Guide to Gay Street in Knoxville, Tennessee
Named one of the Great Streets in America by the American Planning Association (APA), Gay Street is the heart of Downtown Knoxville with a buzz of activity day and night. Within the central business district, Gay Street spans ten blocks from the Gay Street Bridge to West Jackson Avenue. You'll find beautifully preserved architecture, a lively cultural scene, and plenty of fun. Catch a show at one of the two historic theaters, shop 'til you drop, dine at a new restaurant, visit an underground bar, or simply take in the undeniable beauty of the streetscape at dusk. Explore the best of Gay Street below!
Breakfast & Brunch
Start your day with a handheld breakfast bagel sandwich and seasonal coffee from K Brew, or if you have a sweet tooth, try Status Dough's famous Paczkis paired with an iced coffee. Nashville-based Frothy Monkey opened their doors on Gay Street in 2022, and they've been a huge hit among locals and visitors for all meals of the day, but especially breakfast and brunch. There are many more weekend brunch options along the Gay Street stretch including Harvest, Babalu, Downtown Grill, Bistro at the Bijou, and Chivo Taqueria!
A weekday lunch staple is Brown Bag, serving up nutritious meals of grilled chicken, steak, spinach salad, jalapeño corn casserole, and more. If you're near the heart of Gay Street, swing by DiCarlo's Pizza for Ohio Valley-style pizza topped with tomato sauce, fresh cheese, and pepperoni after the bake. And make time for farm-to-table daily lunch specials from Bistro at the Bijou or their sister restaurant Dazzo's with pizza slices as big as your face!
Just take a walk down Gay Street, and you'll find many places and patios ready to welcome you for lunch!
Coffee & Tea
Maybe our favorite meal of the day (does caffeine count as a food group?). Enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up from coffee and tea shops located on just about every block of Gay Street. Hello Tea House's bubble teas are a refreshing treat that pairs well with their sweet and savory crepes. Jack's of Knoxville has an adorable patio behind their gift/coffee shop, where you can enjoy a seasonal latte.
Just walk down Gay Street and take your pick of the many dinner options for all occasions and for all appetites! Downtown Grill & Brewery is a popular pub, and as their names suggest, you'll get a locally-crafted brew to go along with delicious burgers, pizzas, pastas, and a variety of menu options (more on beer later).
KoPita is an authentic, elevated Mediterranean restaurant on the mezzanine level of Embassy Suites serving up traditional Israeli family recipes from the owner/chef. Harvest boasts a seasonal menu of small plates, charcuterie boards, steak and seafood, and delicious specials, crafted with locally-sourced ingredients. Babalu, Chivo, and Vida are popular spots for tacos, burritos, and upscale Latin cuisine. Each of them have their own atmospheres, so check out their social media. Not to be missed is Nama with award-winning sushi and yummy cocktails! And finally, three times on this list, kick off your weekend with live jazz and a farm-to-table dinner at Bistro at the Bijou.
But wait, there's more! Newly-opened Lilou is an authentic French restaurant in Hotel Cleo that boasts escargot, traditional beef tartare, duck breast, oxtail soup, profiteroles, and so much more. It's well worth your time!
You know it’s good when there’s a line down the street every night, and the wait is worth it at Cruze Farm, where their fresh‑churned ice cream cones can be swirled, dipped, and topped with sprinkles. It’s a magical, local staple you have to try when you're downtown! Another hotspot is The Phoenix Pharmacy & Fountain, an authentic soda fountain that will make you feel as if you've stepped into a simpler, sweeter time. Indulgent homemade ice creams are the base of many over‑the‑top sundaes, hand‑spun shakes, and floats.
Kilwins is another sweetshop on Gay Street serving up ice cream cones, but that's not all. Order up a nostalgic caramel apple, hand-paddled fudge, truffles, and chocolates. Ham'n Goodys has been a Knoxville staple since 1978, and in 2021, opened a Gay Street bakery to serve their famous lemon cookies. Their motto is "good food made with love 'n butter" and you can taste it with every bite. They also have cakes, gluten-free cookies, and other treats.
