Six Memphis Bartenders You Need To Know
Ed. Note: I Love Memphis has always tried to go beyond the usual suspects for food and drink options around town…to give you more than just the places that show up in a) every tourism article or b) every new hotspot. Stacey does just that in this post about her favorite bartenders around town.
I have a (bad) joke I tell about how my favorite bartender, Adam, will probably be the first to know when I’m dead. I’ve been sitting at his bar every Tuesday for the past decade. He knows what I like to drink, sure, but more importantly, he has my number, and he checks in if I don’t show up. It’s kind of nice.
So, get out there and find yourself a favorite bartender. I’ve got some suggestions (in no particular order).
1 & 2. Sam and Aniece at the Big “S” Lounge (1179 Dunnavant St)
This little juke joint is just down the tracks from Stax. It’s unassuming from the outside, but the inside is full on red glow. Sam, now 92, purchased it in the sixties when he retired from MLGW (after 35 years, 3 months and 11 days).
You can find him dressed to the nines most nights at the end of the bar. His daughter, Aniece, can be found behind it. (If you’re sweet, you’ll probably get a hug from her on your way out.) She says, “As long as Daddy’s alive, he’s gonna be up here.” Therefore, she is too.
Five dollar forties are served with chilled glasses and set-ups come with an ice bucket and tongs. Open Friday to Sunday, plus Tuesday, DJ Quick is usually there spinning records. If not, the jukebox is full of killer sounds. My personal favorite is “I Wish it Would Rain” by the Temptations. It’s guaranteed to get everyone crooning and swaying, including Aniece.
3 & 4. Cliff and Joan at Coletta’s (1063 South Parkway)
The bar at Coletta’s is amazing. It actually constitutes what used to be the entire restaurant way back in 1923. It’s small and cozy, and lively AF on the weekends. But don’t worry, even when it’s packed full, they’ll find a place for you to sit.
There’s usually a big game on the TV, and if you time it right, Mr. Coletta will send out big bags of popcorn. I like to sit at the bar, eat pizza, drink margaritas, and make eyes at Cliff. He has a small stature, a big heart, and takes no sh*t.
A retired adjunct Sociology professor at the University of Memphis and LeMoyne Owen, I regret never having taken one of his classes. He’s been manning the Coletta’s bar for twenty plus years, every night except Tuesdays and Thursdays.
When asked what the secret to his margaritas is, he replied, “Tequila – focus on that.” He’s most proud of his version of Sex on the Beach which features vodka, peach Schnapps, orange juice, cranberry juice and grenadine. But, according to Cliff, the most popular drink at his bar is the Long Island Iced Tea. “That’s what I’d drink if I was at the bar,” he says.
When Cliff isn’t working, Joan takes the reigns. She’s a little slow to warm up, but she’s always looking out for her customers and she’ll tell it to you straight.
For instance, if it looks like you aren’t in a hurry, she’ll serve you a half pitcher of beer at a time so it doesn’t get all warm on ya. If you really want to get on her good side, ask her about her empowerment crystals.
5. Keith at Blues City Cafe (138 Beale Street)
After avoiding Beale Street for the last decade under the guise of it being too touristy, I have learned the error of my ways. There are some really cool bars, and the quality of the live music on any given day is mind-blowing.
Blues City brings in its fair share of tourists, thanks to the food and tunes, but Keith is the guy bringing in the locals. He’s a trip. He can whistle louder than a freight train, he’ll call you babydoll and you’ll like it, and he plays a mean air guitar.
November will mark four years for him, and many may remember him from TJ Mulligan’s. Once I asked him about the Fried Chicken Chopped Salad, and he said, “The salads here have a lot of lettuce,” as though it was a bad thing and expertly steered me to the gumbo fries.
When it comes to drinks, he’s typically slinging beers, but he can make whatever you want. His signature cocktail is called Tropical Ecstasy. “I made it up for women who don’t know what they like to drink,” he said. “It’s fruity and tropical tasting.”
The base is Absolute Mandarin and does indeed taste fruity and tropical. It’s also super strong, but best of all, you can even it get it to go like you’re in New Orleans.
6. Mark at Mortimer’s (590 N. Perkins)
Mortimer’s is known as the Berclair Country Club, and has quite a few regular “members.” The bar is a horseshoe, and narrow enough that you can talk to the people on the other side. Mark has been behind the bar since the nineties, and he’s about a nice as they come.
Exhibit A: He brings a big bag of Peanut M&Ms Monday through Friday and divvies them up in shot glasses for his customers.
Exhibit B: He takes pictures of the smiling faces he sees each night and puts them up on a humongous bulletin board lining the North wall of his bar.
Exhibit C is the kicker. One of his regulars, a retired Marine who is now 82, used to come in every day between 3-5pm. About nine years ago, it got too hard for him to walk home, so Mark started picking him up on his way in, and someone else gives him a ride home.
A few years later, the retired Marine got sick and quit drinking, but Mark still brings him up to the bar to see his friends. (Mark also takes him grocery shopping twice a week, and even to doctor’s appointments.)
What are your favorite bars and bartenders around town, and why? Let us know in the comments.
About The Author
Stacey Greenberg is a freelance writer who lives in Cooper Young with her two teenaged sons. She’s a contributor to Thrillist.com, Edible Memphis, I Love Memphis, and Memphis Travel. She’s also the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys (diningwithmonkeys.com). A lifelong Memphian, she loves the fact that she’s never met a stranger here.