downtown dirt by manhole: New Menus, Nuptial Bliss, and Rampant Cornholing

Hole sold separately

Hole sold separately

It fills my heart with a profound and an ineffable sadness when I tell you that this blog has been published just a bit too late to preview the World Cornhole Championships, which took place with all-too-little fanfare July 7 through 11 at Knoxville Convention Center.

You heard that right, Jake; the American Cornhole Organization held the de facto Superbowl of Cornholing here in the heart of downtown Knoxville, a “monumental cornhole event” — and we’re quoting the ACO president here — capitalizing on the “growth of cornhole popularity around the world.”

It was an awesome spectacle, we’re sure. And if you missed it all, rest easy, because the folks from ESPN were there, too. And you will no doubt be able to watch the whole… glorious affair, again, ad infinitum, when it is rebroadcast on ESPN VI, in the wee morning hours of the coming months between reruns of gold-medal goldfish racing and the 2013 World Mucous Ball Championships.

And enough for that. In other and better news, we’d like to congratulate former Preservation Pub bartendress Adrienne Corts, who recently tied the knot with longtime Pub regular and Just Say Maybe frontman Tom Appleton, in a whirlwind elopement at an undisclosed but assuredly exotic locale. Dearest Adrienne goes back a long way with the Pub, as one of the bar’s earliest hirees, serving several years before taking a break to work with her dad, the late-great Ed Corts, local music stalwart and erstwhile proprietor of the Corner Lounge on Central Avenue.

Adrienne came back to the Pub again in more recent years, and has once again been a linchpin of the bar and wait staff, as well as a personal favorite of anyone who got to know her. Tom’s a good fellow, too — though he may be out-kicking his coverage in this instance — and we wish them both luck in their new life together.

If you haven’t dropped by for dinner at Uncorked on Market Square in the last few months, you should. Uncorked (nee Oodles) has been undergoing a long, slow, sometimes halting evolution since its inception under Papa Jim West more than 10 years back. And its growing pains have not always been pretty.

Consistently rating as arguably Knoxville’s best wine bar, Uncorked’s menu has often lagged behind its vino selection. To be sure, many top-notch chefs have worn the mantle of Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at Uncorked/Oodles over the years. And their collective culinary talents have produced many moments of excellence there.

But oft-times, those moments were fleeting; missing was the necessary grounding consistency — consistency of practice and preparation, and consistency of vision.

That’s changing now, in concert with two new arrivals of recent months. The first of those being bar manager “Aloha” Erica Casey, who has slowly molded the Uncorked lounge into more than merely a fine-wine haven, but a center for first-rate craft cocktails, as well.

Now new Chef Terry Roberts is making her presence felt, as well, shaping the Uncorked culinary vision — first with a new lunch menu, now with an all-new dinner menu, as well.

Having sampled a couple of the new dishes, all we can say is, wow. Our favorite cavernous venue at the center of Market Square is truly coming into its own.

Be forewarned, though, not to look at the new menu offerings — which will change seasonally, BTW — in hopes of finding a roster of greasy-spoon favorites. This is fine food crafted with a creative spirit and a delicate touch, savory proteins — hanger steak, seared salmon, center-cut pork chops — complemented by an array of artfully prepared seasonal vegetables.

And while we are dwelling on the subjects of food and drink, it’s worth more than just a passing note that Scruffy City Hall/Scruffy City Brewery Brewmeister-in-Chief Sir Logan of Wentworth has come out of hibernation and is set to fire up the brewing nano-lab located underneath the stage of Scruffy City Hall. Look for batches of Logan’s Legit Lager, Scruffy City Lowlife, and perhaps others, coming soon to a tap near you.

And finally, we send out well-wishes to the guys in Nashville-by-way-of-Knoxville funk/jam/EDM/rawk act Backup Planet, who had a recent mishap coming home from a show in Chicago, totaling their band van, losing most of their equipment, and landing a couple members in the infirmary in a nasty highway pile-up. Get well and godspeed.


Who do you think you are: w/ Uncorked bartendress and SCH July feature artist Darby Whatley-Gowman

Darbs, and friend

Darbs, and friend

Do you know any jokes?

How do you catch a unique rabbit? Unique up on it.

How do you catch a tame rabbit? Tame way.

How do you catch a sheriff rabbit? You cop a feel.

Who would you like to play yourself in a movie about your life?

Cate Blanchett. I’d like someone older to play me. Plus I won’t be famous for at least another five years.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Knowing that I’m dreaming when I’m dreaming.

You’re having a Moonshine Roof Garden Party at Preservation Pub. What three special guests would you like to invite?

