The teahouse that the vintage biker club called home is closing

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Time Warp Teahouse on North Central Street closed its doors last week after 20 years in business in Knoxville. Meanwhile, the Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club has reached the end of an era, no longer able to call the Happy Holler hangout its home.

Knox News visited the latest Tuesday night motorcycle meet to find out what makes retro motorcycles so appealing and why the tearoom was the perfect place to form this tight-knit community.

Biker clubs start up all the time, but then dwindle, never exceeding a handful of bikers who are looking for nothing more than a few hours out of the house. The Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club, meanwhile, has continued to grow in Knoxville since its inception in 2003 and now has over 250 members. It wasn’t always going to be the name of the club, however. The first thought was Club 38, as all of the initial members shared the same 38-inch waistline. In fact, membership forms always ask for your body measurements. However, the club eventually decided to share part of its name with the host company, Time Warp Tea Room. And on this particular Tuesday, more bikes than normal congregated at Happy Holler for the band’s final reunion – at least, at this location. Time Warp Tea Room is closing and the club’s future is a bit uncertain.

Peggy Moriarty co-owns Time Warp Team Room with her husband, Dan, who operated a coin-operated machine business next door until cell phones and home video game systems challenged their inventory. The company owned pinball machines and jukeboxes, which turned out to be the perfect backdrop for what would become his next venture: a motorcycle-themed hangout. Dan also had many original motorcycle memorabilia that adorn the walls of the tea room, and people have donated items to his collection over the years. “They’re everywhere,” Peggy said. “People brought him helmets and t-shirts and everything. We don’t know what we’re going to do with all of this. But of all the items, an old-school photo of her and Dan after a run at Chilhowee Park is her favorite — and yes, Peggy said, she’s the trophy.

Eddie Edwards’ 1966 Sears Campus 50 bike has only done about 1,100 miles. Although the members may not be able to ride their vintage bikes every day, it is a pleasure that words simply cannot describe. Pat Deason is out of action when it comes to riding due to complications with his hand. But five years ago, at age 66, he started running on land again. “It’s not like getting in your car and you know you’re going to get somewhere,” he said of vintage motorcycles. “You have to be so much more aware of everything that’s going on around you. … If you don’t understand old machines, you’re not going to understand this, but machines have life. They develop character, they develop a soul. But a new machine doesn’t have that.

The only real requirement to join the club is to own at least one vintage motorcycle. Some members have dozens, including Richard Webb, 85, who was the sixth person to join the club. He has his oldest bike for 60 years. “I just ride because they need exercise,” he said of his bikes. “Sometimes I don’t even feel like going for a ride, but you have to run them.” Meetings usually start around 7 p.m. and are relatively informal. Members raise their hands to share safety tips or suggest a new outing. They also talk about all the new bikes they bought. The secret to the club’s success? It costs $5 to enter the club, one member told Knox News with a smile, and it costs $50 to leave. “No one can afford to go out,” he said.

At club meetings, Webb said, “All my friends are here.” It’s rare to find two or three people with the same interests these days, let alone 250. Many members have similar stories to share and come from the same grassroots background, sparking their fascination with motorcycling when they don’t were just children. For older members, who never could afford a dream bike in their prime, retirement life lends itself well to making up for lost time. “They are time machines; they take you back to another time in your life,” Deason said. “You get on those bikes, you remember the adventures you had on them, where you were, what you did, who your buddies were. … That’s the real attraction.

Even on the last day, co-owner Dan Moriarty kept busy, cracking last-minute jokes with longtime patrons and handing out drinks across the bar. Peggy always smiles on behalf of the company. Although Time Warp sells tea, its menu is much more rooted in coffee. “We never took the booze route,” she said. “Bikers and alcohol don’t mix for us.” Dan has always loved coffee, Peggy said, and after meeting a woman who owned a coffee shop in Bristol, the pair hired her to train before opening Time Warp in 2002. Coffee is even part of the club motto: “We want to be free to drink our espresso, drive our machines and not be harassed by humans. This approach gave rise to sweet encounters and tender friendships. Don’t expect burnouts here.

Deason is grateful for the day he stumbled upon Time Warp Tea Room after noticing vintage motorcycle gear through the window. “I had no idea what this place was,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s weird.’ I love old motorcycles, and here is a place entirely dedicated to old motorcycles. Where do you find that?” What Deason didn’t expect to find was a community of members who have “encyclopedias” of motorcycle knowledge in their heads. While the members will miss the social interaction, what’s even sadder for Deason is the loss of knowledge that could occur if the group disbands. If someone has a question about their motorcycle, there is at least one person in the group who knows how to help them.

Sometimes helping means giving a friend a helping hand. Club members hope such friendships will continue when the group visits Twisters Shakes and Sundaes on North Central Street for their next meeting. Time Warp Tea Room struggled to stay open during COVID-19 but ensured the lights were always on for the club on Tuesdays. While the Moriartys would have liked someone to take over their business and keep its current character, the couple sold the building to new owners in California, whose plans are still unknown. “It’s really been wonderful,” Peggy said of Time Warp’s 20-year journey. “It’s really hard for us to have to close the doors. … There’s nothing else like it anywhere.