By Bobby Bush
As soon as you pull up to the bar, it's obvious that Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria is not your ordinary watering spot. Twenty-four welcoming brass tap spouts are the first sign that something new has come to Knoxville. A wide-angle exposure reveals an even more unusual sight. A full size trolley, which once served the building's previous occupant as an indoor dining car, has been converted into a refrigerated car, holding kegs behind the long wooden bar. Further scrutiny uncovers a hand-crafted bar, its front constructed of stained wainscot salvaged from an old steamboat. The bar's top was pieced together from the hardwood flooring of a 120 year old house. Another 16 taps reside upstairs. The facility is spread over 16,000 square feet.
Obviously, these unique accouterments are not off-the-shelf purchases from Home Depot. They were designed and crafted by Doug Beatty, one of three Barley's partners. While Jimi Rentz is the pizza guy, responsible for food selection and preparation, and Mike Neel manages the corporation's money and finances, it's Beatty who's charged with role of carpenter and front man.
Last year, the Barley's group acquired the old two-story brick structure, which once housed a manufacturing operation and more recently a Spaghetti Warehouse. The beer bar/restaurant opened its doors just before Christmas, after only three month's preparation. Only four months in operation, the taproom won Metro Pulse's Best Beer Selection honors. Though there's still some work to do, Beatty's constructive efforts have already revitalized the lifeless, vacant building. Personable and outgoing, Beatty is also working with nearby building owners in an effort to do the same for the neighborhood. Plans include an outdoor patio and performing stage. Barley's is helping the people of Knoxville rediscover and reclaim their Old City area.
Initially intended as simply a hangout for three friends, the original Barley's opened in Asheville, NC in August 1994. Its popularity surpassed every expectation, enabling Beatty, Rentz and Neel to forge a livelihood from their passion for beer and friendship. Forty-two taps, micros and imports, and delicious pizzas have made this Biltmore Avenue location an extremely popular hangout for everyone. Like it's younger Knoxville brother, this Barley's features an upstairs bar, complete with pool tables. Accolades have been pouring in from around the country. Southern Draft Beer News, now defunct, rewarded the Asheville Barley's as 1998 Readers' Choice in the ale house/pub category. Local weekly Mountain Xpress honored the hometown taproom as 1999's Best Bar, Best Beer Selection and Best Place to Shoot Pool, while Celebrator Beer News cited the popular night spot in its Top Taps list.
Never content, the Barley's boys next set their sights on Greenville, a growing, suddenly-white-collar community in the western region of South Carolina. Again renovating an old building, this facility, with 27 taps, opened in October 1996 and has been busy ever since. The upstairs level will open as a billiard and dart room later this year. This Barley's took Creative Loafing's 1998 awards for Best Beer Selection, Best Place You Never Get Tired Of, Best Bar and Best Food in a Bar.
All three locations feature a wide beer selection, concentrating on NC, SC and TN micros, along with a wide array of imports and Northern and West Coast micros. Barley's beer policy states that "we will sell no Bud, Coors, Miller, or products they have ownership in," ie. Redhook, Leinenkugel and Celis. Ten days is the maximum time they'll keep any opened keg. They poured 7800 kegs last year. Live music has also been key to the pub trios' success, featuring mostly local bluegrass, blues and jazz, and NO cover charge.
Barley's does not rely solely on beer and pizza as its calling card. Last year, anxious to educate and entertain, the Asheville location organized their second Brewgrass festival, a well-attended outdoor beer tasting (scheduled for September 18 this year) complete with several bluegrass bands. Craft Brewers Excursion, a train ride fueled on beer, steamed through the Nantahala Gorge last Spring. In May, Barley's served pizza to the masses gathered in Knoxville for the East Tennessee Brewers' Jam. May also saw a smoky Cigar Social in their upstairs bar. And in June, the Knoxville establishment hosted the 1st Annual Tennessee River Brews Cruise, a four hour excursion on the Star of Knoxville paddle-wheel, accompanied by 12 microbreweries and The Second String Bluegrass Band.
Barley's is busy in beer. Beatty, Rentz and Neel pride themselves on the diversity of their patrons, from business suit to tye-dye. The partners leave nothing to chance. They have literally built Barley's from the floor up. Exquisitely designed woodwork, a marvelous selection of craft-brewed beer and scintillating food have made Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria a destination for beer sleuths, and for just plain beer-thirsty folks. No doubt, Barley's has a beer for you.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush