Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Memphis Olympics: Parallel Bars

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In this week's cover story, Flyer writers discover some unique Memphis Olympic events. Here's Michael Finger's look at the Parallel Bars.

Parallel Bars: The competition is stiff along one block of Madison Avenue.

Arm muscles rippling, backs straight as arrows, legs braced securely, eyes straight ahead, concentration focused. It's poetry in motion, and the awed spectators wonder just how long the participants can continue until they slip and tumble to the ground.

Oh sure, the parallel bars competition at the Olympic events is fairly interesting, but what's that got to do with this? Here, we're talking about the drinkers perched on the stools, lifting frosty mugs of Budweiser to their lips at a pair of "parallel bars" in Memphis: two Midtown landmarks named Old Zinnie's and Zinnie's East.

From the outside, Old Zinnie's is a curiosity — a turreted building constructed in 1905 at the corner of Madison and Belvedere that over the years has housed a drugstore, a beauty parlor, and even a bicycle shop.

"We opened Zinnie's in 1973 or 1974, right after Huey's opened," says Perry Hall, current owner of Zinnie's East. "The original owner was a guy named Gerry Wynns. Everyone called him Winnie, but he didn't like that name for a bar, so they named it Zinnie's."

Precisely 109 meters to the east (a distance sanctioned by the Olympics committee), Zinnie's East is a newer establishment, a two-story brick structure erected on the site of a white cottage that was home to a classical-music bar fondly remembered as Fantasia.

So why build two Zinnie's practically side by side?

"We thought we were going to lose our lease down at Old Zinnie's, because the landlord kept raising the rent," Hall says. "So we tore Fantasia down in 1984, and our plan was to just let the other place go and build a new one right here."

And?

"We opened Zinnie's East on February 14, 1985 — Valentine's Day. And on the 13th we walked away from the old place thinking it would go downhill," Hall says. "But it wouldn't die! It just would not die. And now it's become a haven for all the kids from Rhodes."

Old Zinnie's is now owned by Bill Baker. "Not the Bill Baker from Le Chardonnay," Hall explains, "but the other one."

Having two bars with essentially the same name, he admits, has confused customers.

"Old Zinnie's is associated with just a beer and a hamburger, and for a long time people didn't think we [at Zinnie's East] did anything but serve beer and hamburgers." Instead, the new Zinnie's offers a wide-ranging menu, tasty plate lunches, and for those who care nothing at all about their cholesterol levels, a concoction called the Zinnie-Loney: fried bologna, Swiss cheese, and grilled bacon on a bun. Angioplasty costs extra.

Old Zinnie's has some nice architectural touches inside, including a magnificent old bar with tile accents and illuminated stained-glass panels spelling out "Zinnie's." But "new" Zinnie's (as it's often called) features an underappreciated work of art — etched glass panels, designed by Memphis artist (and frequent Flyer contributor) Jeanne Seagle that, says Hall, "has the whole panorama of what Madison Avenue was like when we opened in 1985 — all the characters, from Monk to Dancin' Jimmy."

And there's more. Upstairs at Zinnie's East is yet another bar, called the Full Moon Club. It originally opened across Belvedere from Old Zinnie's, then moved to the second floor of Zinnie's East, taking over space that had been used for catering private parties.

Unfortunately, the Olympic judges refuse to acknowledge that the Full Moon Club and Zinnie's East would qualify for the uneven parallel bars competition — it's some silly technicality — but as far as parallel bars go, Old Zinnie's and New Zinnie's are both winners. More Olympics?

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