Have you seen Happy Holler lately? How it's rivaling parts of downtown Knoxville

Happy Holler: You've probably heard the name. But like many Knoxville neighborhoods, it's not always clear where the lines are drawn.

Perhaps, its ambiguity has to do with its size − just a few short blocks easily missed by a blink or a sneeze. It could also have to do with the nearby Old North Knoxville and Oakwood neighborhoods, which all seem to blend together.

Then again, it could just be that − for a long time − the neighborhood hasn't had much to offer Knoxville residents that needed a car or a bus to get there.

But some exciting new businesses have opened alongside longtime fixtures in recent months, and the blend of old and new has quickly made Happy Holler one of the Scruffy City's most intriguing destinations.

Knox News journalists Brenna McDermott, Keenan Thomas and Ryan Wilusz reflected on how the neighborhood has changed over the years and where it's going next.

Below, you'll find an edited transcript of their discussion on "The Scruffy Stuff" podcast about what makes Happy Holler so special, from the variety of nightlife options to affordability for small businesses.

You can listen to the award-winning podcast every time a new episode drops on Tuesdays, including in the podcast player below. Want to keep up with "The Scruffy Stuff"? Episodes are available for free on Apple, Spotify and other streaming platforms.

Share your thoughts about the episode: Email ryan.wilusz@knoxnews.com, and we just might share your perspective on a future episode!

Happy Holler a great neighborhood for locals in Knoxville

Brenna: Well, I think more than ever, Happy Holler is feeling like the local hangout in the downtown Knoxville area. We were talking recently that Central Flats & Taps is one of the few places you can walk into without a reservation on a Friday night and feel like you can get a table right away, if not in a reasonable amount of time. Downtown Knoxville, there are things I love about it − always will. But I think some of those smaller pocket neighborhoods around downtown proper are feeling more like they're for us now.

Ryan: The drink specials, especially when you think about the prices in an urban area so close to downtown, they really can't be beat. But now we're seeing Central Flats & Taps doesn't have the monopoly down there because, for a long time, it did for a place to sit down, grab a bite to eat and grab a drink. There's some new businesses that have moved into the neighborhood, including Zero/Zero wine bar which, Keenan, I know you wrote about.

Keenan: I covered them as they were first announced, and then when they opened. And then I have actually popped in a couple times since then. It's got just a really nice vibe. I walked in right after a movie, sat at the bar. I already was able to like be friendly with the bartenders and the people around me − had a really great glass of wine that I have no idea what it was. I couldn't tell you.

Ryan: But do they tell you though?

Keenan: Yeah, it's written out on the board. They tell you, "Here's the notes, here's how much it is." And I was able to be like: "Oh, that sounds good. Let me try that." ... And it was a lovely time. I spent way too long there that night.

Ryan: Last week, we talked about movie theaters, and Central Cinema is one of the ones that we highlighted. And I think that's what's making Happy Holler such a unique place is how much you can get done in one night there. You can go see a movie, you can go have a glass of wine, you can go have dinner over at Central Flats & Taps. ... There's eVape Tavern that has opened up pretty much right next to Zero/Zero wine bar that's a cool spot if you know to go inside there. ... It's a pirate-themed bar. And so you can go have wine, you can go get a themed experience. ... It's interesting to see the blend of people that are in that neighborhood too, which is something else I think makes it cool. ... And like you said, Brenna, it seems like a lot of them are local.

Happy Holler real estate could encourage small business

Brenna: The cost of buying a building in downtown Knoxville − or even an empty lot as we've seen − is $4 million, $5 million, a crazy amount of money that only really established developers are going to be able to invest in. But I think you're going to see a lot of redevelopment in Happy Holler, and you're going to see a lot of truly small local businesses continue to open up in that area because it's cheaper. The rents are cheaper, the cost of real estate is cheaper. So, I'm excited to see what kind of innovation comes in terms of new businesses and new entrepreneurs bringing new energy to what downtown Knoxville has to offer.

