany space and still thrives. Also new to Homberg Place is DiJons, a pizzeria/sandwich shop that serves a mean slice. Of course, there are some newbies on the dining scene—like Sutherland Avenue's The Deli and Café Mocha, Bearden's Marble Slab and Panera Bread, Western Plaza's China Noodle, Fountain City's Brother's Coffee, Farragut's Kalamata Kitchen, the L&N Station's Jockey Club, and, of course, the new Regas venture, Riverside Tavern—that will be the topic of great debate in the next millennium.

All She Wrote

The West Knoxville bookstore wars produced their first major casualty with the announcement that longtime Knoxville retailer Davis-Kidd is closing up shop. Although the store had a relaxed ambiance and a loyal customer base, the recent arrival just a few miles down Kingston Pike of both Borders and Barnes & Noble was clearly more than D-K could withstand. It's not exactly like that Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie—Davis-Kidd was part of a chain itself, just a smaller chain—but it does mean the death of Knoxville's most loyal supporter of local and regional writers and the end of a fine series of talks and booksignings by major national authors. Some observers saw irony in the situation; Davis-Kidd moved out of downtown Knoxville years ago chasing the suburban market, only to find itself surrounded by competitors doing the exact same thing. Meanwhile, with the downtown residential base growing, some people are again talking about the viability of an urban bookstore.