What to call this new place off Broadway in downtown Maryville. Certainly not a restaurant. Not a bar exactly, or quite a tavern. More of a gathering place. So Broadway Social is the name.
Eric Johnson, one of the owners of this endeavor that opened almost two months ago at 102 E. Harper Ave. at the corner of Cusick Street, is all settled in with the name.
As for the total operation, Johnson says it’s a work in progress. It’s already come a long way from what it was. Partly by design, but largely by invention necessitated by the condition of the old building.
Beyond the building was the concept of making a place where people socialize. That started with staffing.
“One thing we’ve been fortunate. We have hired very strong people with years of experience doing exactly this. So in the daily operation we lean heavily on people that know what they’re doing, and that’s key,” Johnson says.
That it’s all coming together gives him confidence Broadway Social is arriving at the right place at the right time, even for hiring.
“The cool thing about it is, just from putting up our signs and our inquiries, we’ve had a lot of interest. We were in a position to be able to pick people who are experts in their field.”
It’s a reflection of the community, according to Johnson.
Different kind of place
“We didn’t want to make a place that was just another bar. We felt that the market was ready and really conducive for a place that looked different and downtown is a place for that. We want a place to get people not to drive to Knoxville.”
For sure it doesn’t look like just another bar. The dominant feature in front is two garage doors. They can be opened to allow a view of the the sun setting over Blount County. Inside is a large open space and bare concrete floors. Utilities are visible overhead. Some walls are cinder block. Some sections are covered in distressed, corrugated metal.
The building’s crude core could have been a structural roadblock. To Johnson it was a chance to resurrect a space. Like rough gemstone that needed a cut here and there and some polishing — but not too much.
“My biggest appeal was the entrepreneur portion of it. The timing. The marketplace. The combination of place and timing and opportunity that sort of came together in a way that made sense. That particular location on the back of that building, it just said, ‘Do something cool.’”
The way it was
The front of the building up on Broadway had already been made cool. Bill Cox Furniture and Design occupies that space today. The building built in 1909 has served the community as the original Proffitt’s Department Store and other businesses. National School Products was almost the final tenant.
A section of brick facade on the Cusick Street side fell on a passing car back in 2012, causing serious injuries. The building was deemed unsafe and its owner at the time requested it be demolished.
With new ownership and approval by the Downtown Design Review Board, the building was saved.
Saved but not fixed, not completely. Patrons of Broadway Social will notice upon entering there’s a platform on the right side wall. Stairs lead to an area nicely furnished for guests. Sharp planning, right? Not exactly. More like creative necessity. The platform stretches along the inside of the same structural wall where the brick facade fell.
“An interesting story about that platform,” Johnson says.
It wasn’t just the exterior facade that had deteriorated. Water damage was discovered at the base of the building.
“To protect the structural integrity of the building, the engineering solution was to put concrete and rebar,” he says.
Problem: That would extend four to five feet from the wall into the room. The solution: Add even more concrete, build the platform on top and save the floor space.
That gave a more private place for patrons, and a viewing area for people watchers checking out the action below. The blocked windows were uncovered, allowing natural light inside.
Preservation by design
The dominant feature on the floor is a long line of wooden tables. Another example of preservation by design.
“We saved the floor joists and that’s what’s on those tables, 100-year-old wood. We’re very proud to be able to preserve as much of that as possible” Johnson says.
Another striking element is new but has an old look. Johnson credits the heavy wooden truss above the bar to the architect.
“An architectural element that’s really cool. It’s such a nice touch. It’s one of the cool features that maintains the industrial feel and gives it something interesting looking.”
Behind the wall behind the bar is a work in progress, a kitchen. Not restaurant size, but big enough so Broadway Social will be able to offer more than chips and mix to folks bellied up to the bar and the craft beer taps. (A liquor license is in the works for wine and cocktails.)
“The menu has gone through a couple of different iterations. Probably in the next month or so we’ll have that nailed down and closer to having a small kitchen ready.”
Light food. Shareable food from plates.
“There are great dinner places around. We’re not trying to replace dinner places, but we’d hate for people who are sitting there enjoying themselves to have to leave to get something to eat and have to come back,” he says.
Johnson has learned “the competition” is happy to have a new neighbor.
“Especially the guys from Blackberry Farm down the road. They’ve come up, we’ve gone down there. Same thing with the Two Doors guys and Barley’s guys. It’s been very cool, they’ve been very welcoming. The Tri-Hop guys, they came down the very first night. Great guys. And we’ve gone to visit their places after that, too, and got to know their names,” Johnson says.
“They’ve been very open, very welcoming. Yeah, it’s been very, very good. Like we’ve had this thing, this sharedness, like ‘let’s make Maryville very, very cool.’”
So Broadway Social it is, a gathering place. As for the structural ambiance, contemporary/rustic describes it. So does industrial/cool. It is, after all, a work in progress.
“Hopefully it creates an environment people want to come back to and feel comfortable. We put a lot of thought into creating a space that would attract people,” Johnson says. “That’s the main feature in a cool space in a cool building in a cool community, right?”