This post was last updated on December 26th, 2013
Casey: “Can I see a menu please?”
Bartender: “All we got here is soul burgers. If you don’t want a soul burger you’d got to go someplace else.”
Casey: “And what exactly is a soul burger?”
Bartender: “Beef patties, mayo, mustard, pickles, caramelized onions, and a lil’ bit of our special sauce drizzled right there on top.”
As it was 3 o’clock in Memphis, TN and we hadn’t eaten lunch, we agreed a soul burger would have to do. We took our seat in the dark and empty dive, admiring the three inches of dust coating the one-prong ceiling fan. Other than two old men at the bar and two girls who briefly walked in and out, we had the two-story bar to ourselves. We glanced around, awaiting our burgers a bit anxiously. But quickly curiosity began to replace our apprehension. As we admired our surroundings we noticed there were dozens of pictures on the wall, each showcasing our bartender with a different celebrity. Orlando Bloom and Norah Jones smiled at us from the same empty bar we were now sitting in. Turns out, this wasn’t just any dive serving up soul burgers. We had stumbled upon one of Hollywood’s favorite sets in Memphis. This little hole in the wall had somehow made its way into 12 different movies, including The Rainmaker.
Yep, we were in Earnestine and Hazel’s. And if you’ve heard of it, you know they are famous for a little more than their burgers and Hollywood presence. Turns out this bar has been around for over 100 years. Only it hasn’t always been a burger joint. Previously this building served as the home of Hazel (as the current name suggests) and her prostitutes—a brothel where the river men came to find company for the night. When the owner bought the building in ’92 to create the current dive, he actually had to kick out a few women still living on the second floor and serving customers.
Today you won’t find any prostitutes at Earnestine and Hazel’s, but the dive keeps the second floor true to its humble origins. A tour of the upstairs is surprisingly creepy, giving off an other-wordly feel. The hallway is just as dingy as the downstairs, and the rooms are set up with the same furniture as back in the day. There is even a cabaret-esque piano to entertain your friends with. Seriously, a walk down this secluded hall makes you feel as though a ghost might just appear at any moment (and we were there at 3 in the afternoon). We’re not the only ones who got that feeling either. The bartender claims he’s experienced the ghosts of past inhibitors firsthand, and you can sign up for a full-fledged ghost tour of the building if you dare.
But the absolute best part about this dingy dive isn’t the soul burger, the fame, or the ghosts who wander the halls. It’s Leroy, Memphis born and bread. Words can’t really describe this character, but he’s an awesome old man who drinks beer all day and invokes anyone around to sing a song for him. If you can find a song in the jukebox you know, Leroy will sit amazed and applaud every word you sing. He might be a little bit crazy, but crazy definitely makes for good conversation when you are in a place like Earnestine and Hazel’s anyway.
This whole crazy soul burger experience wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for our awesome Memphis couchsurfing host Aaron.