Ryan: The increase in the number of residents over (near the intersection of Broadway and Central Street) is going to increase the need for services, and I'm sure some of that's going to spill over into Happy Holler. You talked about the price of real estate. There's a building at 1201 North Central St. that used to be an antique furniture shop that is on its way to becoming some apartments on the upper level. So there are going to be residents in Happy Holler − not that there aren't already, but there's some new spaces coming. And on the ground level, the plan is calling for pretty much a second version of Downtown Wine + Spirits on Gay Street. ... That seems like a thing that's to accommodate residents, right? I mean, your your local neighborhood liquor store. And I was looking up the price of that building; $400,000 is what the current owner paid for it and is planning to invest, including that price, $1.7 million into renovating this. You cannot find a $400,000 parking space downtown. People are going to develop where there are less barriers, and there are certainly less barriers in Happy Holler as the neighborhood is starting to enter a new era.

Happy Holler: Where new Knoxville and old Knoxville intersect

Brenna: I was trying to come up with the theme of Happy Holler in my mind. Each neighborhood has its own personality. I think Happy Holler is this really cool intersection of what's new and what's vintage − literally, in many cases, because we have so many great vintage and thrift stores in that area. But also these new amenities like Zero/Zero, which a natural wine bar − that's a completely new idea here in Knoxville. And this little wine hub is establishing in Happy Holler, which is great too. Obviously, there's a lot of beer around Happy Holler and always will be. But I love the idea of it being an intersection of what's old and new.

Ryan: And then there's The Oak Room by Abridged, which ... is beer, right? But it's a little bit more elevated take on beer. It's a little bit of a fancier environment. You're paying for those expensive barrel-aged drinks. And so, it's becoming a place for fancy drinks and culture, too. In addition to wine, you have a fancy place to sit down and have a beer as opposed to Y-Not across the street, which I'll talk about here in a minute.

An alternative Knoxville neighborhood for LGBTQ community

Keenan: In my mind, I see Happy Holler as this very alternative space in Knoxville. Because you have natural wine there ... but then you also have Three Rivers Market, where it's this locally sourced, more organic grocery store mixed with Central Cinema being this little indie theater that plays off-the-wall movies along with new releases. And then, one of the only queer spaces for late night in Knoxville with Club XYZ. So it's a very alternative space where people can go and get secondhand clothing at a vintage store, go get locally sourced food and then have a night out that you can't really have anywhere else in Knoxville.

Club XYZ in the Happy Holler neighborhood north of downtown is just one of two LGBTQ bars left in Knoxville. The club, which hosts game nights and drag shows throughout the year, has remained a constant as the neighborhood continues to change around it.
Club XYZ in the Happy Holler neighborhood north of downtown is just one of two LGBTQ bars left in Knoxville. The club, which hosts game nights and drag shows throughout the year, has remained a constant as the neighborhood continues to change around it.

Ryan: The queer spaces point that you mentioned is so important because if you think about what other spaces there are in the city, there's not many left. And one of them is CORE on Kingston Pike. You go there to visit, and then what do you do? It's really cool to see people that are going to XYZ maybe later in the night going to grab dinner somewhere, going to grab drinks. ... It is nice to have not just a space, but an entire neighborhood where people can feel comfortable.

Keenan: Plus, pretty much everything there is affirming, I believe. I talked to Zero/Zero about that when they were opening up, and they were like, "Oh yeah, we want to be their neighbors." Central Cinema does a lot with them. I want to say some of the other businesses, too.

Knoxville nightlife thriving in Happy Holler

Ryan: I would never ever wish a business to close, and I had the opportunity to be able to tell the story of Time Warp Tea Room leaving Happy Holler. It had been there for a long time. ... It was beloved by the community, but it did shut down early. And it didn't bring much life to Happy Holler. And I know a lot of people miss it. And I think a lot of people were skeptical to hear that there was an eVape lounge going in. Now, it turned out that it was a pirate bar − it's more than just a lounge − and that there was a wine bar coming in. But those business replacing Time Warp − that's just the evolution of a neighborhood like this − have added new energy to the neighborhood. Even though a classic went away, now you have places that are staying open a lot later that all people feel comfortable visiting, as opposed to just a select group of people who are bikers or in this Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club.