Beer, Whiskey & Wine
For the craft beer connoisseur, put these two places on your list: Downtown Grill & Brewery (lovingly known as DGB) and Suttree's High Gravity Tavern. DGB brews their beer in the basement of the restaurant, and you’ll see the gleaming 15-barrel Bohemian brewhouse in their dining room. Then head to Suttree's, where they have 32 ever-changing taps, so you'll "never be in the same bar twice." With regular tap takeovers, you'll find a new and unique beer here every time you visit!
Whiskey more your thing? Check out Clancy's Tavern & Whiskey House, an Irish pub that boasts five different themed whiskey flights, from "Tennessee Whiskey Sour Tour" to "A Tour of Scotland."
A trip down Gay Street isn't complete without a bottle of wine to take home. Downtown Wine + Spirits is a boutique liquor store bringing small batch wines, artisan spirits, and seasonal beers to Gay Street for more than 15 years.
End the night on one of Gay Street's two rooftops — Radius Rooftop Lounge and Five Thirty Lounge. These indoor/outdoor lounges have sweeping views of downtown buildings, the Sunsphere, and the Great Smoky Mountains. They serve up delicious craft cocktails that are just as tasty as they are beautiful.
On the 100 block of Gay Street, get whisked away at one of Knoxville's most unique cocktail bars, Tern Club! Their tropical cocktails and colorful patio make you feel like you're in another place. Swanky more your thing? Go underground at The Vault, located in the basement of a bank formerly in the historic Holston Building. Their cocktails are works of art. Finally, from Bourbon Street to Gay Street, try Fat Tuesday's frozen daiquiris for a refreshing drink, day or night!
Shop the day away at local gift shops like Jacks of Knoxville and Knoxville Soap, Candle & Gifts, that source locally-made candles, mugs, Tennessee-themed items, and home décor. You'll find a variety of things you just can't go home without, plus holiday and birthday gifts for friends and family.
Then head to Mast General Store, an anchor of Downtown shopping, offering two floors of goods, vintage candy barrels, outdoor gear, and kitchen supplies. It's not just a shop; it's a whole experience (don't leave without a taste of their freshly-popped popcorn!). Bliss & Tori Mason Shoes is another large shop to explore – an award-winning boutique offering trendy clothes and accessories, as well as gifts and home décor. For gourmet goods, one-of-a-kind spice mixes and loose-leaf teas, make a stop at the Spice & Tea Exchange.
Shopping is booming on the 100 block of Gay Street. Along with Jacks, you can explore three more gems: Addison's, a neat place to find old and rare books; Paris Woodhull Illustrations, an artist-owned studio and shop; and Daché, a women's clothing store with unique finds, like hand-painted denim. And just around the corner on Jackson Ave, William & Wylie is a locally-owned menswear store custom fitting everything from shirts to tuxedos.
Gay Street is also home to contemporary furniture store Nouveau Classics and steps away from Gay Street, OP Jenkins — a family-run furniture store in the same location for over 100 years — has more than four floors of unique and stylish furniture and accessories!
Looking for something more unique? Tucked around the corner on Clinch Ave, you'll find Knoxville Fine Violins offering handcrafted quality bowed string instruments along with repairs and rentals.
Art, Music & Museums
We're biased, but the Tennessee Theatre is really the most beautiful theatre in the Southeast! It’s a given that you need to take a picture with the famous marquee, and if you get the chance, go to a concert here too. It’s truly breathtaking. Further down Gay Street, the Bijou Theatre is one of oldest and most revered performance venues in Tennessee with an intimate atmosphere that's been praised by The New York Times as “one of the best sounding rooms in this country.”
The art scene on Gay Street is really great too! The Emporium Center is the anchor of First Friday ArtWalk, when the community comes together for a night of art, live music, and refreshments. Exhibits at the Emporium are open to the public Monday-Saturday with free entry, plus it's a beautiful and unique event venue. A few steps from the Emporium, there are also monthly exhibits at Arrowmont Gallery and UT Downtown Gallery.
