Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer
by Chris Davis
From Midtown to Frayser and back again.
Not everybody who goes out on the town is looking to have a good time. Some people just want to be left alone, wrapped in the fuzzy neon glow of a beer sign to toss back their bitter mugs in peace and get on with the business of forgetting. That was me on Saturday night. That's been me since Black Tuesday when morning in America turned to mourning in the feverishly liberal Davis household. I considered going to my old haunt, the Hi-Tone, to hear live music, but there was no music to be had. Instead, the Tone offered an event called Bloody Midget Wrestling, and the thought of little people beating the unholy hell out of other little people to make money for big people reminded me too much of the election.
I grabbed my old pal Fat Jimmy, and we headed to the High Point Pub, looking to drown our sorrows a dozen ounces at a time.
The High Point Pub on High Point Terrace just a smidge south of Summer, is tiny beyond imagining with virtually no ornament except a stuffed, sunglasses-wearing antelope head hung with plastic Hawaiian leis. The atmosphere is friendly, and the bar is known for giving first-time patrons a beer on the house. It's been a long time since I've been to the Pub, and I hope I'll be mistaken for a newbie. No dice. A Pabst Blue Ribbon puts me back half a fin.
The crowd is light but half a dozen customers in this bar can make it seem as congested as a New York subway car at rush hour. Fat Jimmy wants to talk about Fallujah, but I can't concentrate. I keep looking at the stuffed antelope and seeing my own dead head festooned with colorful plastic. "Love Shack," and other bouncy hits from the 1980s blare over the speakers. All of the perfectly groomed bar patrons are having a ball except for me and Fat Jimmy. The festive mood only deepens and darkens our depression. It's time to go to Frayser.
The sign over the door at Harpo's Lounge reads, "Next Exit 201 Poplar," and it's not entirely tongue-in-cheek. The cracked concrete floors are so uneven only a drunk can walk straight. That's fortunate, as Harpo's, a 24/7 roadhouse, is a last refuge for serious drinkers. Here a fiver buys two PBRs with a buck-fifty to spare.
The walls at Harpo's are hung with pinup girls clipped from old magazines, but the once-glossy pages are so darkened from nicotine stains they're nearly invisible against the raw chipboard walls. The Confederate battle flag seems to be the only decoration anybody takes the time to clean. T-shirts behind the bar tout Harpo's as the redneck capital of the world, and they ain't kidding. A drunk passed out near the door is barely visible behind a stack of empty Schlitz tall boys. Even in his slumber he has two fingers pressed against his throat taking his own pulse.
"Scuze me," says a drawling billiards enthusiast, "but I need to take a shot and you're in my damn way." I tell him I'm sorry and move. "I just didn't want to hit you in the head with my pool stick," he says amicably enough. "Not accidentally anyway."
An older, seemingly friendly gentleman comes by and asks us for money to drop in the jukebox. We oblige, although we can barely understand a word he's saying. He slaps Fat Jimmy on the back and says, "Gleenk glunk mucka glunk gip goo, but if I wanted to shoot you you'd be dead already." Then he goes to the jukebox and plays tunes by Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Ferlin Husky. I wonder if there's any other jukebox in town that has Ferlin Husky on it. Fat Jimmy wonders why he isn't dead already.
A motorcycle roars up and a skinny guy dressed head to toe in leather hops off and comes inside. A murmur rumbles through the bar. "He's a crack dealer," somebody says. "Come to the right place," another responds. The leather man is immediately confronted and told he has to leave, but somehow he talks his way out of it. There's a loud crash as one of the crude wooden benches that serves as a barstool tips, sending a handful of laughing tattooed rednecks sprawling to the mat.
"Nothing hurt but my pride," one slurs as he rights the toppled bench and resumes his place next to the leather man, who within a matter of minutes is being forced out the door by a short stocky fellow in a tank top who uses his chest like a battering ram. The leather man stands outside the bar pointing and mouthing threats. Nobody pays him any nevermind.
