Next Level in Bartlett; pickle happy hour at Hu.; plus — Spirits & Soul Fest; Brewfest. 

Willie Haynes is a Philadelphia Eagles fan. But Next Level Sports Bar, Haynes' new bar in Bartlett opening Thursday, April 25th, will not be an Eagles place, per se. Instead, he sees fans from all teams gathering there, talking some shit — "That's what makes it fun," says Haynes — and having a good time. "It's open for everybody," he says.

At the opening, Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith will be there, signing autographs and talking guests through the draft. On Friday, the second night of the draft, Xavier Woods of the Cowboys will be there. On the third night of the draft, Next Level is not doing anything special because, Haynes assures, "Nobody watches the third round."

click to enlarge Willie Haynes’ Next Level showcases sports stars like Muhammad Ali. - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Willie Haynes’ Next Level showcases sports stars like Muhammad Ali.

Along one wall, there is massive projected screening. Ain't no way you're missing the game. There are TVs scattered about as well. And, as this is a sports bar, games will be played — pool, darts. Then there's the mechanical bull. "Who doesn't want to ride it?" ponders Haynes, while admitting, "You'll never see me on the bull."

Football helmets adorn a waist-high dividing wall, and prints of sports legends provide some color. Muhammad Ali bursts from a collection of colorful rectangles and spatters. Off to one side is a walk-in humidor, where guests can stash their cigars at 70 percent humidity. A back bar offers cigars as well — Monte Cristo, Rocky Patel, and the like.

click to enlarge Muhammad Ali
  • Muhammad Ali

The menu is solidly sports bar fare — burgers, pizza, sandwiches — divided into sports-themed sections: Starting Line-up, End Zone, Victory Lap.

Among the pizzas are the Touchdown with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and Italian sausage; the Flying Eagle is topped with buffalo chicken and blue cheese crumbles.

The Heavy Weight Champ features shaved sirloin, peppers, sauteed onions and mushrooms, topped in a cheese sauce and served on a hoagie roll. The All Star burger is your classic — with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions. It comes with a secret sauce. The Memphis Express sandwich has since been renamed. It's deep fried catfish.

Haynes once operated a bar in Frayser, which is where he grew up. He now lives nearby Next Level. "It's just a nice neighborhood," he says.

Haynes says he's older and wiser than he was when he ran that first bar, and he plans to apply what he learned then. "Now that I'm older," he says, "really all I have is my family and sports."

Next Level is open Sunday through Thursday, noon to 1 a.m., and Friday and Saturday, noon to 3 a.m.

Next Level Sports Bar, 2857 Appling Way, thenextlevelsportsbar.com

click to enlarge Hu. Diner’s charcuterie plate
  • Hu. Diner’s charcuterie plate

Pickles on pancakes? It's not as unlikely as you might think. TJ Harville, executive chef of Hu., imagines turning pickled raspberries into a syrup. In fact, there's just about nothing Harville wouldn't pickle.

"I'm fascinated with eating them and making them," he says.

Hu. recently introduced its pickle-centric happy hour, Pickled Happy Hour, running from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every day at the Downtown hotel's bar. It features a small-ish menu of pickle-fied snacks and cocktails.

click to enlarge food_pickle.jpg

The menu has deviled eggs (made with pickle juice) and chicharrones. The charcuterie plate includes meats from City Block Salumeria and a selection of pickled vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, and celery.

Harville has a base brine that he will build on for certain items. The celery is made with a brine jacked up with smoked paprika and jalapeño. The celery is used in the bar's Bloody Mary. The tomatoes and the cucumber pickles take advantage of the basic brine, which has champagne vinegar, which is not as potent as regular vinegar, says Harville.

On to the cocktails ... The Pickle Rick is made with a raspberry pickle syrup and topped with pilsner, what Harville calls a summer patio drink. The Gibson is the straightforward classic with Beefeater, vermouth, and a pickle. The Pickleback is a shot of Jameson and a shot of pickle juice — a standard of the restaurant industry.

Harville says that pickling is fundamental to cooking, especially Southern cooking. He embraces the idea of Hu. becoming Pickle Central. "It's something I'm super passionate about," he says.

Hu. Diner, 3 S. Main, huhotelmemphis.com

The Spirits and Soul Fest is happening next Friday and Saturday Downtown. The event is in conjunction with the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and Memphis' bicentennial celebration.

Friday, on South Main (from G.E. Patterson to Talbot), from 6 to 9 p.m., ticket holders can sample whiskeys from distillers along the trail. On Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., the party moves to Old Dominick on Front Street. It will include cocktails and food from local food trucks. There will also be seminars on making classic cocktails and stories from the trail.

Day passes are $75; two-day passes $100.

For tickets and more information, go to spiritsandsoul.com.

Memphis Brewfest is returning May 11th, from 4 to 7 p.m., at the Liberty Bowl.

If you like beer even the tiniest bit, you won't want to miss this one. Brew Fest features beers from some 50-plus domestic and international breweries. A "best of Belgium" beer garden will be curated by the folks from Flying Saucer. Plus, there's music from Drunk Uncle, pictures in the Amurica booth, and food from Cousins Maine Lobster, MemPops, New Wing Order, DineOneOne, and others.

Tickets are $45; $100 for VIP. For tickets and more information, go to memphisbrewfest.com.

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