To celebrate 30 years of couple-hood, John and I stole a weekend away in Gatlinburg. Secure in the knowledge that Lorelei and William were in Emily’s capable hands, we headed South on Saturday afternoon.
We are so blessed to live so close to Gatlinburg, which feels like a getaway even though it takes less than an hour to get there. After getting settled in our lodgings, we went out to explore. Normally we stay more in the middle of town, but this time we were on the north end which gave us the opportunity to see something new (to us).
There are several antique shops at the north end of town and both because of their location and the fact that we always have kids with us we’ve never set foot inside a single one. American Sideshow Antiques was open and we enjoyed browsing through the eclectic wares and meeting Danny, the owner, who told us about his harrowing escape from the recent fires that devastated the area. He shared with us the support of his regular customers from many states who have come to his aid by ordering from his shop from afar since the fire. Having experienced similar kindnesses after our own fire, we were moved by his story.
And actually that’s why I’m writing this post, because in our many interactions with the people of Gatlinburg we discovered that businesses are suffering because of rumors that Gatlinburg was leveled by fire and that there is no reason to visit anymore. This mistaken belief is causing more suffering to those who live and work in Gatlinburg, many who have already lost their homes and belongings. Whenever possible, I donate money to fire victims–today I am donating my time and this space to convincing as many people as possible to visit Gatlinburg!
After the antique store, we headed to the Smoky Mountain Trout House, a Gatlinburg institution we had never tried before. When we noticed that the upstairs was closed, the owner told us that he hadn’t needed that space since the fire because tourism is way down. Let me tell you that people don’t know what they are missing, with super-fresh trout deboned right there at the table and big enough to cover the entire plate, along with the usual fixings. We only barely managed to eat it all.
The next morning was cloudy but mild. We enjoyed our motel’s ample free breakfast before setting out to walk along the Parkway.
When I was a child, Gatlinburg shops consisted primarily of t-shirts and cheap, kitschy items, and if you went in one of them you’d pretty much seen all there was to see. A lot has changed since then, with multiple outdoor malls showcasing a combination of local crafts and high quality mass-produced merchandise. Window shopping is always fun, but if you want to buy something you can do it without breaking the budget! And if you don’t want to carry your haul around all day, many merchants will hold items for later pickup.
Gatlinburg’s main strip was almost untouched by the fire. There were two or three shops that remain closed, but most everything was in full swing. I’ll be honest, though–we spent most of our money on alcohol. 🙂
One big change that has come to Gatlinburg in recent years is the proliferation of distilleries and tasting opportunities. I believe this began with Ole Smoky Moonshine but they are no longer the only game in town. We warmed up with two wineries, each of which allowed us to try two varieties for free. But we were just getting started.
At Sugarlands Distilling Co. we learned that a new procedure for tasting has been put in place. What used to be free now costs $5 per person, but you also get a $5 coupon good toward the purchase of any item in the store. Since you are definitely going to want to buy some moonshine after you’ve tasted it, this is the cheapest drink in town. Our bartender was Gyver, and he regaled us with jokes and creative shine recipes. Gyver was one of many locals who lost his home and possessions in the fire. He asked us to encourage anyone who wants to help fire victims to vacation in Gatlinburg.
We sampled 12 varieties at Sugarlands and used our coupons on hazelnut rum.
Moving on down the road we ended up at Ole Smoky, where live music was in full swing. We took a look at the product in process before heading in to sample the wares.
D’Brickashawn was our bartender and he won us over by making fun of everyone who didn’t know what snow cream was. Yes, there is snow cream flavored moonshine and along with blackberry that’s what we used our coupons for. By now after 24 (small) samples I was a bit tipsy. That facilitated bonding with our neighbors at the bar who told us that they were high school sweethearts reuniting for the first time in over twenty years. Gatlinburg is very romantic!
Our last stop was also Ole Smoky, at their whisky location on the other side of the road. We got 13 samples there and took home a bottle of Tennessee Mud. There is one more distillery in town but they weren’t open when we walked by. That may have been for the best as each tasting was the equivalent of about 3-4 shots!
After more window shopping we walked back to the motel. In the evening, we drove to The Peddler restaurant, one of the few old homegrown places left in town. Because there was an hour wait, we went for a drive up the mountain to pass the time. This is where you see the devastation wrought by the fire–burned foundation after burned foundation. It’s unbelievable and heartbreaking.
We had a great dinner–worth the wait–and went back to the motel, enjoying the Winterfest lights along the way.
It was back to Knoxville, reality, and hungry children the next morning but it’s nice to know that an inexpensive and fun weekend is always such a close drive away for us.
Now, you want to help the people of Gatlinburg, don’t you? Here are two easy ways: You can schedule a weekend getaway of your own–or a day trip if you are local! Or you could share this post to let folks around the country know that Gatlinburg is open for business.