"I can't believe I did that. I'm so proud of myself," says a skinny, dentally challenged fellow at the end of the bar. "I know I've got to get off the crack, and I'm just so proud of myself I can't believe it."
It turns out the skinny drunk had attempted to buy crack from the alleged dealer who, having no crack, offered to sell him some weed. But this was all part of a vigilante sting operation. Once the leather-clad dealer showed his product, he was bounced out the door.
Fat Jimmy asks how I know about Harpo's, and I tell him about the night my band the West Coast Turnaround -- the only band to ever play Harpo's -- played here. Back then, crack whores ran thick in the place, and they stood behind us while we played, occasionally reaching between our legs and groping our genitals, which responded by creeping up into our abdomens like frightened turtles.
"But why Harpo's?" Fat Jimmy asks.
"Because the guitar player's dad once told him, 'If you value your life, never go to Harpo's."
"So why did you go to Harpo's?" Fat Jimmy asks, sounding like a broken record.
"Because if a country band can make it at Harpo's Lounge they can make it anywhere," I answer definitively. Fat Jimmy wants to talk about Fallujah again, but I'm not in the mood. It's only 4:30 a.m., and I want to go to the Beer Joint.
The Beer Joint is on Broad. It is exactly what its name suggests. And the lukewarm suds are served round the clock. There's just one rule, and it's strictly enforced: no cussing. Here Fat Jimmy and I, hoping for a healthy breakfast, switch from PBR to Miller Lite. Somebody has put a ton of money in the jukebox which plays Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love" over and over again. I suspect it's the guy with the mustache and the mullet standing in the middle of the floor dancing awkwardly with himself. Fat Jimmy still wants to talk about Fallujah, but consumed with my massive hatred of Meatloaf, I'm not in the mood. The Commercial Appeal headline "America Has Spoken" is taped to the beer cooler with a picture of he who shall not be named underneath. There's a logo promoting the Iron Workers Union of America painted on the opposite wall. I'm as baffled by this "mexed missage" as I am about the lingering popularity of Meatloaf.
Fat Jimmy still wants to talk about Fallujah, but I'm still not in the mood. I just want to leave. Dawn's rosy fingers are toying with the moon. It's 6 a.m. I want to go home and pass out. Like so many of the lonely hearts I've seen wandering through this never-ending night, I just want to forget.
High Point Pub, 477 High Point Terrace; Harpo's, 4210 U.S. Highway 51 North; The Beer Joint, 2559 Broad.
by Bruce VanWyngarden
The big-band era lives on at Alfred's.
In 1992, Howard Lamb was sitting in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, pondering his future. Just out of the Navy, he'd spent his military career playing in the renowned Navy big band, the Commodores, and was unsure where life would take him next. Then he got a call from two former bandmates -- Carl Wolfe and Gary Adams, also just retired -- who'd moved to Memphis.
"Pack your bags," they said. "Let's start a big band."
Lamb did just that. He and his former mates formed the Memphis Jazz Orchestra and began playing on Beale Street at various clubs.
Twelve years later, the Memphis Jazz Orchestra is still playing together every Sunday night at Alfred's on Beale. There are 17 members now, all with day jobs. There's an investment banker, a teacher, a computer tech, a hardware salesman, to name a few -- but the MJO is no amateur outfit. Most have played professionally at some point during their careers. These guys can hang with the best of them.
"This is like our bowling night," says Lamb. "It's all about the music, not the money." Some band members also call the gig the "Sunday prayer meeting."
And it is a meeting of sorts. The crowd consists of tourists who've wandered in and regulars who just dig the big-band sound. There's also a diverse mix of singers who take a turn at the mic, including Doug Saleeby, James Austin, Eddie Harrison, Joyce Cobb, Gary Johns, and surprisingly, legendary local deejay Tom Prestigiacomo, who does a pretty good Sinatra.
"The crowd is always good," says Lamb. "And those of us in the band are kind of like extended family. We like each other."
Lamb, who plays trombone, is involved with a number of other musical ventures, including the popular Latin band Orquestra Caliente and the Memphis Dance Orchestra. But big-band music is his passion. "I remember when I first moved here," he says. "You could hear jazz all day on Sunday, just moving from club to club. Now, we're it."
The band has been on Beale in one venue or another for more than a decade, but the Alfred's location may be the best fit. There's an easy comfort to the scene. As the crowd settles in, band members banter with each other and with regulars seated at tables around the stage. The guitar player munches a sandwich as he warms up. The singers congregate at the bar, chatting, waiting their turn at the mic. A fan buys a CD.
"This is the best-kept secret in town," says Prestigiacomo. "These guys are incredible."
It may be a secret to some, but not to the packed crowd on this Sunday night. The prayer meeting is about to begin.
Alfred's, 197 Beale, Sundays, 6-9 p.m.
The Party After the Party
by Bianca Phillips
It's 4 a.m. on a Saturday, and I'm leaning against a pool table watching a DJ spin house beats in the music room at XY&Z, a year-old Midtown late-night bar that's quickly gained a reputation as a hangout for DJs and the old guard of Memphis rave kids. Tonight is the weekly "Pure Fridays" event hosted by Electric Soul Patrol, a local DJ collective. A devoted few are dancing in front of the DJ's tables while the majority of the bar's patrons lounge on comfy loveseats or crowd into booths. Justin Hand and Mary Jane, a couple of DJ celebs, are in the audience chatting it up with other spectators.
A guy in an orange sweatshirt falls to the floor and spins in circles on his hands with his feet in the air. Another guy follows with a similar breakdancing move. At this moment, I understand what Fridays at XY&Z are all about. It's an underground attempt to hold on to the good old days of the Memphis rave scene. It's a way to recapture the late-'90s with all its multicolored, bass-thumping glory.
I am not ashamed to say I was once a raver. I was a big-ass-pants-sporting, tiny-T-shirt-wearing candy kid. My friends and I commuted to jam-packed parties in Memphis from our small Arkansas town nearly every weekend in 2000. Those were the good old days -- when everyone was dancing, the music was spiritual, and the drugs flowed like mud in the Mississippi. But all good things must come to an end, and our little happening scene suffered the same fate as our parents' hippie days.
But there are some who refuse to give up dancing, cuddle puddles, and Ecstasy. And that pretty much sums up the crowd at XY&Z on this Friday night -- grown-up rave kids trying to keep a dying scene alive.
I'm not sure what kind of crowd the bar draws on other nights, but the atmosphere seems to cater to an eccentric party culture. Take the bathrooms, for example. Angled doors, slanted ceilings, diagonally laid tile, and Gothic-style chandeliers make you feel like you're in some strange world where Alice in Wonderland meets Hunter S. Thompson. The effects are hugely intensified when you're intoxicated.
The dance room is spacious with a large psychedelic tapestry adorning one wall. A small set of turntables occupies the other side of the room.
A gated patio with several round metal tables provides a place for patrons to hang outdoors, but with the chill in the air, there aren't many people outside.
It's easy to get inebriated in a hurry at XY&Z. The club has a nightly $5 beer bust -- all you can drink. I arrive 40 minutes before the bust ends, so I spend those precious minutes gulping down as much beer as possible before the tap runs dry. As I'm drinking, I notice the bartender handing one of my friends a red plastic platter of greasy fried pickles. I sample one and quickly decide XY&Z has the best damn beer-battered fried pickles in the world. The kitchen's open until 4 a.m., so my boyfriend and I place an order.
The party kids are pouring in a little late tonight since world-renowned DJ Baby Anne spun at Senses earlier. Around 3:30 a.m., they start arriving, and everywhere you turn, people are talking about Baby Anne.
As I move from the bar to the dance room, where the DJ's still spinning away, I realize that a Friday night at XY&Z is a little like the after-parties we used to have back in the rave days. As the sun was coming up, we'd pack into cars and head to another party in an afterhours club or hotel. After-parties gave the hyper kids a place to wind down and the screwed-up kids a place to come down.
It was typical then for people to hand out flyers announcing upcoming raves, but that doesn't fly at XY&Z. When a guy in a gray hoodie hands the owner a flyer for an upcoming event at Mélange, he's asked to stop soliciting. The owner worries that promoting parties at other bars could hurt his business.
Bars are businesses, after all, and XY&Z depends on this crowd to fill up the bar. On any Friday night after 2:30 a.m., there are 150 to 200 regulars packing the place.
The rave scene has shrunk dramatically, and places like XY&Z are hanging on to the movement by a thread. In the 1980s, underground punk clubs provided a place for punk-rock culture to hibernate and prepare for its rebirth, and that's what seems to be happening at places like XY&Z, Mélange, and the new Liquid Lounge. If these bars continue to provide a home for electronica fans, maybe, just maybe, we'll see a resurgence of interest a few years down the line.
X,Y&Z, 394 North Watkins.
by Janel Davis
The last time the Flyer put together a nightlife issue, my assignment was the popular college nightclub on Marshall Avenue known as the Spot. Although I was well out of college, with a few minor adjustments -- short skirt, tight shirt, and, like, a giggle -- I fit in just fine. But time moves on and I got older.
This time around, I chose the newest club on Beale Street. The one where all the cool people go: the Plush Club.
I should confess, I'm not big on clubs. I never could really dance, being a card-carrying member of the "Rhythmless Nation." Because I was a wall-hugger, my previous clubbing experiences always seemed like a waste of time and money. But this Saturday night I was determined to change matters. I called up my trendy friend Kenny, who called a few of his friends, who had friends already inside the club, who promised to save us a sofa.
I called the club and asked: What time does the place get jumping? How much to get in? and When's closing time? Answers: around 11:30 p.m., $10, and whenever the crowd leaves. My kind of place.
One of the best things about Plush is its location at the eastern end of the Beale Street entertainment district. It's away from the crowds and seems a welcome oasis to the hustle and bustle. Since its opening a few months ago, the Plush Club has become the place to see and be seen. It was the scene for Mayor Herenton's post-Roy Jones Jr./Glen Johnson fight party with actor Steven Segal in attendance. It's also become a popular spot for after-concert parties. The club touts its 21-and-older age restriction, hoping to attract a more sophisticated clientele.
With all the hoopla surrounding the club, we expected long lines at the entrance. Instead, the red carpet was ours as we sauntered through the security checkpoint. (Actually, I was hoping for a crowd of adoring fans. Oh well.) In keeping with its reputation, aggravating inconveniences such as hand stamping and wardrobe warnings don't happen at the Plush Club. As the radio spots say, this is a place for grown-ups.
With its split-level construction, the club is spacious. Dining tables surround a large circular bar. Beyond the tables and along the walls are sofas surrounding a large denlike area. Between the sofas and the stage is yet another seating area.
Sinking into a sofa, I did indeed feel grownup and sexy. The space was cool, but the L-shaped sofas' proximity to the tables made it a little difficult for people to move to the dance floor. Loosening up was easy though, as the DJs spun the latest hip-hop and R&B.
After a few songs, I was ready to party. There was space on the expansive dance floor for even an arm-flailer like me to "stop in the name of love." For once in my life, dancing at a club was actually fun! There were no gawkers scouring the floor for their next conquest and no youngsters finger-pointing at dancers like me. There were a few old, pimp-dressed men wandering the floor, but even they were cool.
During a break, our famished party checked out the short snack menu. We thought the food was overpriced, but drinks were reasonable, and the service was excellent.The eclectic-looking servers hustled and earned their tips.
Bur before I totally fell in love with the place, it had to pass the bathroom test. Unfortunately for a club priding itself on being swank, its bathrooms were disappointing. The women's restroom was small with just three stalls and rough toilet paper littering the floor. Trash cans overflowed. A place like Plush should have a sitting area, contemporary design, and at least a few rolls of Charmin!
But still, the Plush Club was a good experience. I felt like Caesar: I came. I saw. I danced. I was a Plushie.
The Plush Club, 380 Beale Street.
by Susan Ellis
On Sundays, Prescott@Combos Cafe, an African-American club on Mt. Moriah, hosts "Squeaky Clean Comedy Night." It is, says the announcer, for those who like their jokes a little less raw and is perfectly suitable for "after church and shit."
This is Saturday night, however, so what you're about to hear will be blue, and there will be simulated sex. One comic brings up Viagra, for instance. That little blue pill, he asserts, is a mighty big nuisance. One disconcerting side effect, he says, is the increased risk of walking in on your grandparents doing it. To illustrate his point, he, um, acts out old-people intercourse.
And what about R. Kelly? Ewww. The emcee has seen the tape which allegedly shows Kelly having sex with a minor. That is disturbing enough, but there is one particular act that has him really grossed out. Without going into detail as to what he's talking about, let's just say he winds up this bit by noting that no matter how attractive the partner, "It's still ass."
The evening is not all dirty jokes, however. There is the gulf between blacks and whites to observe (summed up, says one of the comedians, by differences between the McDonald's in South Memphis and the one in Germantown). There is the recent election too and, of course, the silly things men and women do to each other. The opening act confesses to having a car so raggedy that someone from T-DOT put one of those orange stickers on the car while the engine was running. It's just a matter of time, explained the T-DOT guy.
If the jokes mentioned above don't strike you as amusing, it's probably because they don't translate well into ink and paper. Someone once said that most people think that they have good taste and that they are funny when really neither is true. It's so cool then to see the local talent Prescott@Combos has attracted.
The club is nothing fancy. There's a bar and seating off to one side, and the stage area is in a separate, closed-off room. This room has a small stage with plenty of seating arranged so that the sight-lines to the performer are uninterupted. On this night the place is just about filled. The crowd is middle class in a range of ages. And they are laughing together at the not-so-squeaky-clean jokes because it's Saturday night, not Sunday.
Prescott@Combos Cafe, 2528 Mt. Moriah.
A Little Pub Crawling
by Liz Wiedemann
All dolled-up but can't decide where to go? To help ease your angst, I put on my party pants last Saturday night and did a little investigating.
9 p.m: In search of the perfect drink to get the ball rolling, a friend and I stop first at the Red Bar, near Overton Square.
A far cry from the fraternity scene, the Red Bar atmosphere is perfect for a drink with friends, a date, or even watching a football game. Martinis and wine are the specialties and the laid-back atmosphere appeals to a diverse crowd. Our server, Sarah, recommends the "Cooterlini," a great drink despite its suggestive name. We also try the chocolate martini, but unless you're a fan of straight vodka, you might want to order extra Godiva syrup for this drink. Red Bar will soon be offering Sunday-night specials on domestic beer, and their 50-cent jello shots are highly recommended.
11:30 p.m.: Sailing into the peak drinking hours, I meet up with another friend at the Buccaneer for the Scenestars DJ party. The Buccaneer is tucked away between Madison and Union in Midtown, but the pirate-themed atmosphere and live music attract an eclectic crew.
I'm not sure what style of music would best accent a bar that looks like a pirate ship, but as one customer says, the Scenestars' "lo-fi funk, urban sound" seems to work. This Cheers-meets-Long John Silver atmosphere is far from clubby though. As bartender Andrew James says, "We're looking for pro-drinkers here. No amateurs." A full bar is offered, but given the Honey Brown and assorted ales on tap, I'd recommend sticking to beer. That's free advice from this pro drinker. Anchors aweigh.
1 a.m.: For a break and some free popcorn, I stopped by Zinnie's to kill time at my favorite bar before going to Raiford's. Zinnie's boasts no frills or entertainment, unless you count the loud college kids.
