Take a brief 2 hour flight from New York and you’ll find yourself in Tennessee’s third largest city, Knoxville. At the entrance to the city, the iconic Sunsphere greets you. Constructed for the 1982 World’s Fair, the 266-foot structure features an observation deck on the fourth floor giving visitors’ unobstructed 360-degree views of the city.
Just a short drive from downtown, the Knoxville Zoo is one of the most visited attractions in the state. One of the favorite exhibits on the property is the Red Panda Village. Ninety-three cubs have been born there since 1979, more than any other zoo in the Western Hemisphere. Visitors can view the beautiful red panda lounging in the trees up above from any one of three viewing areas.
After an eventful afternoon at the zoo, head to Cocoa Moon, a chic restaurant located on Market Square that feels like a trendy gay bar with great food. Cocoa Moon serves up a fusion of Asian and Latin flavors offering everything from Ceviche to Sesame Chicken. Standouts include Teriyaki Chicken & Shrimp and the Seafood Fajita, a combination of grilled shrimp, scallops and squid served over a bed of seasoned rice. Cocoa Moon’s delicacies don’t stop at their food; the restaurant also serves up an array of delicious cocktails.
When in Knoxville, check in at the Oliver Hotel, a boutique property located on Market Square. The hotel features 28 elegantly appointed rooms featuring handcrafted furniture, original artwork, and luxurious room amenities including walk-in showers. Originally built in 1876, the building has hosted everything from a drugstore and a dancing hall. The current owners purchased the building in 2011 and developed it into one of the hottest properties in town.
Staying at the Oliver Hotel has its perks. Located at the base of the hotel, overlooking Market Square is Tupelo Honey Café, an offshoot of the original establishment in North Carolina. Diners are greeted by friendly staff serving hot, fluffy homemade biscuits with honey.
The area in and around Market Square has emerged as the epicenter of Knoxville. This is where locals mingle with tourists and listen to live music, shop at small boutiques and dine at a variety of restaurants. The square is also home to numerous festivals and other family-oriented events throughout the year.
While on the square, stop by Latitude35 for their famous weekend brunch, but come hungry because the restaurant serves up downhome favorites including Sweetwater Blue Ale Pancakes and Louisiana Eggs, served over lump crab cakes with Creole sauce and hollandaise. The venue is also a hotspot at night when their bar and dance floor flood with partygoers.
Just outside downtown lies a playground for nature buffs and those seeking to explore the outdoors. Ijams Nature Center is a tranquil oasis only minutes from the urban hustle and bustle, but it makes visitors feel as if they are miles away. The Wildlife Sanctuary Trail System features almost 4 miles of hiking-only trails and another 7.0 miles of multi-use trails that have been routed to enhance the distinctive features of the preserve which include a sparkling quarry lake, unique rock formations, scenic overlooks and rugged terrain.
Ijams is also the perfect place to have your wedding. You can get married while enjoying the floor to ceiling views of the forest and the subtle sounds of nature provide an intimate and enchanting backdrop for your ceremony. The 275-acre park also offers bike, paddleboard and canoe rentals and is the perfect way to spend a beautiful Knoxville morning or afternoon.
LGBT nightlife in Knoxville is enjoyable, however not necessarily convenient. The city’s gay bars and clubs are spread out, making bar hopping a bit difficult and unsafe if you choose to enjoy a few adult beverages. Favorite hotspots among the locals include Club XYZ, Club eXile, and The Carousel II, a two-story complex boasting a sunken dance floor, huge performance stage and nightly entertainment.
Knoxville is a great weekend getaway which offers a variety of experiences. If you have never been, be sure to visit for Knoxville Pride June 21.
For more information, go to www.knoxville.org
by Joey Amato