The Return of Old Zinnie’s 

Memphis has a terrible habit of waiting until it is just too late to do anything about our monuments and storied buildings. We don't do much to save them, but we sure love to bitch about it when they're gone.

Zinnie's, fortunately, was saved from that oblivion. Well, strictly speaking, it sat in oblivion's waiting room for a bit, decided the city still needed it, and reemerged at the same location on Madison. The new owners have cleaned it up but retained its old-school vibe. So old-school, in fact, that you can still park yourself at the heavy wooden bar in the beautiful neon gloom and suck down a lung-dart with impunity.

Sitting as we are at the end of a deranged decade, we need a place that's been operating (mostly) since hairy, go-to-hell 1973. The beauty of Zinnie's is that the bar's theme is still "Zinnie's." A place from a simpler time. A time when I showed up one night to be told by Stan, the then-bartender, that my friend ____ had been hit by a car leaving the place about a half-hour earlier. Perhaps, he suggested, I should call him to check in. Whether it was Stan's humanity or keen grasp of risk management is anyone's guess, but I was concerned. I've never been a good salesman but managed to talk ____ into coming back out. So in he walks, still suited up (I think there was a wedding involved), if a bit disheveled, sporting a chipped tooth and an angry red whelp across the cheek where the wiper blade smacked him.

click to enlarge Everything old is new again at Zinnie’s on Madison. - RICHARD MURFF
  • Richard Murff
  • Everything old is new again at Zinnie’s on Madison.

I bought him a drink, and we fired up a couple of heaters. I asked what it was like — you know — getting plowed by a car while wearing worsted wool. He took things in stride because that's the sort of place Zinnie's was. "Not as bad as you'd think," he said. "Scared the hell out of the driver though. It didn't really hurt me until he hit the brakes and I rolled off the hood."

"So basically," I clarified, blowing a long plume of smoke, "had our driver possessed the presence of mind to just keep driving steadily to, say Canada, you'd have been fine?"

"Yes ... but I don't know anyone in Canada."

Zinnie's was the sort of bar where things like that just happened and it wasn't remarkable. It looks like it still is that kind of place. The main difference now is the great cross-section of local beers. Memphis standbys like Wiseacre's Tiny Bomb, Meddlesome's 201 Hoplar, and Memphis Made's Fireside, as well as an amber and pilsner from the new kid, Delta Sunshine. It's not all local: There is Hi-Wire brown ale, and a red ale from Steel Barrel. And, of course, PBR, if you feel the need to out-hipster the craft beer people.

Ginny, the bartender, took me around the shots and offered me a food menu. I don't know if they've always had one, but I sure as hell don't remember it — just that popcorn machine in the back. She recommended the hamburgers and honestly seemed like the sort of lady who'd look after a good customer that had been menaced by a Ford Taurus. The wings are solid pub grub. The Zinnalonni is a thick-cut, fried bologna sandwich with American cheese and slaw. My guess is that this creation will occupy the same place as the chicken-on-a-stick at the Chevron in Oxford, Mississippi. They aren't moving too many during daylight, but once you float across the hour of good and evil on a river of booze, they really hit the spot.

So at the New Old Zinnie's, you have the best of vintage Memphis serving a cold pint of the new Memphis. And they've still got that big front window. You know, the one with the view of the city's insane late-night traffic.

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