2 a.m.: Mentally and physically prepared, I head to Raiford's -- the oasis of downtown Memphis, with its Christmas lights and sign reading, "No Illegal Drugs."
The blaring music of Outkast greets us as we enter the small bar, momentarily distracted by the bouncers dressed in white coats and tails and top hats. It's Shaft meets Saturday Night Fever. If you're looking for a drink, you can get a beer in a 40-ounce bottle. Cheers. The poles and mirrors on the dance floor complement the fog machines nicely, as do the constant sounds of sirens and whistles. If you get tired, you can sit on one of the white leather loveseats. It only adds to the surreal experience that is Raiford's. As we walk through the dreamlike fog to leave, we briefly consider taking advantage of one of the white limousines available for rides home.
4:45 a.m.: Home, alive, but barely.
Red Bar, 35 S. Florence; The Buccaneer, 1368 Monroe; Zinnie's, 1688 Madison; Raiford's, 157 Vance.
B-ball and Beale Street
by Chris Herrington
Memphis may be the home of the blues, but it's easy to spend a night on Beale Street without hearing the city's signature sound, at least if last Friday night is any indication.
After watching the Grizzlies fall to the Houston Rockets, most of the sellout crowd of 18,000-plus filed out of FedExForum and headed toward the parking lots. But I followed a healthy minority of hoops fans over to Beale Street. Chilly temperatures or the sign-wielding, soul-saving street preachers apparently unaware of the Bush reelection three days earlier (You guys WON, okay? You can GO HOME NOW) kept the street crowd down, but there was plenty of action inside the clubs.
FedExForum has its own gathering places, but several of them -- the upscale Opus, the more casual Blue Note Lounge, the locker-room-adjacent Backstage--are restricted to certain ticket-holders (and are so popular that sold-out games so far have been plagued by lots of empty seats, as fans linger in the restaurants). The exception, open to anyone attending a game, is Jack's Old #7 sports bar, located right off the lobby by the team store. Jack's was full but not crowded both before and after the game Friday, and provided a welcome low-key alternative to Beale.
Silky O'Sullivan's and Alfred's have prime post-Forum-event real estate, and plenty of Grizzlies fans made a beeline for each club. My crew hit Silky's first, where the club's trademark dueling pianos act was making the socially lubricated faithful feel comfortable with a series of achingly familiar songs -- "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Sweet Caroline," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Dock of the Bay" -- while blurry-eyed preppie guys swilled down Red Bull and vodka and leered at pretty blondes in too much makeup.
A musician friend accompanying me took one step into the door and cracked, "I've been in five bands in this city, and I've never played in front of this many people." I wanted to tell him that these people weren't there to hear music, or at least not to pay attention to musicians, but were just there to have a drunken good time. And that was the theme up and down the street.
At Alfred's, people lined up outside waiting to get onto a dance floor where young pretty things were bumping to "Ice Ice Baby." Over at Pat O'Brien's, Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" was blaring from speakers in the indoor bar.
At the western end of Beale, long-haired guys were playing Southern rock at Wet Willie's, AC/DC power-chords blaring from the sound system at Club 152, even hip-hop dance music ("C'Mon and Ride It" -- you'll hear no complaints from me about that) serving as a pied-piper on the outdoor speaker at B.B. King's.
The blues wasn't totally missing, of course. Clubs such as Rum Boogie and Blues Hall provided blues for people who wanted it. But for blues purists it must be an awful state of affairs. After a couple a rum-and-Cokes it felt okay to me.
Back at Silky's, a nice waitress brings me a basket of chili-cheese fries, a friend good-naturedly provides sarcastic commentary ("I hope we get to hear 'Mustang Sally'"), I keep one eye on the Lakers-Spurs game on the TV and the other on the floor, where a happy-looking couple, a few drinks past embarrassment, do the forbidden dance in front of a group of cheering, laughing friends. The Griz lost big and the blues is on the run, but right now it's Friday night and there ain't nothing wrong with Beale Street.
Silky O'Sullivan's, 183 Beale.