Opening this December in downtown Knoxville, Hotel Cleo is proof positive that what’s old is new again.
With a prime address on Gay Street, the 16-room boutique property occupies the storied 1898 Hope Brothers Building that was previously home to a shoe store, Fidelity Trust Bank, a jewelry business, and most recently, Sapphire, one of Knoxville’s most beloved cocktail destinations. “Hotel Cleo is located in a very historic building in downtown Knoxville, and we wanted to honor its history through our very meticulous and sensitive renovation of the space,” comments Cleo’s owner and developer HD Patel of Ephant Group, who identified an opportunity to introduce a new type of hotel to the city when the building went up for sale last year. He continues, “I always wanted to do something new in Knoxville that impacts its hospitality scene, and raise the bar in terms of all the prior projects Ephant Group had undertaken.”
In addition to thoughtfully preserving the structure’s bones and original details, Patel made sure the accommodations—which average a generous 450 square feet—feel more like intimate, elegant studios rather than bland, cookie-cutter hotel rooms. Oversized windows flood the spaces with tons of natural light, while Louis XVI-styled beds, vintage rugs cushioning the original hardwood floors, and antique furnishings lend a luxurious, old-world European feel. Even the bathrooms dazzle with shiny brass fixtures, marble vanities, and handmade tiles.
Another way Patel honored the building’s past is by tapping Knoxville hospitality veterans and power couple Jessica King and Aaron Thompson—they were Sapphire’s owners until it shuttered during the pandemic—to develop and manage Hotel Cleo’s restaurant Lilou. “After a very successful run of their famed bar Sapphire, they launched Brother Wolf, a Negroni bar that made it to Esquire’s list of the Best Bars in America within a year of opening during the pandemic, and Osteria Stella, their Northern Italian restaurant next door,” explains Patel. “Clearly, they know what they are doing as operators, and our mindsets are the same. But most of all, they are absolutely lovely people.”
A French brasserie, Lilou will turn out traditional, familiar fare (imagine steak frites, moules marinières, and profiteroles) in a handsome dining room accented with contemporary art “that will inspire and amaze,” explains King. On top of that, the extensive wine list put together by Thompson will also inspire guests by focusing on growers and sustainability with a strong showing of Champagne. As for the cocktail program, King says it “will be a study on French offerings across the board with exploration in anise and aperitif.”
Whatever brings you to Knoxville and no matter your lifestyle, Hotel Cleo will meet all of your needs in a warm, personalized, and highly curated setting. “We think Hotel Cleo will be for the discerning traveler, both business and pleasure, who is seeking a unique and memorable pied-à-terre for their stay in Knoxville, rather than a conventional hotel room,” explains Patel. “It’s a truly a home away from home to another time and place.”