Best Bars, Music Venues and Theaters in Knoxville

Being a college town, Knoxville has no shortage of bars and clubs, and each offer a slightly different vibe: from breweries and music halls to country bars and lounges. No visit to Knoxville would be complete without taking in a show in the gorgeous, Tennessee Theatre, and for even more live musical entertainment, the Clarence Brown Theatre is sure to delight.

Knoxville knows good beer, and visitors can sample some local favorites at the Downtown Grill and Brewery, Suttrees High Gravity Tavern, and Barley's Taproom. All three specialize in craft beer and offer a laid-back, after work vibe.

Those looking for a party can check out Cotton Eyed Joe's - where drink specials get the crowd dancing to country songs (and mechanical bull riding). Or, they can check out Sapphire's, an upscale martini bar with live DJs spinning on weekends. For great live music in Old City, Boyd's Jig and Reel has a small stage with large talent. In Market Square, the creative Preservation Pub and sister venue, Scruffy City Hall consistently host excellent bands late into the night.

Our editors have scoured the city in search of the best nightlife spots in Knoxville and rounded them up. Here are the 10 favorites in Knoxville.


Sapphire - A Modern Bar & Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

This ultra-chic lounge and bar has some unique features: like the glowing tank behind DJ stage with bubbles floating to the surface, mood lighting behind bar, museum artifacts on display, and windmill-sized industrial ceiling fans. Couples sip martinis at glass table tops, the "by the glass" wine menu features more than 60 types of wines, and the cocktail menu includes 40 different vodka selections, as well as Tennessee and Kentucky whiskey. A live DJ performs on Fridays and Saturdays, and the kitchen opens at 5p.m. and remains open until midnight. Located on Gay Street, this is one of the places to be seen in Knoxville.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Trendy and chic, Sapphire sets itself apart from the pub atmosphere.

Amber's expert tip: Casual conversation can be a bit difficult once the music gets going, but the front tends to be a bit quieter.

Read more about Sapphire - A Modern Bar & Restaurant →

Airport - Tys

Tucked away in the Old City District, Barley's is a busy but laid-back pizzeria where a diverse crowd congregates in the evening. Though known for its huge slices of great pizza, this comfortable old building is also an after-dinner hangout, with live music, darts, and pool. There are more than 90 microwbrews and international beers on tap, and a simple, friendly decor with lots of rustic tables and old beer signs. This chain of bars has is rapidly growing throughout the southeast (it began in Asheville). The food menu has classic pub grub like fried green tomatoes, chicken fingers, cheddar burgers, and wraps.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: With great pizza and a huge beer selection, you can't go wrong.

Amber's expert tip: Tuesdays are half off beer night.

Read more about Barley's Taproom →

This professional live-action theater was built in 1970 and holds around 500 people (meaning there are some great seats to be had). It showcases around eight different productions each summer. Snacks and beverages are served after shows and patrons have a chance to mingle with the actors and producers. The musical talent onstage rivals that of more well-known theaters. A few past shows include Monty Python's Spamalot, A Midsummer Night's Dream, a Christmas Carol, and the Miracle Worker. There are two other venues as well: the Clarence Brown Lab Theater and Ula Love Doughty Carousel Theater that host smaller-scale productions.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Outstanding talent shines on stage here and tickets are often more affordable than those at the Tennessee Theatre.

Amber's expert tip: Parking can be a problem on busy nights, so if you are staying close walking might be a good option.

Read more about Clarence Brown Theatre →

Scruffy City Hall
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

The owners of Preservation Pub brought the same creativity to neighboring Scruffy City Hall. The main stage at this new venue is larger than that of Preservation Pub, and the hall itself offers more room in front of the stage to dance. The upstairs level of the music venue has stadium style seating that overlook the crowd and stage - only the seats are church pews. In fact, the entire hall is designed to look like a medieval cathedral complete with artistic "stained-glass windows," that make the spotlights appear to be shining through. The bar has a large selection of tap beers at reasonable prices.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This new music hall is already hosting some great bands.

Amber's expert tip: Don't miss the favorite local band, Grandpa's Stash, if they are playing at the hall.

