Recently, I came across an article that was extolling the virtues of the new and improved cocktail lounge, a place where you can sip your cosmopolitan while hobnobbing among the elite in the Memphis social scene; where slick bartenders serve you up a sexy drink and a smile to match and you can show off your knowledge of pricey liqueurs. Apparently, this whole lounge culture has swept the country and has finally alit here in Memphis via New York. With the influx of young professionals packing themselves into flashy hot spots like Automatic Slims and Gibson Guitar Lounge, Memphis is becoming quite a trendy place.
OK, so we finally got a professional sports team who might stick around, and yes, weve even got the Lewis/Tyson match, but lets not kid ourselves. Were no New York. We seem to have forgotten that Memphis charm lies not in its tinsel, but in its history. So, just once, trade in your white chocolate martini for a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon and experience nightlife, true Memphis style.
First stop, The Buccaneer Lounge. Opened in 1967 in a tiny house on Monroe, The Buccaneer is the second oldest bar in Memphis and has maintained the same ownership since the beginning. Its an easy place to miss, but once youve scouted out its red padded front door, youll be glad you did. The Buccaneer boasts the best jukebox and the friendliest bartenders in town. You can plop yourself down in a huge vinyl booth or get cozy next to the massive stone fireplace. If you prefer to be active while you quaff, you can play anything from pool or darts to an antique upright piano set up on the miniscule dance floor.
You can even go out back for a game of horseshoes or basketball if you wish. Depending on the night, the crowd will range from gaggles of unruly frat boys to small clusters of elderly regulars and sometimes there will be no one at all. If not, more beer for you and youll get a chance to better check out the pirate ship motif complete with skull and crossbones, rusty anchors, and the like. Yes, its dark and smoky and you wont be able to see whos calling your cellphone, but if you want to see a lounge the way it should be, the Buccaneers the place, and though you wont get served a manhattan, you will have a maahvelous time.
If you dont want to park your SUV in front of The Buck, you can head to The Lamplighter, nestled safely (or safer) between Zinnies Full Moon Club and Old Zinnies.
Be prepared to slum though, you wont find a Heineken in this joint. You will find some pretty sweet revolving Busch beer lamps, though, and if you must, Pabst Blue Ribbon in a bottle. Believe it or not, the Lamplighter used to be quite a trendy little place itself back in the 1970s. You might even be surprised to hear that your parents possibly hung out there in college. Though, if they did, they probably wouldnt admit it. Some of the bartenders have worked there since it opened and if youre in the mood, theyll be happy to tell you some pretty wild stories. The Lamplighter gets pretty busy at night, so the best time to go is during happy hour. You can usually use the pool table then and if youre nice and the bartender likes you, you may even get some complimentary popcorn.
If youre a little uneasy and you just want to dip your toe, The Two Way Inn is the place for you. Located on Cooper in a tiny structure, the Two Way used to be the favorite watering hole for local prostitutes and sometimes a handful of CBU students (just a coincidence). It was purchased last year by the owner of Young Avenue Deli, and though it has changed a bit since then, you can still find the coldest beer and the best selection of sad country songs in Memphis.
At night, the Two Way gets pretty packed and on weekends, you can barely squeeze your way around. The best time to go, if you have the luxury, is during the afternoon. Then you can get the full effect of the way it used to be and have your pick of the best hamburger in the whole city or an equally good fried bologna sandwich. Even if youre a teetotaler, I recommend tasting one of these divine creations. On any given night, you could walk in to a DVD showing on one of the TVs and a room full of silent viewers or a rowdy bunch of imbibers whooping it up. If you just cant give up your cellphone and your attitude, The Two Way is always a good choice.
Please understand, theres absolutely nothing wrong with getting dressed up and enjoying a good dirty martini, but dont forget where you are. If you love Memphis, you gotta love all of it, grimy underbelly and all.