With a name like The Tennessean, you’d expect a hotel to know a thing or two about Southern hospitality (and how to make a good drink). As I discovered, it embodies more than a stereotype. The new hotel, which opened in April, is luxurious, contemporary, and right where the action is.
After a rainy drive skirting the Smokies, I settled into my suite while noting the king-size bed with pillow-top mattress and Molton Brown bath products, and for a moment considered room service. Instead, I headed to The Drawing Room, the hotel’s refined craft cocktail bar and restaurant. Sinking into a sofa by a large panel window, I admired the pert décor—complete with two large-screen TVs for watching the Vols (and other less interesting sports teams)—and perused the small-plates menu, which changes with the seasons. The charred Brussels sprouts, flatbread pizza, and pimiento cheese hush puppies with citrus honey-mustard aioli were perfect partners to my wine. Instead of dessert, I ended the night with the bar’s signature Smoked Ol’ Fashioned, which tastes like the best of camping in a glass.
Smoke & Mirrors // The Tennessean Hotel’s modern elegance extends from its brand-new suites to The Drawing Room cocktail bar and restaurant (above). The Smoked Ol’ Fashioned (below) is its signature cocktail.
Before this trip, I’d dismissed Knoxville, unaware of its diversity, sublime food and art scenes, eclectic shops, and proximity to nature. (The Tennessean is only three miles from the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, 1,000 acres of rich trails along the Tennessee River.) The city was the state’s first capital, founded in 1786. During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies occupied it at different intervals. After a manufacturing boom, it fell into a relative slump until the 1982 World’s Fair, which brought renewed interest and an iconic stamp—the Sunsphere, a 266-foot steel tower with a golden orb on top that beckons like the celestial body it’s named for. The hotel is positioned practically beside it, across from the Knoxville Convention Center—smack in the middle of the Marble City’s renaissance and only a few blocks from its Market Square of shops, restaurants, bars, and the Saturday farmers’ market. In the nearby Old City neighborhood, culture beckons inside renovated nineteenth-century buildings.
INSIDER TIP // Go to WDVX’s Blue Plate Special, a live performance radio program of various musicians from 12–1 every day except Sunday. It is free, inside the Knoxville Visitors Center on Gay Street, just a few blocks from The Tennessean.
It took little time for me to realize that Knoxville isn’t just a sleepy college town, and The Tennessean isn’t another pretty hotel. It is polish and comfort, art and soul rolled into one. And, like the best of Southern hosts, it made me feel perfectly at home and also in the heart of it all.
The Tennessean Hotel, 531 Henley St, Knoxville, Tennessee. (865) 232-1800, thetennesseanhotel.com