Chattanooga, 2003

This is an excerpt from our ezine Degeneration Excerpt, a semi-weekly and semi-weakly ezine on Atlanta's music scene, random travel tales, blasphemy and prophesy. If you want to subscribe to that broadcast just contact us!

If you enjoy this tale you'll probably love our lengthy tale from our trip to Italy:

It was a three-day weekend for Degenerate Press staffers. Friday night we kicked things off at Cole's, a restaurant and lounge on Scott Blvd. in Decatur. Decent food, but overpriced. Good beer at good prices. Decent drinks at decent prices. But our reason for trekking across town to a new locale was the Kingsized Quartet in the side room where Mike Geier, done up as a hobo, sang an eclectic set of tunes done in an old, minimalist style with lots of silly bullshit stories about riding the rails in between numbers. Excellent stuff.
There was an odd collection of suburban restaurant baby boomer clientele mixed in with Star Bar hipster regulars.

We made an early night of it so we could get up at a reasonable hour and head north up I-75 to Chattanooga for a weekend away. There was some snow on the ground, frozen fountains, and people bundled up head to toe against the bitterly cold wind. But we didn't let it chill our spirits as we checked into the Choo Choo Holiday Inn, the site of the famed Chattanooga Choo Choo. The courtyard sports the steam engine and several passenger cars that have been converted into hotel rooms. Fun, but the train car rooms run $150/night - not worth it for po' folks like us, so we opted for the standard rooms in the comparatively uninteresting building out back, overlooking a frozen pool and waterfall.

We hopped on the free electric shuttle and headed downtown. 

On one of our wanders about town we spotted this peculiar homemade camper shell on a Mistubishi Eclipse, looking more like a dog house than a camper.

We intended to find fun stores and such but the icy winds soon had us seeking shelter. First stop, Mary McGuire's, a big, faux Irish pub where they're out of the first 4 things SW orders and the only warm drink the bartender knows how to fix is Irish coffee. But it's better than the wind-blasted conditions outside and the kinda cute waitresses are in Catholic schoolgirl miniskirts, so we hung around for a drink or two before braving the elements again.

The hike around town felt like an attempt to discover the South Pole - icy winds and not a soul in sight. A few places are clearly closed for the off-season, and the weather has kept all but the stupidest pedestrians off the sidewalks.

Speaking of, many of the sidewalks have been torn up in a revitalization effort that has slowly taken hold of downtown Chattanooga. I can remember visiting the place some 10 years ago when the only thing to do was SEE ROCK CITY, as the signs proclaim. Even 5 years ago there wasn't much to do once you'd seen the aquarium and the sun went down. But now there are upscale restaurants, a huge movie theater (in addition to the IMAX), and several swingin' nightspots.

We stopped by the Downtown Mart, a must-see for it's incredible collection of wigs and absurd hats. Absolutely fantastic. Then we grabbed a snack at the Pickle Barrel, a tiny but cute bar where Chattacon members are debating (no joke) whether Nemoy or Shatner had the better singing voice.
Back to the Choo Choo to freshen up, then dinner across the street at Mom's Italian, a family-friendly pizza joint with a strange, pickley salad but a very fine and affordable pizza.

Blowing snow didn't deter us from heading back downtown to Rhythm & Brews, a good sized club that reminds me of the Cotton Club back in it's Midtown incarnation - a long, narrow room with the stage on one side instead of at the end. They offer some excellent microbrew from the joint next door, Red River Brewery.
OK, all neo-hippie jam-rock-fetishists out there should skip a few paragraphs or you may suffer from bleeding eyes 'cause I'm going on a rant here that targets you. Yes, you.

The first act came on stage, Don't Trust the Radio, from Gatlinburg, TN.
I take it as a bad omen when a group has a banjo player and they are clearly not a bluegrass band. Worse when the lead guitar is acoustic. The penultimate bad omen is when the bass is a 5 string. These are the indicators of semi-folky limp mush "Americana" crap that has somehow resurged despite the death of Jerry Garcia. For my personal tastes, I'd rather rock and roll every night and party every day than consider the complex chord structure and smooth harmonics of this style of music. There is no better word for it than DULL and I can't even imagine liking this stuff stoned - I'd be too numb already. Don't Trust the Radio play very well, but it's like saying the new Hyundai is a very reliable car. So fucking what?
Ah well, at least they didn't have a second "percussionist" playing bongos, wind chime and/or didgeridoo, the ultimate symbol of a jam band.
On the other hand, they said "We're gonna change it up here a bit" between their 6th and 7th song with the word "mountain" in the title and swapped the banjo for mandolin. Goddamn, where are Drive By Truckers, or even GWAR, when you need them?
Rage… building… as they toss in a Midnight Rider reference.