Herman Melville; William Wordsworth; and Cara Delevingne.

What’s your least favorite song, ever?

“American Pie.”

Who is your least favorite celebrity?

Demi Lovato. She is so annoying.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

It was from my mom. She’s very religious. And she told me that if you think of something really great or beautiful, and you don’t create that thing, then you’ve robbed the world of it, and that it’s a sin.

Describe your worst date ever.

My sister’s roommate’s ex-boyfriend asked me out. We went and saw “Anchorman,” and it was so awkward. When I met him, I was already a little drunk. And then I didn’t realize he was a lot shorter than me.

It was awkward and miserable. Then I didn’t respond to any of his calls, texts, or Facebook posts, and he thought I was dead. Two weeks later, I was at me sister’s watching TV, and he knocked on the door. I was running to get into her room and hide when he came in, and I tripped. So he came in, and I was lying there in a heap on the floor. I just said, ‘hi,’ and then locked myself in the bathroom.

What is your greatest secret desire?

I’ve always wanted to buy a hot-pink house on the beach in Mexico.

What would you like to put on your tombstone?

“Darbs Gowman. F@#$ that Bitch.”



Preservation Profiles: Scruffy City Hall Feature Artist Darby Whatley

Darbs Whatley: Portrait of a Suffering Artist

Darbs Whatley: Portrait of a Suffering Artist

You may have already seen Darby Whatley’s arresting, slice-of-young-life paintings hung in the lounge at Uncorked on Market Square, where Whatley serves and tends bar. Those and other, equally striking works from the 22-year-old artist were on display at July’s citywide First Friday event, hung on the first floor of Scruffy City Hall.

A native Texan, Whatley says she learned most of what she knows about painting from her mother, who was herself a student of renowned Mexican/Yaqui painter Amado Pena.

“I was painting before I can even remember,” Whatley says. “My earliest memories are of my mom teaching me to mix colors. It was always a way of life.

“I was five years old, and she was critiquing my drawings,” Whatley laughs. “She would be like, ‘Look at this; you just drew a blue strip for the horizon. You can’t do that anymore.'”

But for a little girl with a probing intellect and a keen eye for colors, it was probably the only kind of upbringing that made any sense.

“As an artist, I got more from my mom than anyone else,” Whatley says. “In my home environment, we had a Gutenberg letter press, a kiln, a silk-screen press, a welder.

“Nothing was missing. I got to make stained glass windows at 12 years old.”

Which isn’t to say Whatley wasn’t influenced by other artists. She says she loves the work of James Rosenquist, as well as that of Norman Rockwell.

That may seem strange, citing the work of a pop-art pioneer and the 20th century’s foremost traditionalist in the same breath. But in the latter’s case, it was the almost pathological normalcy of Rockwell’s prototypical Americana that captured Whatley’s imagination.

“I always wondered whether he painted the way he did because he was commemorating the American lifestyle,” Whatley muses, “or was it because he felt left out of it.”

Whatley says she finds inspiration in poetry, too, particularly that of T.S. Elliot, whom she says, “wrote about his terribly sucky life in such a beautiful way.”

While Whatley’s work is surely colored by that of her influences  — you can see hints of Rosenquist’s pastel pop, echoes of Rockwell’s keyhole voyeurism — the shadings are subtle. To be so young, she has a remarkably potent and well-articulated visual style, a voice all her own.

A firm believer in paint-what-you-know, Whatley takes as her primary subjects young women much like herself. Her paintings fairly teem with the restless ennui, the voiceless yearnings, the nameless and over-weaning anxieties of girls in their 20s.

“A lot of what I paint is based off foggily-recalled memories, things I saw that I thought would make a good painting, blurry nights,” she says. “I think of it as anonymous snapshots of women in their 20s.

“I think your style evolves over time, with your experience and your contemporaries and your surroundings,” she continues. “Right now, I’d say there’s something juvenile about what I do. But it will develop with time. And it’s refreshing to some people.

“Right now, I don’t necessarily know what a lot of it means, but I feel it’s important to document.”

Her subjects stand in nervous clusters at parties, pass a smoldering roach in the bedroom, pull swigs from bottles of craft beer, their gazes adrift in a haze of boredom and smoke.

Or so it seems, at any rate. Because one consistent theme in Whatley’s paintings is that she prefers to keep the faces of her subjects obscured.

Or else she omits them from the scene entirely, concentrating instead on tangles of limbs, hands, elbows, torsos poised in attitudes of perpetual uncertainty.

