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TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS: Down and (Not So) Dirty



Since my column last week focused on Memphis from up high--or from overhead--I think it would be fair this week to consider our city from down low.

Way down low.

I want to talk about the Memphis “dive,” the bars that your Momma would warn you against given the chance, but that offer their own little gems in terms of, well, experience.

It seems that if you throw a rock in our city, you’re bound to hit either a church or a bar.

These two cultural institutions can quite literally be found everywhere, seemingly in almost equal numbers, and there’s even some cross-pollination, what with the gospel brunches offered at some of the more soulful pubs.

But I happen to be a night person, so…

I suppose that every drinker has their own definition of exactly what constitutes a dive, and depending upon your level of grit this can include places higher or lower on the scale.

For instance, one who relishes the art of the fine martini might consider a place like the Young Ave. Deli to be a dive, while one who regularly consumes 24 OZ. Cans of Schlitz would have a different take entirely.

As for me, I go by feel alone.

A good dive, in my opinion, should be in walking distance (ideally,) should have cheap, domestic beer, and should peddle said beer at low prices. Additional factors that enhance a locale’s “divability” include a lack of natural light (as in sunlight, not the beer,) a regular clientele of neighborhood folk that spend a minimal amount of time preparing for their visit, pinball or some other form of arcade entertainment, and a decent jukebox or stereo system.

According to the website a dive should also meet the following conditions: no velvet rope, no line for entrance, no high cuisine that isn’t fried, and nobody complaining that the bathroom stalls are without doors, mirrors, or any other convenience of the like.

I think our friends at Webster’s Dictionary have one up on all of us though, with the portion of their definition stating “to thrust the body under, or deeply into, water or other fluid.” Aha--beer.

It would take about a million years to visit all of the dives in our area, but in accordance to the aforementioned requirements, I suppose my dive would be the World Famous Poplar Lounge. Oh yeah!

When I first moved into the vicinity of the Poplar Lounge, I’ll admit I was a bit scared of it. One deciding factor swayed me, thoughÑthey actually sell Rolling Rock beer at non-import prices.

Now some of you may be saying “who cares,” at this point. It’s light, watery soda beer, right? But here’s the thing, a thing that countless barkeeps in Memphis have failed to answer with any level of logicÑPennsylvania is just not a foreign country, not even in the lands held by the Amish.

I grew up in its neighboring state, I know.

My only assumption is that the beauty of the green bottle temporarily overwhelms the managers of our area drinking establishments, making them think that nothing so beautiful could possibly have been produced here in the states.

To be sure, I’ve tired many an overworked bartender demanding a logical explanation for this anomaly.

But not at the Poplar Lounge. A mere $2.25 last time I checked.

The inherent logic of their pricing made for instant love. In fact, they looked at me a bit strangely when I burst into song and danced back to my table, clutching that green bottle close to my heart.

The Poplar Lounge is not by any means a pretty place, unless you factor in their courtyard, pretty because it’s outside. That doesn’t count though.

There is also a contingent of regulars who may seem intimidating at first, what with their familiarity with one another. After a few drinks, though, that all disappears.

Now my dive might not be your dive, as it were, and so be it. But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to find a watering hole lacking in pretense, a place where you can throw a few back and let off some steam without having to worry about whether your hair is in place.

Ironically, it’s rather refreshing.

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