July 31, 2013

36 Hours in Chattanooga

Filed under: food,travel — Frederick Noble @ 4:07 pm Share RSS

The clouds followed us down from Cloudland Canyon as we made our way to our accommodations in Chattanooga. Just across the river from the aquarium and the downtown tourist district is the Delta Queen, a paddle boat built in the 1920s from parts sent from the shipyards just outside of Glasgow, Scotland. At the moment, the boat is a floating hotel as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Delta Queen

Delta QueenLegislative complications have docked the boat here for a few years, but Congress is working on clearing the metaphorical logjam right now so if you’re interested get up there and stay a night or two.  Rates start at $89/night for bunk rooms Sunday-Thursday, up to something like $159 for weekends in a stateroom with larger beds. We paid $129 for a room with a queen bed and a view of the river and downtown.

The Delta Queen has seen better days. It needs some patching and painting. Their kitchen is not well reviewed. The bathroom in our stateroom was miniscule. Yet I found the boat completely charming. The walls are paneled in wood and adorned with old river maps. Brass and stained glass abound. Photos of the captains through the years, an extended family, line one hall. Trophies from past river boat races stand next to photos of presidents and other famous people who have stayed aboard. Fantastic.

Delta QueenDelta Queen

Delta Queen

Delta QueenOnce we got settled, we explored the boat. The decks are lined with rocking chairs.  Even the side that doesn’t face the river overlooks a big park where Chattanooga hosts various festivals and events (there was a Screen on the Green style kids movie showing the night we stayed.) A hotel is usually just a rented bed and a place to put my bags, but I could’ve lingered on the Delta Queen for days. If it’s still there next time I’m in town, I won’t stay anywhere else.

Delta Queen

Delta Queen

Tennessee River

We hobbled across Walnut Street Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, for a better view of the river (and a look back at the boat), but our legs ached from the miles of hiking in Cloudland Canyon.

Delta QueenRather than trek around the tourist sites of downtown Chattanooga, we had a lunch of olives, cheese, salami, fruit, and bread on the deck of the boat, waving at the passing paddle board folks and the other tourists on their 1-hour cruises on other boats. Suckers.

Delta Queen

Delta Queen

We decided to test the bed in the room for a brief nap. The footsteps of people on the walkway above us weren’t quite drowned out by the hum of the boat’s generators, running to keep the lights and pumps working. However, the mattress felt like a cloud compared to the cold gravel we’d lain on the night before.

Delta Queen

Delta Queen

We walked around the village near the boat. A few warehouses have been converted into a retail district, expanded with new buildings up and down stream to form a very Virginia Highlandsy district. Nothing in the neighborhood caught our interest (save for the Whole Foods where we’d purchased our picnic lunch) so we hopped in the car and cruised into town, considering options. Having spent a fair amount of time in Chattanooga before, most of the regular tourist stops didn’t hold much appeal to us. The Hunter Museum of Art has expanded extensively, atop the hill that qualifies as Chattanooga’s art district, but we were both still beat from Cloudland Canyon. The aquarium? An Imax film? TGIFridays? We skipped everything in favor of Champy’s, a chicken joint on MLK a few blocks out of downtown proper.

Champy's

Champy'sI could’ve done without the faux “funky country shack” decor and I’m dreadfully tired of every place in America having a flatscreen TV on every surface. Their tamales weren’t anything special, but the heap of crispy fried chicken was pretty good, as was the bowl of very porky green beans.

Champy's

A few blocks further out MLK is one of my favorite bars on earth, Lamar’s Hotel/Restaurant/Bar.

Lamar's

Lamar'sIt’s a lot like the Clermont Lounge, minus the strippers. Velvet-flocked gold wallpaper is barely illuminated by a few strands of Christmas lights. The jukebox is packed with old R&B and jazz. And the bartender pours the stiffest drink I’ve ever had. A small crowd (it could only be a small crowd in this place) dressed in 70′s costume attire lounged on the couches as other folks ordered baskets of fries.

Lamar's
Rumor has it, the kitchen serves up some tasty fried chicken, so next time we’ll compare it to Champy’s. A family of locals were dining in the restaurant out front as we left, but the lighting up there is only slightly better than in the lounge so I didn’t even get a glimpse of their food.

We beat an early retreat so we could have a nightcap on the decks of the Delta Queen. The same tour boat cruised by, now filled with a more boisterous nighttime crowd hooting and hollering as they passed.

Delta Queen

In the morning, we took advantage of the Delta Queen’s free breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy – before cruising around town, weighing our options.

Tennessee River

Lookout Mountain won out. We ignored signs for Rock City, cruised past the Incline Railway and Ruby Falls, so we could reach Point Park, a National Military Park commemorating the Civil War battle for Chattanooga and surrounding areas.

Point Park

Point ParkIt’s worth the $3 admission for the view alone, but we happened to arrive just as a tour began, guided by one of the park rangers. Interesting if you’re into historic battles.

Point Park

Make sure to step into the visitor’s center and check out the massive painting showing the battle.  Despite the size, the detail is incredible, even including some spattered mud on the soldiers’ uniforms and horses.

Point Park

We cruised half way down the mountain for a brief stop at the Craven House, another park and site of various Civil War events, but the house itself wasn’t open for the day yet so we continued on, landing at the International Towing and Recovery Museum and Hall of Fame near the foot of the hill. We stopped in part because it’s not the usual tourist stop, and in part because my mother had loved the place when she had visited.

International Tow and Recover Museum

International Tow and Recover MuseumPerhaps the museum was larger or more interesting a few years ago when it was housed downtown during my mother’s visit. I didn’t find it worth the $8 (minus a dollar for AAA discount.) They have a few very nice, fully restored old trucks, as well as a few not so old, but there aren’t enough stories of dramatic rescues or seemingly impossible recoveries.

International Tow and Recovery Museum

International Tow and Recovery Museum

International Tow and Recovery Hall of Fame

International Tow and Recovery MuseumThe hall of fame also lacks stories. Each hall-of-famer has his or her photo on the wall, as well as a page in a binder. The few bios I glanced at seemed more like dull press releases. The statue/memorial out front has more drama than the entire museum inside. Unless you’re just really into wreckers, or they do a major expansion in the near future, give it a pass. It isn’t like there’s not other stuff to see in the area!

For lunch, we returned to the river to picnic at a park, not far from the Dixie Queen.

Tennessee River

The ToasterWe had an appointment to keep at Carmax. I’m the satisfied owner of a 2012 Scion XB. We nicknamed it “The Toaster.” It’s the newest car I’ve had in a very long time. A/C, more than 8 mpg, and enough space to camp in should I get rained out of a campground. I suspect there will be more road trips in our future!

Say What?

1 Comment

  1. Funny, we have reservations on the delta queen next weekend. Enjoyed your
    review and sent it to a friend who is going with us. They still think Chattanooga is the
    Dingy town it was 20 yrs ago.
    We will definitely hit up whole foods for some deck relaxation. Thanks for the tip

    Comment by Heavenly & Shawn — August 2, 2013 @ 10:26 am

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