Here's what you need to know about Jake Schorr: He's Memphis-born and Memphis-raised, having never lived elsewhere outside of the six years he spent in the Navy. He is an ambassador of Memphis, one of its biggest cheerleaders and a true fountain of knowledge of the city he loves. His family is as ingrained in Memphis as the Mississippi River, having founded the Tennessee Brewery on its shores back in the 1880s. Like the Mississippi, the Schorr family winds its way through Memphis, having impressed itself upon the city with business ventures, bars, and most importantly, beer. Westy's, old as it is, is still Mr. Jake's most recent bar venture and his longest-running. Situated down on North Main, Westy's has been in operation since 1983, serving as the go-to bar for locals, visitors, and both versions of the Pyramid.
Two friends and I met at Westy's on a Sunday afternoon to, you know, drink beer. At this point, I didn't know anything about the Schorr family, their legacy, or Goldcrest, outside of the fact that it had once been brewed at the Tennessee Brewery. The original Goldcrest 51 has been served for a while at Westy's, but I went for the Goldcrest Bock, the recipe for which was thought to be lost, but happened to be recovered just a few years ago.
Here's how chill Westy's and its patrons are: We had a loud discussion about bands we saw on tour in the '90s, and no one nearby appeared to judge us, even though names like Marilyn Manson and Veruca Salt were thrown around with wild abandon. Even after this discussion and several beers, the bartender, Haley, was still politely addressing us as "ma'am" and "sir," though I can nearly guarantee none of the three of us were worthy of it.
- Jake Schorr
Haley introduced us to Schorr, or Mr. Jake, as his staff calls him. He immediately remarked that he gets people from all over the world at his bar and each one knows more about Memphis than actual Memphians do. He told us the fantastic story of his life: how he started in the stereo business after returning from the Navy, how he once spoke on the phone with Elvis, and how he befriended Alex Chilton. He had stories about Ardent and the old Lafayette's and nearly every musician who has passed through, and you'd think after all of this, he'd be done. But here's another thing about Mr. Jake: He doesn't sit idly by. His most ambitious venture yet is still in the works. The beloved Rainbow Room, located behind Westy's, has been shuttered since it closed in 1983. His purchase of the former synagogue finally complete, he is renovating and reopening it as a music venue.
Westy's is hardly a secret, especially for those who live in the Downtown area, but the law school and medical school populations that cram into other, more publicized Downtown bars might not know about it. It's open until 3 a.m. each night and offers delivery until 2 a.m. It's got a bizarrely shaped bar (which is one of my favorite things about it), booths, and tables; it's large enough to accommodate groups both at lunch and late into the night. There's a large patio out back and, some nights, live music. Most impressively, the menu has over 150 items by my count. Why so many? "I guess I just don't know any better," Mr. Jake confesses. Hell, the man wants to add even more. His favorite dishes are the patty melt and the jambalaya.
Eventually it wasn't long before our discussion turned to Anthony Bourdain. All three of us are writers ourselves (well, the two of them are writers; I'm more of a barfly with access to a laptop) and one of us being a kitchen wizard, it was hard not to recall Bourdain and his many culinary, literary, and cultural triumphs, especially while sitting at a beautiful old, dark bar. Before long, we had befriended an English couple who had traveled all this way for — who else? — Elvis. It was fitting of Bourdain, to be in this crazy little dive, laughing and drinking with pals from far away, sharing stories about Memphis with two new fans. I urge everyone to do the same, wherever you may drink or dine, but consider a visit to Westy's. Introduce yourself to Mr. Jake, and prepare to learn something new about this city you love.
Westy's, 346 N Main, 543-8646, westysmemphis.com