The Bobcat Bar & Grill is my new favorite bar. I knew it would be, even before I stepped through the door, because one lame Yelp reviewer shamed the Bobcat for being "a hole in the wall where locals go." Your loss, Deb B.!
The Bobcat, at 4730 Poplar, is indeed an amazing, dark, dingy hole in the wall, full of cheap beer, cheap pool (75-cent games!), and lots of cussing. Oh, does Deb B. not like beer and cussing, either? It ain't called the Kitten, girl.
I rightly assumed that the Bobcat is the type of place where I wouldn't see anyone I know and thus, wouldn't be seen. Indeed, it's absolutely a place you go to not be seen, which is probably more than half the reason my ex agreed to go with me. It's a beer-only joint, but you can bring your own liquor. Smoking is allowed inside. There is a pool table, an electronic dartboard, and shuffleboard. It was made for East Memphians who can't justify the trip back to Midtown to drink at Alex's Tavern. And yet, the Bobcat isn't a new thing. It's been here, crouched in beer-soaked anonymity, for 30 years.
- The Bobcat is the kind of bar where Sparky can hop on the bar with a handful (or two) of beer bottles.
Jaime, aka Sparky, has been manning the bar for 13 years. When we walked in and ordered a bucket of Miller Lite, she said, "I'll give you bucket prices, but I don't want to leave that big-ass bucket on the bar." Jaime gets it. Above us, dangling from the lattice that served as the ceiling of the bar, was a pair of shooting-range earmuffs. Bobcat mistletoe.
Just as in the wild, it took the Bobcat regulars a while to warm up to the newcomers. One finally sauntered over and advised that if a guy named Richard ever invited us to play a game of darts, tell him no. I asked which man was Richard, and he said, "He's already gone. Already made his money off of us." Then he demanded another beer from Jaime, saying the Bobcat should be called the "Last Chance in Hell of Getting Any Kind of Courtesy." Jaime, not skipping a beat, responded with a courteous string of curse words. Did I already mention the cussing? Oh, the cussing! It's glorious! This is a place where you can curse a coworker until you're blue in the face, damn an in-law with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, and publicly express regret at having children, and no man in the Bobcat will bat an eye. That's right; no man. Besides Jaime and Anna, the other bartender, and me, there was just one other woman hanging out in the 'Cat. "This is their little fraternity," Jaime said.
The owner is a guy named Billy, a former bartender himself. When he arrived, he immediately went to work, helping Jaime wash dishes. I've never seen the entitled bar owners in Midtown lower themselves to doing actual work. But this is Billy's bar, where his friends hang, and it's obvious that he takes a lot of pride in his little haunt. No fancy drinks, no fancy décor, just Billy, his buds, and a guy named Richard hustling folks.
"This is the type of place you can kick your shoes off!" I say to my friend, as I kick my shoes off. The Bobcat is carpeted, friends. Besides the pictures of bar regulars and Grizzlies players that adorn the walls, there are tons of trophies. They're from Billy's continued success in both the Memphis Italian Fest and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
Though no liquor is sold at the Bobcat, here's the deal: If you bring a bottle of liquor, it costs $8 for your first drink, and then $2 per drink or $1 per shooter afterwards. Math indicates this might even out to a regular bar tab, but there is a certain pride that comes from hauling a brown bag into your local watering hole. On top of that, domestics are $2 Sunday and Monday and $2.50 during happy hour. The bar serves one food item: pizza. I didn't try any, but it looked delicious.
The Bobcat opens at 4 p.m. daily and remains open until, well, whenever. Check out the website at gobobcat.com, where there's a menu, specials, and photos of the bar staff. The Bobcat is a Grizzlies and Cardinals bar, and yes, Deb B., it is most definitely where locals go.