Guest Post: A Trip Through Downtown Gatlinburg

Guest Post: A Trip Through Downtown Gatlinburg

We had some family come through the area on their way to Daytona and they had a quick overnight stay in downtown Gatlinburg. They took some pictures and wanted to write us a little bit of their stay to use on the Gatlinburg Today blog as a more intimate look at what staying in downtown Gatlinburg is really like this Spring-Summer season.

With some editing, here is what they sent us. Thanks Jeremy and Chloe!

“It’s been about 10 years since the last time we really stopped and looked around Gatlinburg. We stayed at the Howard Johnson’s that was across the back entrance to The Village. We didn’t need fancy, we just wanted more convenience and a place before the Summer rates began, but the room was actually a bit above our modest expectations as well. The room was bigger and felt more space-orienting, and they had this short chair in the room that Jeremy stayed in most of the night because he said it was great for his back.

We got in earlier than expected and needed to wait, so we went ahead and walked into town for lunch. We weren’t sure where to go to and didn’t want to do our real walking through town just yet. We settled on the Mountain Edge Grill that was directly across the street from the main entrance to The Village. Jeremy hadn’t been there before and I don’t remember the last time I ate there. I remember the last time I ate there felt like a “hole-in-the-wall” kinda place, which I like, but also somewhat claustrophobic. I was pleasantly surprised that it felt more spacious going inside. They sat us at a pleasant spot way on the other side. Lunch took close to an hour and it took more than 20 minutes to get our sodas to start with, but it was also clear that they were short-staffed and the lady who was serving us was her first day, so we didn’t judge them for that. Once we got our drinks, though, the service picked up considerably. Our lunch came in about half the time as we waited on the drinks and it was worth the wait.

I wasn’t sure what to get, so I got a meat-heavy personal pizza and it was GREAT. I love pizzas that come out kinda “orange” and well-cooked instead of sloppy and cheesy and this was definitely that. I think there was as much meat on my little personal pizza as I’ve had one much, much bigger pizzas. It was worth the time and money.

We did some more walking around The Village and the area around Howard Johnson’s. The Village has certainly changed a lot since last I was here and about half of it I didn’t recognize. I wanted to take some pictures, but since we were planning to be here the next morning, I decided it was better to wait until it wasn’t crowded to do take pictures.

I found this plaque in a conspicuous, hard-to-see spot near Howard Johnson’s.

We got our room after that and put stuff in and took a breather in-between that and our second walk out. We decided we wanted to take the parallel path along the river on River Road and then come down along the main sidewalk, but first through the Mountain Mall which I hadn’t been in since… 2006? Like I expected, a lot of stores inside were different, but I wasn’t expecting that some places like The Rhythm Section and Cowboy Way and Gatlin-Burlier to still be around. Where I live today, we’ve seen a lot of the malls and shopping get taken down by the recessions and the retail economic climate, so I was amazed to see some of them were still around and also pretty thankful as I’ve still never been to any mall like The Mountain Mall.

After that we did our walk along River Road. There were a few places to get down near the river, but I only got down to one of them to take a picture of the river. It was a pleasant walk and we spied a few people fishing. I was disappointed that the Christ In The Smokies (or “Christus Gardens”, as it used to be called) was demolished. We walked along the sidewalk path up to the back entrance of Ober Gatlinburg across from Bennett’s BBQ. We had an impulse to have a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg tram, but we had just missed the last tram ride of the day. It was about 10 minutes to 6:00PM and it was surprising that they closed so late in the day given how close to Summer it was (Editor’s Note: As of June 2022, the Ober Gatlinburg tram is open until 8:00PM). We instead sat down for a bit and geared up for the next section of the walk.

As we strolled along the main sidewalk back towards Howard Johnson’s, we took in the occasional shop, walked to the Ole Smoky Moonshine district for a bit (more Jeremy’s thing than mine), and had a look at my guilty pleasure – the arcades. I didn’t have what I needed to actually play any of the games (and I recognized almost none of them save for one Street Fighter II machine), but I always enjoyed walking through Arcadia and the arcade at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum. If there was more time, I would’ve liked to see the Gatlinburg Pinball Museum.

There was new stuff at the corner near Bubba Gump Shrimp. Blaine’s and the Dunkin Donuts were gone and there was a new restaurant and an unbelievably fancy milkshake store in their places. I hadn’t seen anything like The Crazy Mason milkshake store before. I couldn’t afford to get anything there (the average price of a milkshake there was $14) but they looked incredible and unlike any milkshake I’ve ever seen. Soon after, we popped into a nearby candy store and did get a Reese’s Pieces pretzel and some truffles there (that was more in our price range). The Reese’s Pieces pretzel wasn’t cheap, but my gosh, I think they dumped the entire box of Reese’s Pieces for this one pretzel. I had to eat it over the bag because there was actually more on it than the pretzel could handle!

Even after that decadent sugar rush, the subject of dinner came up and we were unsure of what we wanted. We still had some leftovers from lunch. As we walked further down the sidewalk, a man passing out free desert vouchers for The Burg Steakhouse caught our attention. Generally, neither Jeremy nor I are swayed by tourism pitches on the sidewalk, but this time we went for it as a gesture of our vacation. The Burg Steakhouse was where the old Pizza Hut in Gatlinburg used to be, but this new restaurant was a completely different experience than even we were expecting.

We were expecting a place called “The Burg Steakhouse” to be another casual dining steakhouse, but this was a much higher level affair. This was “pop the question” fancy dining! It was a darker, intimate-looking restaurant with something that made me think of a German Alpine-type architecture. The prices reflected that it was above a casual affair as well. Steaks were in the range of $50 to $60 and there was a tomahawk steak that was $149. We stayed and decided the experience would make the overnighter even more memorable, though we had to split a single entree and salad bar. It didn’t matter, the steak and the salad bar provided even more food to take back to the hotel room – and THEN we got our desert, which was a brownie with some melted fudge and a sweet cream of some kind on top it. Not a huge desert, but one that was well above average in taste.

After we got good and full and had our walking in, we decided to call it a day. We spent the rest of the night getting comfy and Jeremy enjoying TV on his “wonder chair” the room was offering.

The next morning, we both ended up getting up a little after 7:00AM, which was earlier than we were expecting, but we decided to get up anyway and make the most of it. We walked through The Village and other than some wetness along the brick walkways from workers doing morning cleaning, it was perfect for taking the pictures I wanted to take.

The photos I took are as follows:

Then we did what was probably my favorite part of our brief stay in Gatlinburg – breakfast at The Pancake Pantry. I’ve heard all the stories of people lining up around the block to get in the door, but we walked right in like we owned the place! I got the chocolate chip pancakes and I don’t remember what Jeremy got, but the pictures are below.

Finally, we needed to get packed up and move ahead on our schedule, but even though it was an expensive drop through Gatlinburg, it’s also one of the most memorable stops I’ve had in some time. I hope I get the opportunity to see more in the next couple years!”