secrethistory (2008-11)

The House of Two Saloons

Secret History

The opening of the Crown & Goose makes a good excuse for some research

by Jack Neely

I went down to the new Crown and Goose last week, with a couple of English friends. If you havenâ’t heard, Jeffrey Nash, a former London preservationist developer who through his Courtland Group has built several residential projects in the downtown Knoxville area, wanted to open an authentic English pub downtown.

My friends fully approved of its authenticity, by the way, remarking it reminded them of certain pubs in central London. I havenâ’t been to London in a long time, but when I was there, what fascinated me even more than all the dead authors and kings in Westminster Abbey were the pubs.

Iâ’d never in my life been in a bar where the old and the young mingled. Where youâ’d see 60-year-old men, well dressed, shaven, apparently successful and perhaps even lovedâ"but with pints of beer in their hands. Out in public.

In the Knoxville of my youth, bars were for college kids and certain hopeless cases. It was understood that by the time a respectable Knoxvillian turned 25, he was to do his drinking in private, at home, among carefully selected friends.

One of the most positive signs of Knoxvilleâ’s municipal success in recent years is that the beer-joint paradigm has capsized. It may have been via the new popularity of conversational pubs that people began meeting other Knoxvillians of different ages and faiths and professions, talking with each other fluently as some seem able to do only with a pint in hand, and realizing that, as far-fetched as it might once have seemed, there is something like an actual city here, and that we all care about it.

The Crown & Goose reminds me, in some ways, of some of the swankier Knoxville saloons as they were described ca. 1900. It serves food, has people living upstairs, and caters to a crowd thatâ’s diverse in age and profession.

There are a few differences. The Crown and Goose considers women perfectly respectable as patrons; proper Knoxville saloons didnâ’t. And it features a back patio, the beer garden. Beer gardens donâ’t go very far back here. During Knoxvilleâ’s high saloon era, drinking beer outside would entail ingesting some quantity of coal soot.

The Goose is historic, in one respect. Though these two-story buildings were built together in the early 1890s, more or less as one building with twin fronts, the street-level space has always been divided, hosting two businesses that didnâ’t have anything to do with each other. When it went up, there was a livery stable immediately next door.

Nash is the first entrepreneur in the buildingâ’s 115-year history to unite the street level space as one business. However, itâ’s not the first establishment of its general description on this spot. Itâ’s not even the second. In 1893, the earliest listing for the building in the city directory, the southern half of the building, now the restaurant-like part, was a saloon. It was run by John Moriarty, one of several Irish saloonkeepers in this neighborhood on the fringe of what was known to a generation as Irish Town. Moriarty lived in the building and ran the place until around 1900, when it passed into the hands of a series of saloon partners, often involving a man with the more plausibly English-sounding name of William Frost.

During the Moriarty years, the northern half of the building was generally a grocery. At least briefly in the 1890s, it hosted a dealer in rootsâ"medicinal ones, presumablyâ"and a â“coloredâ” restaurant in the back, perhaps accessible via the alley. By 1902, the northern part was a saloon, too, known mainly as Wylie and Silerâ’s. During the last six years that saloons were legal in Knoxville, the two halves of this building were both saloons, apparently competing against each other for the daily foot traffic of salesman, railroad men, factory workers who kept this part of town lively.

In 1906-7, this one block supported 10 independent saloons. In saloons per linear foot, it was unsurpassed anywhere.

The history of the southern 125 address is more complicated than the other, probably because it included the stairway up, and therefore everything on the second floor. Up there was always a boarding house, a barber shop, and for a while at least, one prostitute. Sin was more out in the open a century ago; madams were designated as such in the city directory, and by 1904, the second floor of 135 South Central was the headquarters of Madam Nora Harper.

After Knoxville voters banned saloons in late 1907, No. 123 gamely went forward into the bold, dry new world as a â“pool and soda waterâ” establishment, but not for long. For a while, both buildings were second-hand stores. For almost a decade ending in the early 1920s, an Adolph Radloski ran a clothing and shoe store at No. 125.

In the early 20th century, the 100 block sustained quite a mix of folks. Down here were grocers named Lefkovitz, a watch repairman named Pittillo, shoemakers named Foyonsky and Rosenberg, confectioners named Armetta and Maglio and Shapiro, restaurateurs named Kateka, Haikaly, Cabas, and Stergiakis. It sounds like a Hollywood treatment of the Lower East Side. Add lots of residents with (c) after their names, for â“colored,â” and it might be hard to find a more diverse block in the nation.

In particular, the 100 block of Central seems to have been the commercial cradle of Knoxvilleâ’s proudest immigrant group, the Greeks, who were operating restaurants and other businesses on this block a century ago.

If the Crown & Goose is successful, as I bet it will be, it would be fun to see other ethnic groups follow suit in this old melting-pot block of town. Why stop with the English? Maybe Swiss pubs, Russian pubs, and other homages to the Old Country are in the future of this dependably surprising block.

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