The Warp Factor

What keeps Happy Hollow happy

 

This is a cleaner place. No smoking and, despite the bar, no drinking. They have tea, but they specialize in coffee, especially the swankier varieties.

 

When they opened the place in 2002, they had a big choice to make. "It was between the two, coffee and beer. Then a church rented the building back here behind the alley," he says, and suddenly they were within 500 feet of a place of worship. So they sell coffee, not beer. The short-lived church is gone now, reopening the issue of expanding their beverage selection.

North Central Street lies a little off the grid anyway, this half-forgotten axis with ghostly stretches of commerce long gone. But the old heart of North Central is still known to some, as it was in the 1930s, as Happy Hollow. The reason it was happy is the same reason that most of the Irish Catholic parents of old North Knoxville banned their kids from it.

In Knoxville's mill-town days, Happy Hollow was where working men and women went to have a good cheap time. Nowhere in the metro area, in the days just after Prohibition, hosted quite so many bars per city block. I knew it only in its waning days, maybe 25 years ago, but even then it was something like the one street in a Wild West town, light and music up and down the block bursting out every time a door swung open, people of all sizes and shapes and ages with nothing in common but a taste for American beer, many of them with an eye out for a girl or a fight. 

It's quieter at night now, but there's still something a little bit different about Happy Hollow. It's easy to miss just driving through. The best way to get there is by foot; it's only a dozen blocks from downtown.

Somewhere just past the Holy Ghost Catholic Church, between the Taoist Tai Chi Society and the old Freezo where people still line up for hot dogs and sundaes, is a place like no other in the world, called the Time Warp Tea Room.

Not all tea rooms display vintage racing motorcycles in their front windows. In one window is a blue 1961 Honda that bears the number 147, and the caption, "Last Crashed at Mid-Ohio Race Course by Butch." It's scuffed a little bit on one side, not irredeemably. "Butch" is well-known local racer Butch Sprain.

Inside, it's appealingly incoherent. There are a couple more conversation pieces for tea-room society, a '55 Harley, and, in a place of honor in the center, a 1941 Indian military bike. On the left are '50s-style wooden booths, each with individual jukeboxes, and a big jukebox featuring Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson; Dean Martin's "That's Amore" and Robert Mitchum's "Thunder Road."

On the right is a bar, and not just any bar. It's a long Edwardian-style bar, with a big, cherry bona-fide saloon-era bar back with cabinets.

Most likely to be behind the bar, the shy, slender fellow with a gray beard and short gray ponytail, is Dan Moriarty. He's a motorcycle enthusiast who once aspired to be a racer. After a stint in the Navy, servicing planes during the Vietnam era, he had a career in the coin-operated amusement business. He always wanted his own place, and here it is.

Partly he wanted a place to put this bar. Moriarty acquired it when the city bulldozed a strip of blocks downtown for Summit Hill Drive in the 1970s. One casualty was a beer joint on Vine Street called Ophie's. This bar was in Ophie's, but Dan recalls the owners telling him they'd actually obtained it from an older saloon on Gay Street. He estimates it's a century old or more, and it looks it. It looks better than it did when he first got it and put it in storage. "You couldn't see through the glass for the nicotine," he says.

This is a cleaner place. No smoking and, despite the bar, no drinking. They have tea, but they specialize in coffee, especially the swankier varieties.

The other, a younger guy with a short dark beard is Dan's nephew Jack Hutchins, an Army veteran and former motorcyclist. He recommends the iced caramel latte.

They both grew up in the neighborhood, on Deery Street. Their Irish-Catholic neighborhood wasn't called Fourth and Gill then. "We didn't have a name for it," Moriarty says. "It was just 'the neighborhood.'"

Moriarty was a member of the last class taught by the nuns at the Holy Ghost School. He remembers a little movie theater on this block, a place that specialized in matinee cliffhangers. "It wasn't like the uptown theaters," he says. "It was a dull brown, kind of run-down and grungy." He doesn't remember what they called the place.

"I wasn't allowed to come down here when I was a kid," admits Hutchins of notorious Happy Hollow. "Not at all." But today, on the menu, is their own Happy Hollow Ham Sandwich, and it doesn't seem very dangerous at all. They have a deal with the Steamboat Sandwich Shop, which is another dozen blocks north on Central; Steamboat delivers homemade bread and meat to the Time Warp every other day. The Time Warp also sells tamales from a Morristown purveyor, which combined with chili becomes the ancient specialty known as the Full House. 

Ask Dan what he was thinking when he had the concept for the Time Warp, and he just laughs. He can't quite tell you. "It's geared toward motorcycle people," he allows.

He points to a bald, mild-mannered looking fellow in a booth. "That guy over there, he's a real good enduro racer." It's a kind of racing that involves a cross-country course of more than 100 miles. Moriarty tried it once, when he was in the Navy in Hawaii, and once was enough for him.

You don't necessarily think of latte and Edwardian cherry furniture and stamped-tin ceilings when you think of motorcycle people. Never mind the why; after nearly three years, Moriarty hasn't even come up with an easy way to describe the place. "I just tell them you have to see it," he says.

One of the antiques here is a cherry cigarette case from Doc Cox's old Broadway Pharmacy, where Moriarty worked as a kid ("I peddled drugs all over the neighborhood") that is now a mini-library of motorcycling books and videotapes. Nearby is a big round table covered with magazines. It's the official meeting place of the Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club, an organization of perhaps 80 members which meets here every Tuesday. One Wednesday nights, there's old-time music here when the Marble City String Band shows up.

You might hear balls clacking in the next room; there are a couple of pool tables in there, and an always-changing array of pinball machines, some of them antiques. Moriarty still works on pinball machines, and he lets his customers play them until the owners come for them. When he has interesting clients, the place is a sort of pinball museum.

The oldest machine is the most mysterious. It's called Saddle and Turf, and it's made of the sort of wood once used for school desks, with lots of enigmatic numbers and lights, and some '40s-style jockey imagery. A sign says, "No Minors/For Amusement Only." Moriarty shows how it works. You put in a dime, and then punch any of seven buttons, and lights spin around under the glass, roulette style. You trust the rolling numbers to tell you if you win.

He opens it up to reveal its intricate electronic guts, but scowls. "Every time I stick my head in it, my sinuses mess up, it's so moldy."

When they opened the place in 2002, they had a big choice to make. "It was between the two, coffee and beer. Then a church rented the building back here behind the alley," he says, and suddenly they were within 500 feet of a place of worship. So they sell coffee, not beer. The short-lived church is gone now, reopening the issue of expanding their beverage selection.

"I have requests every now and then, but I don't know," says Moriarty, in a tone that sounds like probably not . "It's a matter of how much you want to tolerate."

So, for now, it's just a motorcycle racing, latte, antiques, tamale, jukebox, string band, and pinball type of joint. "It's picking up," Moriarty says of business. "Slowly."

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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