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It just so happens that I'll be in Knoxville teaching a class on four different weekends this spring. On those weekends, I've got my Saturday nights free, and was hoping for a recommendation or two. I know there are one or two in that area that frequent the board, and maybe others familiar with the town. I was thinking of taking in the UT campus, but I'd love to find a unique place to eat, a park for a stroll, etc. Any thoughts?

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Send me an email, John. I'd love to show you around. longpauses@gmail.com

For the sake of the thread, though, and as an opportunity to sing the praises of this "scruffy little city"* that I love so much . . .

The center of Knoxville is more or less divided in half, with downtown proper on the east side and the UT campus on the west. Downtown is fairly small -- maybe ten blocks by ten blocks square -- but it's undergone a radical transformation over the last decade. When we moved here in '98 there were about a dozen restaurants, and the place was more or less deserted after 6pm. Now there are probably 50 places to eat, including most of my favorite restaurants in the area, our two old live music theaters have been restored (more on them later), we have a state-of-the-art cineplex on Gay street, and more and more retailers are opening up.

Favorite downtown restaurants and bars

Tomato Head -- on Market Square -- a local fixture. Great pizzas, sandwiches, and vegetarian fare served by a team of hipsters.

The Bistro -- on the south end of Gay Street next door to The Bijou -- My favorite restaurant in Knoxville. They have a seasonal menu of great Southern food. Also a fantastic bar. And if you're a Cormac McCarthy fan, The Bistro sits under the hotel where Sut and the whore shack up at the end of Suttree.

The Preservation Pub -- on Market Square -- My favorite bar in Knoxville.

NAMA -- on Gay street near Regal Cinemas -- The best sushi in Knoxville.

Coffee & Chocolate -- on Union, between Market Square and Gay Street -- if you like coffee and/or chocolate, go there.

Downtown Grill & Brewery -- on Gay Street -- For beer and pub food.

The Crown and Goose -- a few blocks east of Gay in "The Old City" -- a slightly overpriced but tasty English-style pub.

Downtown Entertainment

The Bijou -- www.knoxbijou.com -- if anyone of interest is playing at The Bijou while you're in town, GO! The Bijou is my favorite music venue on the planet. I've probably seen 30 shows there, and at about half of them the act has stopped at some point and commented on how wonderful the place sounds.

The Tennessee Theatre -- www.tennesseetheatre.com/ -- bigger and more beautiful than The Bijou. It's hard to believe that a hundred years ago most cities in America had a theater this opulent.

I've got to get to work, but I'll add more comments throughout the day.

- - -

* Nearly 30 years after The New York Times called Knoxville a "scruffy little city" in its feature on The Worlds Fair, we still wear the label with pride.

Edited by Darren H

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I no longer live in Knoxville but did for most of my life, and I will say that Darren's restaurant picks are absolutely spot-on.

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