Old Whitten Tavern: Ankle Tattoos & Cheap Drinks 

A journey to Bartlett for a classic neighborhood bar.

Old Whitten Tavern

Justin Fox Burks

Old Whitten Tavern

It's a Tuesday night, and this strip mall is crawling with people. I am wildly unprepared to fight a hundred-person mob for a domestic beer in the suburbs, but it turns out the crowd belongs to a nearby dance studio hosting a dance-team tryout. A much more manageable crowd belongs to the Old Whitten Tavern, a bar that has come highly recommended from devoted Bartlett beer-drinkers. The Old Whitten is the local watering hole; it's small, dim, and it is delightful.

When visiting a new bar, I want to know what the place is known for. While Old Whitten has the Bonnie Melt ("The Bonnie Melt is #1!" says the homemade sign above the kitchen entrance; silver glitter on blue paper serving as all the proof you need to order their famous version of the Patty Melt) and serves tater tots (we're all suckers for bars that serve tots, and if you claim otherwise, you're a liar), it doesn't have a drink that it can claim as its own. Or does it? In perusing their shot menu, I found something called Walter's Muffin Top, which is essentially just blueberry vodka and sweet and sour. While this isn't anything super-special, it is named after a guy named Walter and his muffin top, and that's funny enough to warrant ordering. "To Walter, and his seemingly too-small pants!"

click to enlarge The Bonnie Melt at Old Whitten Tavern - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • The Bonnie Melt at Old Whitten Tavern

On this evening, there is a man seated next to me who arrived on his motorcycle. He's a regular and sporting a biker vest that proclaims him to be a member of the Boozefighters. He's drinking, so I assume he's not fighting against booze, but I do wonder if he's fighting on behalf of booze or because of it? The Old Whitten has many mysteries, and this must be one of them.

Another mystery: The online reviews of this place all talk about how amazing the bar grub is, and yet no one is eating. I quickly discover that, for the Tuesday after-work crowd, sitting down to dinner isn't in the cards. There are nine TVs in there, at least two on each wall, so no matter where you're seated, you are accommodated. What cracked me up is that the Old Whitten keeps all nine remote controls behind the bar, like one couldn't do the trick. There are also three pool tables, all occupied the night that I went. Also worth noting: two very special barstools that were covered in camouflage material — for the barfly who doesn't want to be seen.

A sign of a great bartender? One who knows the name and order of every patron before they even finish sitting down. Holly is a wonderful bartender. Smiley and quick, she greets every single person in there by name. More: The drinks are cheap — domestics at $3, and that isn't even for happy hour. The Old Whitten also boasts an enviable selection of flavored moonshines which can always be counted upon to facilitate a good drinking and karaoke crowd. The bar hosts karaoke each Saturday night, and, if the regulars are to be believed, it gets rowdy. Who doesn't like rowdy karaoke?! This night, however, Celine Dion's "All by Myself" is playing loudly over the speakers, which, if we're being honest, might also facilitate drinking and singing.

click to enlarge Walter’s Muffin Top at Old Whitten Tavern - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Walter’s Muffin Top at Old Whitten Tavern

I don't venture to the outskirts of Memphis Metro that often, but the Old Whitten Tavern made it worth it. It was similar to one of my favorite Midtown haunts, right down to the Buffalo chicken egg rolls on the menu and the indoor smoking (your move, Blue Monkey). If it's one thing that can be counted upon in a neighborhood bar, it's ankle tattoos, pool, and cheap drinks. Truly, that's the tie that binds us all, regardless of whether you live inside the Parkways or not. Final note: The bar has a Pabst mirror so you can make a crappy joke to your unimpressed fellow bar patron.

The Old Whitten Tavern is open at 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily, with daily happy hour specials, open mic and karaoke nights, and live music on select nights. It has a full bar and menu. 21-plus only.

Old Whitten Tavern, 2465 Whitten

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