Read more about Scruffy City Hall →

Airport - Tys

Anyone with a taste for country music should not miss a visit to Cotton Eyed Joe's, which is widely considered one of the top country-dance clubs in the South. Drink specials vary every night, and you'll often find a complimentary Tex-Mex buffet (or some other food specials). Be sure to check because there are some unbelievable deals like $1 pizza slices and hot dogs. Don't worry if you can't dance; there are classes almost every night that will have you ready to Boot Scoot by the time the party gets started. A mechanical bull, bikini contests (on special nights and holidays), and karaoke keeps things interesting.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Drastically discounted drinks get everyone on the dance floor - making this a great place to let your hair down.

Amber's expert tip: Get there early to avoid the cover charge.

Read more about Cotton Eyed Joe →

Boyd's Jig & Reel
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

Located in Old City, this dimly lit, Scottish pub has three separate rooms: the entrance features a long bar with 300 scotch options, a concert room has a small stage and tables, and a quieter lounge area with dart boards for mingling with others (and being able to hear conversations). Tiffany lamps, brick walls, and trophy deer make up the decor, and the local talent on stages is worth pulling up a seat. Music tends to be southern-infused music (with Irish and Scottish influence) but the bands frequently change. A Scottish pub menu includes Scotch eggs (wrapped in sausage), Stovies (stewed onions, potatoes, and lamb), and other comfort food.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: With quality live music nearly every night, this is a great way to sample Knoxville's nightlife.

Amber's expert tip: While many bars charge cover for live music, this is one that often free to get in.

Read more about Boyd's Jig & Reel →

Suttree's High Gravity Tavern
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

This local favorite on Gay Street features constantly rotating draft beer selections that draw in the craft-beer loving crowd (and hipsters). The design of the bar is simplistic, yet has a few unique features like the roller-coaster shaped bench stretched across the venue or the massive lit beer sign. Beer selection and prices are clearly marked on the chalkboard and outdoor seating is available for conversation and people watching. There's no televisions or overly loud music here, and that tends to keep the college-age crowd away. Find out what's on the event schedule; Monday is often a good night to check out live music.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Suttrees is a quality tap room with a variety of beer options.

Amber's expert tip: This makes a great place to stop before or after a show at one of Knoxville's theaters.

Read more about Suttree's High Gravity Tavern →

Downtown Grill & Brewery
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

This massive, two-story space seems to go on forever, with an upper floor that overlooks main bar and brew kegs. Vintage paintings and prints and scuffed wood floors contrast shiny gold taps where at least seven craft beers (brewed in house) are poured. The bar also serves up lunch and dinner items like fajitas, fish and chips, an array of pasta dishes, and freshly-baked pizzas. After dinner the late-night crowd can kick it in the back bar with Foosball and pool tables. Be sure to check their events calendar because there's always something going on; whether it's $2 beer specials or Texas Hold Em' tournaments.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This bohemian brew house has character, great beer options and an eclectic menu to match.

Amber's expert tip: Ask them about the curse of the white mule.

Read more about Downtown Grill & Brewery →

Tennessee Theatre
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

First opened in 1928 when movies were only 40 cents for matinees and 60 cents for evening shows, the Tennessee Theatre continues to awe visitors (although prices have risen a bit since then). The beautiful Spanish-Moorish style interior has a global influence, like Czechoslovakian crystals in the French-style chandeliers, and Italian terrazzo flooring. The theater showcases all types of talent like comedians, musicians, and live productions of Broadway-style shows (in addition to good-old-fashioned movie nights). Just about every seat has a view (unless ticket states limited) and great acoustics. The ceiling gives a feeling like patrons are staring up at the night sky.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This magnificent theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Amber's expert tip: They can be very strict on taking photos.

Read more about Tennessee Theatre →

Preservation Pub
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

This three-story pub feels like a fairy tale infused with country rock. The music memorabilia on the walls, a speakeasy-style booth wedged into the space under the stairs, a giant tree bar on the rooftop, and vines growing up the brick walls make it a unique venue. It is also known for bringing in top musical acts that play late into the night (think 2a.m.), and hosts as many as 200 per month. Located in Market Square next to the Scruffy City Hall, the bar and grill has over 300 beers (70 on tap), and some amazing happy hour specials.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The creative owners of this bar have changed the dynamic of nightlife in Market Square.

Amber's expert tip: The $5 admission often gets you into Scruffy City Hall as well.

Read more about Preservation Pub →


Meet Amber Nolan

Originally from upstate New York, this restless traveler has a knack for befriending interesting characters. You can usually find her just about anywhere that has a hammock. Amber's favorite...  More About Amber