Did Stupid Liquor Laws Really Put Knoxville, Tennesee's Valarium Out of Business?


Last week, I blogged a story about a Knoxville, Tennessee music venue called The Valarium. Its owners claimed they were shutting down in part because of state liquor laws. From the owners' letter on the matter:

Due to new rule changes from the TN Alcoholic Beverage Commission concerning the minimum percentage of food an establishment must sell in relation to its gross sales, our venues will be closing…. Since we cannot meet their requirements, we will relinquish and not renew our ABC license when it expires November 24th, 2012.

In response to my post, a reporter at an area alt-weekly, the Metro Pulse, got in touch with me offering information that complicates the owners' version of events:

Sorry, Mr. Gillespie, although Tennessee's alcohol laws are quite insane and restrictive, they actually had nothing to do with the Valarium closing.

I actually did the research, instead of just taking a club owner at his word, and it turns out the laws he mentions went into effect in 2010 and are actually LESS restrictive than the ones in place before then. See my blog post here:

And article here:

You might want to throw up a correction.


Cari Gervin

I'm happy to throw up a correction for failing to explore more fully the larger context of the club's difficulties.

And I'm also always happy to shed light on regulations that "insane and restrictive," even when they are not the immediate cause of a business's demise.

The Metro Pulse reports now that a "local tiki entrepreneur" in Knoxville has taken over the space and has already booked two acts in the space.


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  1. No mention of the Sunsphere? I’m disappointed.

    1. Having lived in Knoxville for twenty-two years, I can assure you that there’s no reason to mention the Wigsphere.

      1. Not with anything but reverence, unless you want to stricken down in your tracks.

        Never mock the sunsphere.

        1. Well, now that I’ve moved away, I can finally reveal why the Sunsphere is still standing: it won’t let us tear it down.

          When the Sunsphere was built for the World’s Fair, it completed a ritual begun by exiled Aztec priests on that very spot centuries ago, and it gained all the power of the sun. If you dare to suggest it be torn down, or even to mock it, anywhere within its reach, it will indeed strike you down with a beam of pure concentrated sunlight. I didn’t even know about that Simpsons episode until I moved away; the Fox affiliate in Knoxville was too afraid to show it.

          So yes, I will mock the Sunsphere, even though that smug bastard still holds the rest of my family hostage. Not until the rest of America realizes the tragedy that has befallen Knoxville* will we be able to free Knoxvillians from the tyranny of the Sunsphere. Sic semper solospheris!

          * Well, the tragedy other than Lane Kiffin.

  2. So what changed this year? According to Winfree, nothing. She said “minor language” was added to the law this past session but she could not point out anything that would fit what Mitchell had stated were his reasons for closing.

    She seems to be taking the TABC’s word for it. And it may be so, but it’s still the word of the accused party’s attorney against the word of the business owner, unless I missed some third-party corroboration with specific knowledge of the business in question.

    1. First off, there’s no such thing as “minor language” in a law.

      Secondly, WTF is low-gravity beer?

      Seems to me the language that was added probably amounted to certain kinds of beer being ADDED to the calculation of “alcoholic beverages” that was not calculated before. And that probably moved the club into the food and minimum days requirement.

      Because the sale of the venue took place so quickly, I think this might have been the club owner trying to save face with customers for selling the place. But the fact that language in the law WAS changed means the reporter is basically obligated to show the differences.

      1. Secondly, WTF is low-gravity beer?

        At a quick guess, I would say that is 3.2 beer. Less than 3.2% ABW, which is about 4.0% ABV.

        Light beer falls into this category. Some states have restrictive laws banning anything except 3.2 beer in certain locales.

        1. Nonsense. It’s beer brewed on the Moon at the secret Nazi moonbase.

            1. He’s got a lifetime supply. He tried to warn us about the beer gap.

  3. You’ll love our new appetizer, two saltines with your choice of dip (tequila, whiskey, bourbon, vodka).

  4. Did Stupid Liquor Laws Really Put Knoxville, Tennesee’s Valarium Out of Business?

    Don’t worry Nick, because the answer to your question is still “yes”.

    Now, was this a new law? No, yet even Cari’s own blog points out that it is still restrictive:

    According to Winfree, businesses with this particular license are required to have at least 15 percent food sales and be open three days a week instead of five. (This latter requirement was also changed for all restaurants.) The intent of the law was to make it easier for bars to scrape by, not harder. And, indeed, this is the kind of license the Valarium had.

    In short, you cannot have an entertainment venue that serves alcoholic drinks, without at least including 15% food sales. But if your primary business is entertainment with alcoholic refreshments on the side (and maybe not open all the time), I can see how such a business would struggle to get food sales

    1. I can see it too if the place is AFAICT what it is, a club with a few bars, a large dance floor, and a little space for musicians and/or other entertainers to perform. It’s not a dinner theater, nor a restaurant with a floor show, so there aren’t going to be tables to make food patrons comfortable. I suppose they could move tables onto the dance floor once a week in an effort to boost the restaurant revenue, but people aren’t going to want to go to a place for dinner that one night a week just because it’s there; they might have to launder money legally by operating the food service at a loss (because apparently it’s the gross revenue that counts toward the 15%) to make that go.

      But it was still a mistake to put out the previous story based on only the info we got then. I thought things were a bit fishy, in that it looked as if Knoxville was trying to outlaw dance clubs.

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