Brenna: I think if you ask Knoxville folks, "What's your favorite coffee shop in Knoxville?," a lot of people are going to say Wild Love. I feel like I kind of sleep on Wild Love sometimes because ... I just don't pass it very often. But you've got one of the best coffee shops in Knoxville in the area, too.

Keenan: And one of the best bakeries.

Ryan: And one of the best record stores. I could go digging through crates at Raven Records for hours and not get bored and find a lot of cool things. I did want to talk about Y-Not because I've been recently spending a lot of time there because why not? ... But Y-Not is your local dive bar. I mean, dictionary definition. ... It's $10 minimum. You walk in − smoke inside, karaoke every Friday and Saturday. Age is relative, right? But a lot of people who are a good-deal older than me. But then you have me walking in with my groups of friends and other young professional groups of friends that you can tell maybe work nearby or live nearby coming in. And it's this interesting blend of people.

Keenan: You're going to have to let me know next time you go because I still haven't gone yet. I need to.

Ryan: Just like the people blend at Y-Not, I think that's kind of the theme of Happy Holler. It's a lot of different types of things blending together. And that's what has made the neighborhood so cool.

Brenna: I think Bistro by the Tracks going in in Happy Holler has added another dimension of fine dining if you want it. It seems like the Bistro by the Tracks concept is not staying in Happy Holler, but perhaps we'll see something else take its place. And I think you both have reported on that at various times. So what's the latest there?

Keenan: When I when I talked to (Randy Burleson) in April, he said that he plans to keep a restaurant in Central, just not under the Bistro name. He mentioned some possibilities of leaning in towards seafood, which I think could be really interesting because I don't think there's a seafood option over there outside of Three Rivers Market.

How Happy Holler is changing north of downtown Knoxville

Ryan: I just remembered there's an events center right next to Central Flats & Taps too. It's crazy to me that there's so much in a neighborhood like this. It's essentially just a couple blocks. That's one of the most unique things about it. Per capita, the number of businesses that are right there compared to other similar neighborhoods is crazy to me. And it's really cool to see. Before we wrap up, I did want to talk about what we all see as the next evolution of Happy Holler. Maybe, where we see Happy Holler in the next two to five years.

Happy Holler is at the intersection of what's new and what's vintage in Knoxville. The neighborhood, mostly located along a few blocks of North Central Street, is bordered by West Scott Avenue to the north and Pearl Place to the south.
Happy Holler is at the intersection of what's new and what's vintage in Knoxville. The neighborhood, mostly located along a few blocks of North Central Street, is bordered by West Scott Avenue to the north and Pearl Place to the south.

Brenna: I think you'll start to see the street fill in with new businesses a bit more, say between Three Rivers Market and Wild Love Bakehouse. There are some dead spots in there where it's buildings that need to be renovated or older businesses that you might see change over. So, just filling in to make it more of a cohesive street. And then I think you'll see a lot more redevelopment turning, perhaps, homes into multifamily units and some of that quirkier residential multifamily come in.

Ryan: I think I think one of the good things that Happy Holler − and really all of Central coming from downtown − has in its favor is that there are lots of buildings there that are cool buildings. A lot of them are just waiting to be renovated. There's not going to be a lot of new builds. Happy Holler is going to, in some ways, look the same. I feel like the buildings are just going to find new uses and be updated in new ways. And I'll be interested to see if Happy Holler stays its own thing or, as Central and Broadway continues to grow, if it just becomes one giant neighborhood of North Knoxville.

Keenan: I can imagine more retail opportunities opening up, specifically local retail stores. If anyone's got an idea, I can easily see it fitting right there. I'm kind of imagining like Old City − having various little stores that are all throughout there.

Ryan: I could see that for two reasons. One, it'd be cheaper than doing it downtown. And two, it's kind of already proven that you can have retail in that area, but it's all been antique shops to this point. ... If you go down there on a Saturday or Sunday, people are bouncing around from antique shop to antique shop. If it gets updated with new businesses, perhaps, people would do the same.

Ryan Wilusz is a downtown growth and development reporter. Phone 865-317-5138. Email ryan.wilusz@knoxnews.com. Instagram @knoxscruff. 

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Knoxville nightlife grows beyond downtown in Happy Holler neighborhood