If you are a denizen of the Knoxville dives, you know Opal’s Lounge. If you go by before 7PM these days, you can still hang out with Opal herself. She is a legend in Knoxville bars. She has been like a grandmother to me. One that smokes, drinks and cusses.
I have made it a point to go visit Miss Opal monthly if not weekly since she stopped working the late nights there. It’s always good to see her.
Word has come to me via Mark that she has sold the place. By what I hear, it must be to someone she knows and who will likely keep it much as it is. I am going to get over there soon and find out details. We simply must have a celebration of Miss Opal. Once I know more about the future plans, I will send out word as to when we shall congregate around our community leader.
Here is what they said of the place in 2002 when she got the “Best Real Dive in Knoxville” award:
Best Real Dive
Hey, Toddy’s is OK. It might be deserving of the “neighborhood bar” honor, but it ain’t much of a dive as dives go. The dive of dives is the runner-up, almost straight across Kingston Pike. It shares a gravel driveway with the condemned Biltmore Motor Court, a lodging place that was seedy in its heyday along the Dixie Lee Highway. Opal’s Lounge used to be much worse, 20 years ago in its poke-salad days as Dirty Gert’s, back when the carpet squished with stale beer and the devil knows what else underfoot, but it’s still a dive to be reckoned with. Consider the near-subterranean location, with its door and its parking at the rear (for those timid Baptist tipplers among us). Think of the steel girders overhead, every 30 inches, that hold up the low, gray concrete ceiling, bomb-shelter style. Look at the portraits of John Wayne and Willie Nelson on the side wall above the pool tables, and cast a long glance at the nubile, decidedly nude muchacha painted exquisitely on velvet, con sombrero, above the backbar. Check out the jewel of a juke box. Wonder how come Bubba ain’t shot it yet. Ignore the electronic dart board, there for the dartistes who can’t count. Thanks to Ms. Opal Sparks, prop., Opal’s is still the dive it always was, despite the fact that the pool hall-then-massage parlor upstairs is now an oriental rug shop, and the men’s room is actually clean and doesn’t smell any worse than the Swisher-brand air freshener on the wall. At least the mirror is cracked in two places. And, even though the bar now carries such pee-willy beverages as Guinness stout and Pete’s Wicked Ale, Opal’s is unquestionably a Bud-BudLight-MillerLite kind of joint.
Trust us. The votes Opal’s got came from the most discriminating of dive denizens. There wasn’t another real dive among the top 10. When the prominent throwback sign, lettered: “We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To Anyone” is taken into full account, one has to wonder who the hell that could ever be.
She also makes her own damn pickled eggs thank you very much!
Spread the word and get by there before 7PM and pay your respects to the lady.
UPDATE: Even at the time of this post, Opal’s was history. She sold it for a small amount really and we wish we had known. We would have bought it and kept it true to its roots and a shrine to Miss Opal. George Jones would always remain on the jukebox, with Patsy, the Killer, and Elvis.
As it turned out, I was there her last night. I was there with Mark on a Friday and Miss Opal was particularly nice and loving. She literally interupted our conversation several times to give me a hug and tell us she loved us. It seemed strange, and now I know why.
I asked around Metropulse to see if they would do a story on her. She is not fond of reporters. I offered to help and even to write it if needed. Opal would talk to me I am sure. I have not heard anything in a long time. I guess it isn’t happening.
Even Peyton Manning used to go to Opal’s to get away. He loved the place. That’s the way it used to be. A big star like Peyton could enjoy a night there without being hassled.
I spent a gazzilion nights at Opals over the years and saw it dead and crowded as hell. Never saw a fight ever. That says quite a lot for a dive like that. Met the best friend of a certain James Dean and heard the story of the day James took off to the big city and asked his friend to come with him. He didn’t. Met the psychiatrist for Sinatra’s drummer’s son. Sounds like a distant connection, but he told me about meeting Frank and him knowing just who he was and thanked him and offered to help in any way if it was needed. Let me know a little more about the man.
There was a certain magic to Opal’s. And it is now completely gone.