“I don’t put faces in my paintings because I want people to be able to insert themselves into the work,” Whatley says. “And I like the idea of having these faceless subjects, but with bodies that are so full of life.”

Her most compelling work, though, has a face — including a pair of haunted eyes that stare out over the top of sunken cheeks and a suffocating mouth gag.

The painting of a slender blonde girl, bound and gagged, arms bent and tied uncomfortably behind her back could almost have been captured through the dirty lens of a snuff-film camera.

It’s an unsettling image, to be sure — a scene straight out of Silence of the Lambs, maybe, or at the very least, Law and Order: SVU. But don’t take it too literally.

What does the painting mean? Whatley offers a two-word response: “Student loans.”

“That one’s a self-portrait,” she adds. “My only self-portrait.”

Whatley wants to do things with her art, make a go of it as a career, or at least a serious avocation. And she has a plan, albeit not a very standard one. Her next move, she says, is to move to Mexico with husband/local musician Michael Gowman, and find a pink house on a South Pacific beach.

“I feel like I need a new cultural perspective,” she says. “I’d like to take on something that will add to my style.”

Eventually, she sees herself moving back stateside, to Philadelphia. “And hopefully, I’ll be coming back with a lot of material.”

“I’m coming from a humanistic perspective,” she says. “I feel you only get one life, and I don’t want to spend years of it in places I don’t want to be.

“I believe when you’re done, you’re done, so you’d better leave something behind. Otherwise, you die a third death.”                        11149548_10155495481725012_1879979301933673623_n


downtown dirt by manhole: What the @#$ is a Scruffy Dog??

519389265_5cc1369ec6_o“Nah, this stuff isn’t getting to me, the shootings, the knifings, the beatings, the old ladies being bashed in the head for their social security checks… Nah, that doesn’t bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It’s watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody, and I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”Dirty Harry Callahan, Sudden Impact

June is full upon us; Tara Reid — along with a gaggle of other discount-bin celebrities escaped from that carnival of aberrance known as Fan Boy Expo — has come and gone from the stage of Scruffy City Hall. July Fourth, and the stagnant heat of mid-summer in East Tennessee, lie in wait, simmering just around the bend.

And nothing says “summer” quite like a hot dog, Jake. That’s right — the classic All-American Hot Dog, everyone’s favorite phallus-shaped carcinogenic fat-and-sodium-laden processed meat-like snack food, staple of J-4 cookouts and ballpark concession stands across this great nation of ours.

Matter of fact, July is National Hot Dog Month here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., just in case you were wondering about that.

Which maybe you weren’t. But the point is: in recognition of our nation’s proud hot dog heritage, and of the humble dog’s defining/central role in the cultural landscape we call Americana — and also with the sincere hope of making an extra dollar, or three — the Pub and Scruffy City Hall are rolling out their very own Hot Dog brand, the Scruffy Dog.

Which will taste a whole lot better than it sounds. You can trust me on that one, Jake.

Sometime this summer, when all the plans and permits fall into place, and everyone and his mother-in-law has signed off and extracted his pound of flesh, the Pub will roll out its newly-acquired hot dog cart, and vend a variety of delectable dogs, sure cures for late-night munchies or the exigencies of a lunch-on-the-run.

According to Preservation Pub/SCH manager Cullen Kehoe — also doubling as de facto Dog chef, at least for the time being — Scruffy Dogs will feature variations on three essential themes: The classic all-beef kosher hot dog; the spicy red hot; and the veggie dog.

But those options will evolve over time. “The plan is to get really creative — think gourmet dogs, more than just the standard hot dog fare,” Kehoe says.

The early menu calls for a geographically diverse line-up of dogs — hot dogs inspired by the culinary traditions of select regions/states of the union: A New Yorker, with sweet onion relish and mustard on a plain bun; a Deep South Dog, an andouille sausage garnished with jalapeños and cucumber salsa; a Carolinian, served with cole slaw; a Traditional (sauerkraut. mustard. bam.); and an Old Country, featuring red sauerkraut.

Also on tap is the indigenous Smokey Dog. “We tried to think of a Knoxville-style hot dog, and this is what I came up with: A smoked sausage, with ‘maters and ‘taters.

“If it’s done right, it’s delicious.”

When the Scruffy Dog operation is up and running — again, we’re aiming for sometime in July, though August might be a better bet, allowing for usual allotment of bumbling and foolishness, and the damnable unpredictability of such affairs — dogs will be served up hot and fresh every day around the lunch hour. Then they will fire up again for the late-nite crowd, 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Order up, and hold the @#$ ketchup.