Mix shopping with art and you have two galleries: Christopher Robin Arts, where you can purchase paintings and photography from husband-and-wife duo, and the Art Market Gallery, a cooperative of more than fifty East Tennessee artists providing a vibrant marketplace for original and fine crafts. Take home a locally‑made souvenir that reminds you of your time spent in Downtown Knoxville.
This historic street has lots to offer. Explore East Tennessee's fascinating history at the Museum of East Tennessee History's signature exhibition called “Voices of the Land." You will walk through time as you explore everything to know about this corner of the world. And steps from the Tennessee River, you can visit Blount Mansion, the circa-1792 home of U.S. Constitution signer William Blount—the Birthplace of Tennessee and Tennessee's only National Historic Landmark.
After a long day of Gay Street fun, treat yourself to a luxurious handmade foot soak at Wake Foot Sanctuary. Fancy a new do? Try out Culture Hair Studio or the Douglas J Aveda Institute; both will leave you feeling like a new person! Unwind at the Nail Room with a mani/pedi and a complimentary glass of wine, or check out Sugar Coated, where they specialize in custom spray tans and sugaring. Lastly, Meadowsweet Massage is a healing massage therapy and wellness studio where you can leave your stresses at the door.
There are three outstanding hotels steps away from the action on Gay Street: Embassy Suites is the tallest hotel in Downtown Knoxville and home to multiple businesses, including local coffee shop K Brew, Mediterranean restaurant KoPita for lunch and dinner looking over Gay Street, Ham'n Goodys for sweet treats, Wake Foot Sanctuary, TOPGOLF Swing Suite, and Radius Rooftop Lounge with a rooftop pool and cocktails!
Hyatt Place also has a great rooftop, Five Thirty Lounge, perfect for an evening under the stars, breathtaking views of the mountains, plus a peek at the Sunsphere! Start your day at the full-service Starbucks just off the lobby and grab a patio seat along Gay Street. Inside, the classic and bold décor makes it feel like a home away from home. It's also pet-friendly!
The newly-renovated Hotel Cleo is a boutique hotel with no two rooms alike. Its intimate nature allows for a place to connect and celebrate with unique shared spaces on every floor, plus a French brasserie, Lilou, for dinner and weekend brunch. It's a stunning hotel to spend an afternoon with cocktail in hand.
What would our time on Gay Street be without a little competitive fun?! The perfect place to start: Maple Hall, an underground bowling spot in a historic, trendy setting with good food and even better cocktails. It’s just down‑right fun for all ages, from family night to date night. Even the Vol Baseball Team’s a fan! Head upstairs to play life-sized vintage board games in a cool atmosphere at Maple Room.
Across the street, Harrogate's Lounge is a barcade with pinball, Pac-Man and Galaga, darts, pool, foosball, and plenty of craft beer (and even Knoxville's best ramen). In Embassy Suites, enjoy TOPGOLF Swing Suite, where massive screens display virtual sports games and the best golf simulator tech in the world. Or just down the street, test your on-stage skills at Knox Box Karaoke, an underground karaoke bar with neon lights that make for late-night fun. For the outdoorsman, Smoky Mountain Angler carries everything you need for a successful fishing trip in the smokies, plus guided trips!
For something a little more relaxing, The Holistic Connection is a cannabis dispensary and dab bar where you can enjoy legal handcrafted cannabis products. If you're interested in sitting back, watching sports on over a dozen TVs, and munching on game day food, then SkyBox Sports Bar & Grill is your place! Last but not least, enjoy a box-office hit at one of eight screens at Regal Riviera, a modern movie theater with a historic vibe!
And don't miss the opportunity to visit the Knoxville Visitors Center on the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive to learn about all that Knoxville has to offer. Plus, four days a week at noon, you can witness the WDVX Blue Plate Special, a live performance radio show featuring blues to bluegrass, country, folk, rockabilly, and more. Did we mention it's free?
You will LOVE Gay Street in Downtown Knoxville.
It's the perfect blend of shopping, dining, nightlife, and activities for the entire family! Don't forget your photo-op in front of the Tennessee Theatre. Tag us in your pictures using #LoveDowntownKnox!