by Jeanne Brei & Symeria Palmer
The Southside of Chattanooga downtown—home of the Chattanooga Choo Choo—is where art, culture and entertainment thrive and, according to locals, a night out on the town starts on Station Street.
Formerly an alleyway, Station Street was renovated to become pedestrian friendly, provide patio access to the restaurants and entertainment venues, and provide an outdoor space for special events. It recently became the 11th street nationwide to allow on-street consumption of alcohol (only from businesses adjacent to the street). So you can take your drink down the street with you as you check out the Comedy Catch for some stand-up, Regan’s Place to do some retro dance moves to music from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Westbound Bar for some country line dances and two-stepping, Songbirds (14,000 sq. ft. of music bliss with great sound quality), Terminal Brewhouse, Gate 11 Distillery, Frothy Monkey, Backstage Bar, American Draft, Refinery 423, Sweetly Southern and the amazing STIR, where every bite and every sip is crafted daily from scratch, using ingredients predominately from farms and vendors within 100 miles of Chattanooga—including its oysters and seafood cold bar. There’s even an Escape Experience at the Choo Choo where you’re trapped inside an armored transport rail car and the runaway train is bound for destruction. With help from Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, the inside mimics the sights, sounds and feel of being inside of an out-of-control train. Your only chance is to make it to the back of the train and jump.
Originally built in 1909 as the Terminal Station, it was transformed into the cornerstone of Chattanooga’s emerging entertainment district as the Chattanooga Choo Choo in 2016 (after renovations in 1973 and 1989 to restore its grandeur). The Beaux-Arts-style station was one of the grandest buildings in town, featuring an arched main entrance and an 82-foot-high ceiling dome with a skylight in the center section. The arched main entrance was said to be the “largest arch in the world” with lighting provided by large brass chandeliers. The iconic Choo Choo recently underwent major renovations including upgrades to the 112-year-old Terminal Station lobby, Glenn Miller Gardens, and Building One, and conversion of Buildings Two & Three into apartments.
Just down the street, the Terminal Brewhouse became the first brewpub in Chattanooga in 2006. Now it serves excellent food and award-winning beers made on-site by the master brewers. Based in the Strong building of 1910 that was originally built to house a hotel for passengers using the nearby Terminal station, in later years it was used as a speakeasy and illegal casino during Prohibition. Visitors can enjoy traditional fare such as nachos, steaks, lasagna, salmon and a wide range of pizzas to go with one of the Brewhouse beers. Brewmaster Steve Purdie produces ales, including Oatmeal stout, Maibock, Belgian White, American Copper Ale and West Coast IPA.
Fortunately, getting around couldn’t be easier or greener. Electric buses run daily about every 5-15 minutes from the Choo Choo to the Tennessee Aquarium with stops every block in between, giving convenient access to the downtown attractions, convention center, shopping and hotels. Since 1992, the quiet, environmentally-friendly, electric buses have run more than 1.9 million miles, saving an estimated 65 tons of pollutants.
Of course, they also have the bicycles you can rent for your touristing. Or Pints and Pedals is Chattanooga’s Ultimate Pub Crawl on Wheels. You can leisurely pedal and drink with your friends or make new ones while visiting the hottest spots in town on tours that are usually two hours long and visit three to four bars.
For the more culturally refined, like nearly every major city, Chattanooga has its share of performing arts spaces, including the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, the Tivoli Theatre (pictured left), the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium and more. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Fine Arts Center has rotating displays of fine art. From Station Street to the ballet and the symphony, Chattanooga has it all.
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 47. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_may-june_2021