Street Art, an Apocalyptic Cult, and Cozy Counter Culture in Chattanooga’s Southside District

Chattanooga’s Southside District is centered around the junctions of Main Street with Market Street and Broad Street, respectively. You could say that it is the area south of Warehouse Row down to 20th Street. It would not be too much of a stretch to say it is the area between Finley Stadium and the Chattanooga National Cemetery, almost running parallel to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Over a decade ago, this part of town received a major facelift, many buildings were renovated, new businesses were encouraged to move in, and residential developers went to task with a goal to provide realistic and affordable housing. The city received about five million dollars in grants to get things started on the surface, but the rest was left in the hands of new residents and business owners.

My song for this blog is “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by The Andrews Sisters:

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Southside is a lively community packed full of coffeehouses, breweries, art, and communal culinary/recreation spaces. More than anything I love having so many options for coffee and tea, and a strong “counter culture” that fosters those environments. Here are a few of my favourites. 

Velo Coffee Roasters roasts and grinds their own beans, and brews them fresh or sell them in store or online. You can also order bulk coffee or schedule mobile service and catering in advance.

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Velo partners with the nearby Sunrise dairy and the Bread & Butter Bakery to ensure quality local goods are used. There is a small seating area outside in a shared garden, or you can grab a cup to go in their environmentally-friendly packaging.

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Niedlov’s Bakery & Cafe has been Chattanooga’s source for traditional, rustic, artisan breads and pastries for nearly twenty years.

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They pride themselves on using ancient recipes with no added sugar or preservatives.

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If you could just smell these photos…

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Lox Bagel is one of my favourite meals and Niedlov’s did not disappoint. They marinate cucumber chunks in herbs and pile it on top of a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, raw red onions, capers, and serve it with a lemon wedge.

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I mean look at it.

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Niedlov’s donates leftover food to the Community Kitchen and local farm animals, and also manages a large scale composting project.

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Mad Priest Coffee Roasters is another company with several cool missions that support the local community just as much as they do displaced and people in need across the planet.

If you have a few minutes, watch this video about their newer second location that offers craft cocktails and includes some really great views of Chattanooga.

Mean Mug Coffeehouse opened its first location here in Southside back in 2011 and has a total of four coffeeshops now. Three are in Chattanooga and one is opening this year in Fort Oglethorpe nearby. It was one of the first businesses to open as part of the neighbourhood revitalization efforts and soon many other businesses followed.

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There are cozy nooks on either side of the entrance, a row of bench style seating indoors, a couple tables out front, and a small courtyard outside.

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Mean Mug roasts and grinds their own beans, and sells them by the bag. You can check out their menu, which includes lots of vegan, paleo, and other organic options here.  I could not resist one of their oatmeal cream pies.

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Other great places like the women-owned Chattanooga Coffee Co., Cadence Coffee Co., and Goodman Coffee Roasters, are all local coffee shops with admirable causes.

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Market South is a communal restaurant and bar space that features local businesses Milk & Honey, The Green Room Coffee & Music, Chow Main, Five Wits Brewing Company, Slow Rise Pizza, R&D Test Kitchen, and Grand Truck Railroad.

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I stopped in for a London Fog during Milk & Honey‘s brunch hours and it was delicious. People at nearby tables were sharing plates full of biscuits, french toast, and other incredible looking specialties.

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Each business inside has some varying hours so make sure the place you have your heart set on is serving when you visit, for example some of them are not open during early brunch hours so you may have to wait until later in the afternoon.

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Take a walk around the building afterward to see some cool murals.

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Hi-Fi Clyde’s is a honky tonk, live music venue, and barbecue joint all in one, with a second location in Nashville.

The same restaurant group entity that owns Hi-Fi Clyde’s also owns Milk & Honey plus three other restaurants on my list for next time- Community Pie, Urban Stack, and Taco Mamacita.

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Today’s special was the Sunday Funday Torta with brisket, bacon, bacon jam, avocado, caramelized onions, scrambled eggs, chunky ranchero salsa, minus the mayo, on toasted bread.

It was delightfully strange and was a great alternative to the usual barbecue sauce, plus it was served with a little cup of pimiento cheese grits.

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Clyde’s also has some interesting murals and planter boxes out on its exterior.

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Southside Social is a communal restaurant and bar space similar to Market South, but offers several options for physical activity and recreation.

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Enjoy a beer outside from Chattanooga Brewing Company next door while playing cornhole, or go inside for bowling, darts, pool, and other games.

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The floor was so comically sticky that I had to walk really slowly and hike my knees up to peel the soles of my shoes away, but this is a fun space.

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There are some larger tables in the restaurant seating area and a covered side patio, or you can request one of the private nook booths for a date or deeper conversations.

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Market Street
There is an entertainment complex known (historically and currently) as Terminal Station near the intersection of Main and Market surrounding the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. You can see the Choo Choo sign on top of the hotel from a few blocks away.

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Originally Terminal Station was built in 1909 to serve the railroad, and it was the first railway station in the Southern USA region. The station and the Choo Choo hotel have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.

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You will notice the unique architecture and style of the interior that somewhat resembles Art Deco.

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This is actually called Beaux Arts and it fused Italian Renaissance features with French Neoclassic and Gothic elements, incorporating geometric patterns, iron, glass, and earth tones.

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You can reserve rooms in the main building or the remodeled train cars, but there have been multiple reports of ghost sightings, faint jazz music, and other hauntings over the decades inside the cars, and from people I know personally.

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Visitors who are not guests of the hotel are still welcome to walk around the lobby, gardens, and to admire the train cars.

