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.
For more than 70 years, jewels used to fill the African mahogany cases lining Sapphire's walls. The dark wooden cabinets remain, although they now brim with more than 40 kinds of vodka, Tennessee and Kentucky whiskeys, and rums from Central and South America. Sapphire may no longer drape its customers in precious gemstones, but it does aim to preserve the sense of elegant refinement that characterized the historic building for decades.
This commitment is readily apparent in the menu of upscale southern cuisine, which includes Tennessee cheeses from Sweetwater Farms, bacon and ham from nearby Benton's, and seasonal produce from local farms. These ingredients appear throughout the selection of regionally inspired dishes. Some dishes, such as the Louisiana-crawfish-stuffed hushpuppies with cajun remoulade, assertively announce their southern roots, whereas others show a bit more restraint, such as beef-tenderloin medallions, which arrive with a simple southern succotash.
On Thursday through Saturday evenings, the elegant environment in the long, narrow room becomes livelier as the night progresses and DJs begin their sets. Upbeat rhythms echo off the high ceilings and the vintage mahogany woodwork while patrons enjoy one of the martinis that earned Sapphire a spot on Metro Pulse's Best of Knoxville 2012 list.
At Old City Entertainment Venue, revelers sip stylish libations, dine on gourmet snacks, and find time to dance amidst rustic brick walls and creative lighting. Patrons savor cocktails such as the Caribbean Bliss or 007 martini ($9) and absorb glasses of the signature sangria ($4). Bottles of wine ($16+), like lonely chefs, find their matches on a menu of sophisticated snacks such as the Four Cheese flat bread pizza with asiago, jack, feta, and mozzarella ($6.50). The roasted corn and feta salsa with blue corn tortilla chips or pita bread ($5) makes a colorful nosh, and the chocolate plate poses desserters with a threefold choice of blends, selected from dark, milk, strawberry-drenching, and sun-blotting chocolates ($14). Thursday through Saturday, the dance floor comes to life as kinetic lighting ricochets off brick archways and hanging curtains, sealing meals with bumping beats and good vibes.
After much experimentation, Fort Sanders Yacht Club stumbled upon the perfect formula for a good time: 17 arcade games to the power of 70 beers multiplied by free WiFi and a menu of bar eats. Behind the bar gather drafts, bottles, and cans, ranging from craft beers from Sierra Nevada and New Belgium to old favorites such as Yuengling and Pabst Blue Ribbon. While sipping on their beverages of choice, patrons can immerse themselves in old-school arcade games such as Space Invaders, Tetris, and Donkey Kong for 25 cents a pop, which is the minimum wage for a digital character. Late-night guests hungry after their electronic competitions can check the club's food menu for bar classics that include personal pizzas, egg rolls, and hot dogs.
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.
Not content to only screen their bone-chilling flicks on Halloween weekend, Knoxville Horror Film Fest rolls out a variety of horror features and shorts throughout September and October to ready moviegoers for the spooky holiday. The festival proudly celebrates the bad as well as the good. Besides doling out bloodcurdling awards such as Best Gore Effects and Best Curdled Blood, the judges name one lucky piece of celluloid Weirdest Film, a distinction won by the oddly titled Thank You Jesus! in 2011. Throughout the year, filmmakers can submit their work in hopes that it will be shown in the company of high-profile releases such as the plasma-splattered AnnaLynne McCord vehicle Excision and the long-awaited adaptation of David Wong’s John Dies at the End, both of which are being shown at the 2012 KHFF.