A popular Cumberland Avenue nightspot has made its last call.
Charlie Pepper’s on the Strip, a Southwestern-themed bar and grill located on 20th Street above Stefano’s Pizza, locked its doors for good Sunday evening. The restaurant was known for its generously poured “Animal Hour” drinks and the local musical favorite Tall Paul performing on Monday nights.
Jim Zirkle, the accountant for Charlie Pepper’s, said, “It was just time.”
“The traffic on Cumberland Avenue is not what it was. I think the mix of the student population is tilted more toward people being on academic scholarship now. I’m sure that they spend a lot of time studying, and when they’re not doing that, they’re working,” he said.
Todd Jackson, senior in hotel, restaurant and tourism, frequented Charlie Pepper’s about once a week. He said he enjoyed the atmosphere at the bar.
“It was just kind of a local hangout,” Jackson said. “The patio was their biggest thing, because it’s the highest patio on the Strip.”
Pepper’s switched to a 21-and-up only admittance policy in October to adhere to the Tennessee Non-Smokers Protection Act, which banned smoking in all public places without minimum age requirements. The accountant said the switch might have had a negative impact on business, but multiple factors were to blame.
“I’m sure that the smoking ban has impacted every facility in Knoxville. It probably has a bearing as far as the amount of traffic that’s on Cumberland Avenue,” he said. “I don’t think that there was any single one thing that got it to that point (of closing).”
Talks of closing Charlie Pepper’s surfaced in early November, but the decision was not made until last week to shut down the place for good, Zirkle said. Some managers received a severance package, and employees were paid out in full.
He said restaurateurs are currently discussing the possibility of opening a similarly themed restaurant downtown, but it would not come back as Charlie Pepper’s.
The closing of Charlie Pepper’s is just the most recent hit to Cumberland Avenue. Long-time Cumberland Avenue hangout O’Charley’s Sports Grill shut down in 2005, and Burger King closed last year.
Rob Dansereau, president of the Cumberland Avenue Merchants Association, said he didn’t think the end of Charlie Pepper’s is a sign of a trend.
“I think in the bar environment you’re going to see bars go continually out of business,” he said. “I think there’s so much replication — everyone trying to sell everything cheaper than everyone else. You basically price yourself out of business. O’Charley’s would have been a great example of that.”
Dansereau said the building will be converted into commercial space and residences. An Orlando-based consulting group was hired in March 2006 to improve the Strip and better connect it with downtown. A parking management study is currently underway, and a Cumberland Avenue planning committee will meet at the Laurel Theatre Dec. 5. Dansereau said funding for the redevelopment of the Strip could come in by 2009.