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The Glenn Miller Gardens are two acres of former railroad tracks that have been converted to green space.

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Manicured bushes, fountains, gazebos, and benches line the space along the guest room train cars and other attractions.

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The Choo Choo Hotel hosts Nic & Norman’s Restaurant, Gate 11 Distillery, Stir Comedy Club, and a franchise of the Frothy Monkey chain coffee shop onsite as well.

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An Escape Room game and a few shops are also outside by the gardens and guests can enjoy meals and cocktails on the large open patio during nice weather.

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Terminal Brewhouse is in a tall, narrow brick monument that recalls the Flatiron Building. It is right next to the Choo Choo and might be a good option for some fun without kids running around.

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Across the street from the Choo Choo Hotel, the Wildflower Tea Shop & Apothecary is a lovely shop with a limited selection of dried herbs and teas, freshly brewed drinks, and some locally made body products.

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The website says they carry over 100 but perhaps they were hidden somewhere.

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Hot Chocolatier is also across from the Choo Choo, and is the top place to pick up gourmet chocolate treats, truffles, desserts, and sweet drinks.

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Next door, the Chattanooga Whiskey holds the honour of being the first distillery created in Chattanooga in over a century following Prohibition, and its mission is to “bring back whiskey to the people.”

Since 2011 it has been the town leader in quality whiskey at its Riverfront location and this one, and has produced some daring surprises from inside the Experimental Distillery.

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Explore the blocks beyond Main Street and the Terminal Station, you never know what you might find.

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Heaven & Ale Brewery, Wanderlinger Brewery, State of Confusion, and Flying Squirrel are on my list for when I return.

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When you have had your fill of coffee, tea, whiskey, or craft beer, responsibly pay a visit to Montague Park and admire the Sculpture Gardens.

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Here you will find over 30 acres of other-worldly sculptures, monoliths, larger than life human and natural forms, and abstract concepts molded with various materials.

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The gardens as we know them now have been in existence since 2016 and are the largest sculpture gardens in the Southeastern region.

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Efforts to create the Commemorative Forest onsite are also in the beginning stages. Read more about that here.

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If you are a shopper, be sure to check out Warehouse Row, a boutique style mall on an old Civil War site.

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I would be remiss to write about the beauty of Chattanooga’s Southside district and not mention some of its darkness. Closer to the MLK District, the cute and sunny Yellow Deli looks like a nice place to meet up with friends and indulge in one of the many fresh, organic items on their health food menu.

Yellow Deli has several locations in the United States and a few chapters nationwide, but it started here in Chattanooga. The deli is owned by the Twelve Tribes apocalyptic fundamentalist cult, which rejects modern society, modern Christianity, and bases their religious practices off some cherry-picked hybrid of Judaism and early Catholicism.

In addition to Yellow Deli locations, Twelve Tribes owns dozens of other cafés, farms, bakeries, home repair companies, and Hiker Hostel points along the Appalachian Trail and more hiking trails around the world. Twelve Tribes holds a non-profit status and does not pay taxes or dues to the society they profit from.

These kooks follow the teachings of the recently deceased Gene Spriggs who vehemently imparts such beliefs as “blacks are destined to be slaves, homosexuals deserve the death penalty, women (who are not allowed to use birth control) have to atone for Eve’s original sin and suffer childbirth without any pain relief” and that their Saviour will not return until 144,000 perfect male virgins have been groomed.

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Members have predatory approaches for recruitment like following bands around on tour and latching on to inebriated or injured individuals, under the guise of offering safety and medical attention in order to convince them to join. They set up compounds and businesses where they have easy access to young, impressionable, and highly vulnerable people seeking aid or necessities like college campuses, homeless shelters, mental hospitals, and abuse/ addiction recovery centers.

Membership requires quitting one’s job and handing over all homes, vehicles, financial assets, and all other material possessions to the community, disconnecting from the outside world and from outsider loved ones as well. All members are required to live together and work unregulated hours in one of the tribe’s businesses without pay, which has gotten them in hot water with labor authorities.

One of the most severe and upsetting practices of the group is constant, systematic beating and abuse of children. Any member of the community is permitted to beat any child he or she chooses at any time. Children are not allowed to have toys, play games, participate in anything creative, or to speak unless spoken to.

Children do not receive education outside of scripture and a disciplinary manual written by Spriggs, or with skills that enable them to do physical labour in the commune. They are not allowed to make decisions or defend themselves. Many people who have escaped Twelve Tribes report that suffering perpetual brainwashing, fear tactics, guilt trips, threats, brutal abuse, and gaslighting was part of daily life.

Evidence of abuse, dangerous ideologies, and predatory behaviour within the Twelve Tribes cult is never-ending. Undercover investigative reports, interviews with former members who escaped, FBI and CIA documents, and countless reports over the years all back this up. Just do a quick Google search.

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That being said, I always try to spend my time and efforts visiting and supporting non-chain, local businesses with ethical business practices and causes. Despite our human morbid curiosity to witness such horrible places like Yellow Deli in person, I encourage you to not spend money at Yellow Deli or associated businesses and, instead, support literally anyone else when visiting Chattanooga.

In the area for a while? Follow me to the MLK district or downtown Chattanooga’s Riverfront! (blogs in progress)

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2 thoughts on “Street Art, an Apocalyptic Cult, and Cozy Counter Culture in Chattanooga’s Southside District

  1. Pingback: Downtown Chattanooga’s Riverfront, Northshore, & Bluff View Districts | Fernweh

  2. Pingback: Rock, Paper, Frietjes | Fernweh

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