The Bijou’s origins stretch back through American history, but it didn’t become a theater until relatively recently: 1908. For nearly a century prior to its dramaturgical reinvention, the building was a high-class hotel that housed high-ranking military commanders, influential civic leaders, and even President Andrew Jackson for a spell in 1819. When General Ambrose Burnside took the town of Knoxville during the Civil War, the hotel was converted into a hospital, makeshift war room, and oil-wrestling arena for Generals William Sherman and Phil Sheridan. The latter portion of the 19th century showed the building more favor, and during the lavish 1870s another president—Rutherford B. Hayes—paid call, and delivered a speech from the hotel’s balcony.
The early 1900s saw the hotel’s biggest renovation to date when it was purchased and upgraded by the Auditorium Company. The newly rechristened Bijou Theatre opened to a sellout crowd, and was a major outlet for vaudeville from 1913 to 1926. Hard times began to pile up soon afterward, and the lapsed theater would have been demolished in 1975 were it not for its eleventh-hour listing on the National Historic Record. Since its most recent renovation in 2006, the stage has hosted pop stars and musical blockbusters.
The Knoxville Opera sings most of its notes in a venue befitting the regality of its material: the Tennessee Theatre. The former movie-house and decades-old stage swathes performers in Spanish-Moorish design, a strikingly blue domed ceiling, burgundy velvet seats, and gold accents. But the opera singers don't keep their voices contained there. Education and outreach programs send them throughout the community, performing at schools, shaking the downtown streets during themed festivals, and aiding local construction companies by shattering old glass buildings.
Oskie's Sports Bar & Grill is known for its live music and cold drinks, but there's another compelling reason to visit: the spot also serves up high-quality nourishment ranging from fresh oysters to gourmet pizzas. Cuban sandwiches, lightly fried frog legs, and loaded burgers also show up on the menu. Smoking is permitted at the bar.
You can squeeze a lot of jokes into a decade—and even more into two. The masterminds behind Side Splitters use more than 20 years of experience in the comedy industry to create rich experiences for audiences and comics alike. A jam-packed roster of performers with credits as impressive as Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Comedy Central file onto the Knoxville club's stage to explain in great detail exactly how the audience's refrigerator is running and what they might wish to do in order to catch it. Regular open-mic nights let budding and established stand-ups hone their skills and sets, and a menu filled with drinks, sandwiches, and snacks provides visitors on both sides of the mic with sustenance.
Since opening its doors in 1985, the recently renovated Comedy Catch has induced giggle fits with performances helmed by famed jesters such as Bobcat Goldthwait and Jerry Seinfeld. The main showroom comfortably seats up to 250 guests, with a crystal-clear audio setup preventing punch lines from getting lost in the laughter. Downstairs, the Giggles Grill serves a savory menu of steak, fried shrimp, and tall drinks to replenish calories lost chuckling or trying to huff, puff, and blow the venue’s brick walls down.