Fashion Break:
Guys, NOBODY looks good in a vest. Nobody. Take your performance fleece and sweater vest nonsense to the Salvation Army and trade it in on a real jacket 'cause you look stupid, especially when it's below 20 degrees outside. We must've counted a dozen idiots in vests Saturday night alone. Awful. And nothing says, "I didn't bother to shower and/or pay a professional to cut my hair" more than a baseball cap. Take a shower, get a haircut, or at least get an interesting hat. For that matter, get some fashion sense in the first place and stop wearing that uniform.
Back to our regularly scheduled rant.

There are a few attractive women in Chattanooga, but it seems like the male to female ratio is way in favor of the ladies. There were lonely guys roaming around in large packs everywhere we went. This was later confirmed with informal polling of the locals - lots of lads without lasses.

Next up at Rhythm & Brews was Jupiter Coyote - another 5 string bass, another Allman reference (Whipping Post), but fiddle in place of banjo.
Goddamn you, Dave Matthews, goddamn you to hell.

Back to Mary McGuire's where the place is full of college-age folks listening to two guys covering country standards like David Allen Coe and Johnny Cash. Also dull, but fewer vests in the crowd and better eye candy for both genders. SW finds a fellow Texan to chat with while I ogle the best looking woman in town, a lovely blonde on the arm of one of the few long-haired guys in town and I'm damn sure he's the only one wearing those trendy jeans with the fake worn/bleached patches. He holds his glass of wine and turns his nose up in a manner that instinctively makes me want to pummel him and take his cute girl over my shoulder and out the door into the night. Ah, those animal instincts…
But the cute couple is out of place in a town of average rednecks. One of their friends gets suspicious of me because I have a camera and a notepad. I have to show him the photos I've been taking, clicking through the digital display of bands and food, before he grumbles and wanders off. Others in his pack are less paranoid, or more sober, and invite us to follow them to the next stop when last call interrupts our conversation.
Up the hill is another tiny bar, Stone Lion, which stays open an hour later than the other watering holes. It looks like a forgotten crawl space under the large house above, converted into a bar. There is a staircase out front that goes to a balcony above it but I have to wonder who lives in the rest of the building as the raucous crowd parties hardy until after 3 AM. An excellent little hole in the wall.

Somewhat hung over, we asked the front desk where we could get a decent breakfast. Their only recommendation is the brunch at TGI Friday's. Too bleary to argue, we head downtown and give it a shot. Mediocre at best, and overpriced at that. Never again.

Almost human again, we hit the Tennessee Aquarium. They are currently hosting an impressive collection of sea horses with some very surreal, Dr. Seussian breeds, along with their standard river and sea creatures.


The day was considerably warmer so we wandered about, but there's not much open on a Sunday in Chattanooga.

Eventually we ended up back at the hotel for a pre-dinner break. Then we headed across the river and over the other side of Missionary Ridge in search of Rib & Loin Barbecue. The drive showed us some of the extensive sprawl that's hidden on the other side of the mountain. Chattanooga is considerably larger than you would guess if you don't leave the downtown area.

Eventually we found Rib & Loin, thanks to their large signs featuring disturbing dancing pigs. Their t-shirts sport a pig holding a fork in his mouth, looking up with big doe eyes as if to say "Please eat me." 
Their ribs are probably their strong suit. The ground pork is ground a bit too fine for my tastes, and I don't think beef should qualify as barbecue. Their barbecue chicken is ground in the same fashion as the pork and beef, but packs a tasty, smoky flavor that almost makes up for the lack of pork content - good stuff! Both the potato salad and coleslaw got SW's approval and their baked beans are good too.
Banana pudding for dessert too. Not the best I've had (needs meringue), but after a pile o' pork just about anything would be eclipsed.

We were too pooped to party another night and everyone was crammed into pubs watching the Tennessee Titans lose their Super Bowl bid, so we hit the sack and watched hotel cable for a comparatively early night.
Monday we got off to a late start in search of breakfast and ended up at Taqueria la Alteña, just off Broad Street south of downtown, for the best mojado burrito I've ever had, and cheap. Damn fine food.
Short of a few shopping stops along the way at the countless outlet malls, the weekend was drawing to a close. 

Home again jiggidy.

"These people could put us out of business!"
Photo Editor, Creative Loafing

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