The Tennessee gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Dolly Parton's unabashedly kitschy Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Knoxville is a picturesque city in its own right with an attractive setting on the Tennessee River. As the largest city in the eastern part of the state and home to the main campus of the University of Tennesse, this Appalachian town has a vibrant LGBTQ+ community.
Apart from a couple of gay-oriented spaces, many bars in the area are quite mixed and blatantly show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. Knoxville also hosts a large pride festival—the biggest free one in the state—and even the mayor has participated in the annual parade. The city has become a haven for gay residents and tourists throughout the region.
For a city far smaller than Memphis, it's a bit surprising that Knoxville has nearly the same number of gay bars. Like most places, the number of specifically LGBTQ+ nightspots has dropped a bit, but a few notable spots still draw sizable crowds.
- The Edge: One of the longest-running and largest gay clubs, The Edge is well outside the city center—about 7 miles west of town off I-40 along a busy road lined with strip malls—but it's very much the top gay venue in town. People flock here for dancing, drag shows, and socializing, and it hosts a number of theme nights, including Tuesday Trivia and Karaoke and Wednesday Game Night (beer pong, flip cup, and other competitions). Fridays and Saturdays are all about dancing and drag performances, and occasionally musicians perform live. The on-site restaurant serves pizzas, corn dogs, chicken wings, nachos, and similar pub fare.
- Club XYZ: More centrally located, this club is a rather compact bar in the Happy Holler Historic District, just a few minutes' drive north of the downtown core. The bar tends to pull in a mostly male crowd, including plenty of students from the University of Tennessee, and it's well-known for karaoke (there's a huge song catalog), drag performances, hosting the annual "Night of 1000 Dollys" Dolly Parton impersonation show, and great drink specials.
While not a specific event, the Facebook group Keep Knox Queer was created to celebrate the strides that Knoxville has made in LGBTQ+ inclusion, and also to continue the momentum by organizing regular dance parties, karaoke, game nights, and other community events. To be kept up to date on upcoming events, become a member of the group's Facebook page.
The Knox Pride committee also hosts a handful of events throughout the year, the biggest one being Knox Pridefest. Held in mid-June, it's a full-day event beginning with the morning parade through the heart of downtown along the serendipitously named Gay Street. Later in the afternoon, all are welcome to the outdoor festival for live music, drag performances, food trucks, and more.
The week before Pride, art lovers can enjoy Art Out in the City. It's a silent auction with donated pieces from local artists, and all of the proceeds go toward the Knox Pride committee.
The most popular fundraising event put on by the Pride committee is the Next 2 Nothing Underwear and Fashion Show, where the gorgeous guys and girls of Knoxville's LGBTQ+ community work the runway. You can support the event as either a spectator or by volunteering as a model.
Late Night Food
In Knoxville's Old City neighborhood, restaurants and bars line the blocks of Central Street and intersecting Jackson Avenue. One of the most popular is OliBea, a well-known and much-loved breakfast spot that serves mouthwatering items like the Tennessee Benedict—homemade biscuit, local ham, poached eggs, mashed potatoes, smothered in Hollandaise—and a pickle-brined fried chicken biscuit with gravy. Normally open just for breakfast and lunch, on Friday and Saturday nights they re-open in the evening at 6 p.m. and stay open until the food runs out. During a night of heavy drinking, you couldn't dream of a better snack.
Tips for Going Out in Knoxville
- Bars in Knoxville generally have last call at 2:30 a.m. and close down at 3 a.m. when it's no longer permitted to sell alcohol.
- It is illegal to purchase hard alcohol in a store on Sundays in all of Knox County. You can purchase beer or wine in stores, and any alcohol in restaurants or bars.
- For getting to bars outside of the city center, Uber is available in Knoxville.
- Even though Knoxville is a relatively open-minded city, LGBTQ+ travelers should be conscious of their surroundings.