Half a century ago, one of the most popular restaurants in Memphis had a rather humble name. Owners called it The Stable, and I recently turned up an old menu for this interesting establishment — one of the earliest “theme” restaurants in our city.
In 1942, an enterprising young man named Allen Gary teamed up with an equally enterprising fellow named George Early, and they purchased a brick stable — a real one, apparently, that had been built in the mid-1800s — at 60 South Bellevue, just around the corner from Union Avenue. They cleaned the place out, put in a full kitchen, installed a Wurlitzer jukebox, added tables and booths, and hung a neon sign out front advertising “The Stable.”
The tiny menu, designed like a barn door, proclaimed the establishment “Dispensers of Southern Horse-pitality,” and the owners continued that “horse” theme with a selection of salads (instead of main dishes, as you might expect) with names like “Stagecoach,” “Hack,” “Hansom,” “Buggy,” “Cart,” “Surrey,” and “Sulky.” These are all horse-drawn conveyances, you understand. The rest of the menu was pretty basic — your usual selection of sandwiches, hamburgers, and steaks. But there were certainly some oddities, including something called a Beanburger (40 cents), and a “Gooseliver on Rye” sandwich (a quarter). I don’t know the date of this menu, but judging by the prices, it must be pretty old.
Of course, you couldn’t get me to eat a gooseliver on rye sandwich even if it were free.
I’ve seen photos of the place, though I can’t seem to locate them now, which showed an interior that could only charitably be called rustic — plain wooden tables with checkered tablecloths, curtains made from feed bags, a player piano off to one side, a tiny bar tucked into a corner, and lots of junk: stagecoach wheels, kerosene lanterns, packing crates, horse collars. You know — “atmosphere.”
Over the years, the owners expanded the place by adding a larger dining room and extending an awning over the walkway all the way out to the street. But Gary, who had previously worked for Holiday Inns, had bigger plans, and in 1960, he tore down the old Stable and put up an Admiral Benbow Inn. The hotel’s restaurant was called — you guess it — The Stable.
Here are some scans of the old menu. Someone must have kept it as a souvenir of a nice evening, because they apparently had their friends autograph it, adding inscriptions like “Hi Pal, just me” and “To very pleasant memories, may they never be forgotten — Bill” and (this one’s a bit more cryptic) “What you know, Max, here we are again, huh?”
Look at all that food, and those prices! Make you hungry?