Riverside Taphouse to open, host special guest

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Husband-and-wife team, Cheri Tinney and Michael Howell, were bouncing off the walls on Tuesday, as they were in “down-to-the-wire” mode just three days away from the grand opening of their new downtown Elizabethton business.

“We are just so incredibly excited to be opening this Friday,” said Riverside Taphouse co-owner Michael Howell. “It’s amazing to be part of the Evenings on Elk event and part of this downtown. A lot of things are happening. There is a lot of energy.”

The couple will throw the doors open to the community’s first taphouse at 5 p.m. on Friday, in the midst of a new downtown event, Evenings on Elk.

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And they just may have a very special guest — George Wurtzel — often referred to as “the Subaru Guy” and most often recognized as the blind tour guide from nationally-aired Subaru commercials.

Wurtzel has left a lasting mark on the new taphouse — literally. He designed and created the 16-foot bar that will be the business’s focal point.

Wurtzel, talented in custom furniture design and woodworking, also discovered a talent for acting when he was featured on the Subaru commercial.

“Dumb luck,” he says, netted him the gig.

“There was a casting call for the part,” Wurtzel said. “They were looking for ‘a blind gentleman, between the ages of 55-75, slightly rustic and somewhat curmudgeonly.’ I didn’t call them but five people sent them my name,” he laughed.   

Wurtzel, Tinney and Howell’s friendship started with a chance meeting at The Coffee Company in downtown Elizabethton, where he met Tinney and learned of the couple’s plans to open a taphouse.

The Traverse City, Michigan native had been living in Hickory, North Carolina, where he had worked for years in the furniture business. He had decided to retire and had come to town, looking to buy a building that would suit his needs — one that could provide an upstairs living space and a downstairs retail space for his business, GM Wurtzel Custom Furniture and Designs.

Although he was unsuccessful in finding what he was looking for in Elizabethton — deciding instead on a space in nearby Greeneville — he kept in touch with Tinney and Howell, returning to attend a fundraiser for the taphouse project at Jiggy Ray’s.

Then, about three weeks ago, Wurtzel found himself back in Elizabethton, passing through on his way back from Banner Elk. He decided to drop in on the couple as they were working on their taphouse.

“While we were there, I asked them, ‘What are you going to do about a bar?’ They didn’t have any definite plans.”

Wurtzel, a woodworker and craftsman, had an idea — a 16-foot long idea.

“We came to a deal for me to build a bar for them, based on their needs and my imagination,” he said.

On Friday evening, he says he is looking forward to seeing that bar put to good use.

“Lord willing and the road don’t flood, I’ll be there.”


Wurtzel is only one of several who have helped Tinney and Howell make their dream into a reality. A number of community members and tradesmen have pitched in to help including Charles LaPorte and David Harmon of LaPorte Construction who have donated their time to the project. Little Heat and Air has also provided assistance, recycling materials from inside the building to keep costs low.

The Taphouse’s building needed some love. Housed in the old Hook’s Cafe, which later became the Covered Bridge Cafe, the space has been empty for some time.

Tinney and Howell plan to take full advantage of their location overlooking the Doe River.

In addition to their main taproom, guests can enjoy the great outdoors on the back patio, and there are also plans to fence off a section of the front sidewalk area to allow for even more outdoor seating.

“There wasn’t much activity down here on the third block before, after hours, except for Jiggy Ray’s,” Tinney said. “The area was just screaming for some love right here next to the river. We have one beautiful spot down here.”

Even more good news for their “spot” — The Elizabethton Farmer’s Market will also find a new home in front of the Taphouse, beginning in June, and the couple has plans to open the back room in the coming weeks, making it available for private parties for groups of 12-15.

While the Taphouse won’t be serving food, Tinney says that with both Big Dan’s East TN BBQ Company and Jiggy Ray’s nearby, guests are welcome to bring any food from the outside in.

She describes the Taphouse as “family-friendly,” and says they will be providing chalk and outdoor games for children. The Taphouse will also serve Dr. Enuff, locally-made root beer and other locally-made non-alcoholic beverages.

Hours for the business will be Wednesday through Friday, 4-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; and Sundays, noon-8 with a food truck available for what Tinney calls “Self-Care Sundays.”