|219 Cumberland Avenue (2010) - Now a vacant building|
Opened: 1940, possibly later?
According to an article in Metro Pulse On-line, the Huddle Tavern was "housed in a basement at the corner of Gay and Cumberland between 1940 and 1981." It is also a place of literary significance, as it is "mentioned in Cormac McCarthy's Knoxville-based novel Suttree." Additionally, we hear that that there was a sign out front announcing the Huddle was the "gayest spot in town."
Kelly Robinson at Out & About tells us more:
Before there were explicitly gay clubs, the Huddle on Knoxville's Gay Street was doing business in the 1950s.
“It was popular with gays, lesbians, transvestites, prostitutes, newspapermen, and other fringe sorts who didn’t always feel quite as comfortable at, say, Howard Johnson’s.” says local historian Jack Neely. (A patron at Club XYZ remembers it as a place where “you could go without gettin’ your head busted open.”)
The Huddle is near-legendary to literature fans, as Cormac McCarthy immortalized it in his novel Suttree. McCarthy writes about a “cool and dark” dive with “the door ajar,” where one could observe the patrons on the downtown end of Cumberland as “they came down the steep street and turned in two by two.” He describes a “group of dubious gender” in the corner booth at the Huddle, where drinkers could have beer in a fishbowl or whiskey from a jelly jar.
Cormac McCarthy fans should definitely check out this site, which identifies and provides photographs of some of the Knoxville locations referenced in Suttree, including the Huddle Tavern. Here it is claimed that the Huddle didn't open till 1952 or 1953--not 1940, as reported above.
According to Tony Carlisle--known as Knoxville's "Talk of the Town"--the Huddle didn't become primarily lesbian until her later years:
The late Seventies and early Eighties saw several gay and lesbian bars come and go: Europa, the Factory, the Pepper Tree and the Back Office Lounge, among others. The Huddle was still plugging along, though Carlisle recalls the latter-day crowd being primarily women.
“Sometimes if the first show at the Carousel didn’t go well,” he says, “We’d all go to the Huddle, put a quarter in the jukebox and perform for tips, then make it back to the Carousel for the second show.”
Or as another commenter adds (with just a sniff of disapproval), "Ann Brummet and her girlfriend and daughter ran the lesbian bar 'The Huddle' 'Few Queers & no straights allowed'. Not my words, hers."
More recent lesbian bars seem to start out as lesbian bars and then become more "diverse" over time--to the point where they are no longer lesbian bars in any meaningful sense. But then there are a few that apparently started out as more diverse, and then became more lesbian-identified territory overtime. This is more likely to happen when the neigborhood becomes less "desirable" (i.e. less commercially viable as retail space), which is what happened to the Gay Street area over the 1960s and 70s.