The railroad arrived in Knoxville in 1855, and with it came growth, prosperity and Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon. Patrick Sullivan, a young Irishman, set out to make his fortune in America by opening a saloon near the busy Southern Railway depot. His first saloon was a wooden shack located in the heart of the present day “Old City.” The business flourished, and in 1888 Sullivan began construction on a new three-story Victorian red brick saloon (the current structure) at the corner of Central and Jackson Avenue. At the time, Jackson Avenue was proclaimed the second most important street in Knoxville… Gay Street being the most important.
While the street was important, the character of this area was not held in such high regard. Most Knoxvillians considered the area a wild place where respectable ladies dare not go. In fact, the Jackson Avenue/Central Street intersection became known as the “Bowery”… an area where the drinks, as well as the people, were mixed freely. At the heart of it all was Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon. The building’s unique architecture and corner location made the saloon a premiere establishment regardless of the clientele.
All good things must come to an end, and in a sweeping election in 1907, Knoxville became the first city of its size to outlaw saloons. Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon was closed under the city’s prohibition movement effective November 1, 1907, but the Saloon and the “Bowery” went out in style. On October 31, saloon business peaked and on Central Street there was a “jug train” in motion all day long. The streets were filled with people, music and, most of all, alcohol. Prohibition was ushered in with a mighty hangover.
After the fall of the saloon trade, the building fell into disrepair and was used as a boarding house, a bordello and an upholstery shop. The declining structure was rescued and restored by Kristopher Kendrick and on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1988, the taps poured once more. The structure has operated as a saloon/restaurant ever since.
Patrick Sullivan was born in Kerry County, Ireland, in 1841. He was a young child when he came to America with his immigrant parents. The family found work in railroad construction in East Tennessee and eventually called Knoxville Home. The Sullivans were among the founding families to establish Immaculate Conception Parish. As a teenager, Patrick was among the volunteer laborers who built the church in 1855.
With the coming of the Civil War in 1861, young Patrick Sullivan joined the Union Army in Kentucky. He rose to the rank of Captain and was in charge of moving war materials into the South for the Federal forces. During the war years, Sullivan began a lifelong friendship with prominent Knoxvillian Cal Johnson. Johnson relayed messages from Patrick to his family in Knoxville during Confederate occupation of East Tennessee.
When the war ended, Sullivan returned to Knoxville and opened the saloon. While the saloon business was frowned upon by many in America, a “place where respectable people did not go” for the Irish community, this “pub” was their gathering place, second only to church. When Patrick Sullivan died in 1925, he was regarded as an honest, law-abiding businessman and a prominent member of the Irish Catholic community.
If some historically minded individual were to mention that Knoxville’s last hostilities with the Indians occurred in 1700-and-something, then someone acquainted with this story would note that the last battle actually occurred in Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon in 1897.
Knoxville resident and decorated war hero Jim Spillane entertained Buffalo Bill Cody and his touring group at Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon following a production of Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show.” As the night went on (and the tap was drained), Spillane tried to converse with the Indian members of Buffalo Bill’s group in what he thought was their native language. The translation was lost somewhere within his Southern drawl and the alcohol, and Spillane proceeded to offend the group. A barroom brawl ensued between Spillane, the Indians and local patrons. The fight could not be contained by local authorities, so Buffalo Bill fired his six shooters into the ceiling and walls of the saloon until order was restored.
One of Patrick Sullivan’s patrons was “Kid Curry”- famous gunman of Butch Cassidy’s gang. Though he was an infamous train robber, he was a likable, stylish, handsome man and was especially favored by the ladies. Following a game of pool in Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon, a fight broke out between Curry and a local patron. Two deputies were shot by Kid Curry while trying to break up the brawl. Curry escaped on foot, but was captured in Jefferson County and returned to the Knoxville Jail.
While in jail, over 5,000 Knoxvillians (mostly women) visited Kid Curry. He entertained his guests with colorful stories and signed autographs. The “Wild West Villain” became a local celebrity, despite his wicked deeds. The night before his trial, he mysteriously broke out of jail and escaped across the Gay Street Bridge to freedom, riding the sheriff’s horse. The method of escape could not be explained, but rumor has it that $1,000 mysteriously made its way into the sheriff’s bank account.