Dec 16, 2019

Get the buzz about the Green Beetle, Memphis, Tenn.

Imagine you’re hanging out in the heart of Memphis in want of an adult beverage and maybe a bite to eat, but you’re burnt out on Beale Street and barbecue.  Where do you go? 

For my money – and thirst – I’m walking a few blocks south on Main Street until I reach the Green Beetle. 

First established in 1939, the Green Beetle claims to be the oldest tavern in Memphis, and it certainly looks the part.  (I say that endearingly, of course.)  Before long, everyone who was anybody was going there to hang out.  But as the decades dragged on, like so many similar taverns, the Green Beetle apparently slowly transitioned from trendy hangout to classic dive bar.  Since 2011, the Green Beetle has been back in the hands of the original family who owned it, and from my brief experience there I think it’s safe to say the place has its groove back.     

Its location about halfway between Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum makes the Green Beetle a perfect spot to get away from the often overcrowded and always overpriced tourist traps on Beale.  It’s easily walkable, but it’s also easily accessible via the Main Street trolley line.  You’re sure to notice the green awning, the big beetle on the wall and people mingling at the chairs and tables outside the entrance. 

Once you step inside, the Green Beetle’s dive bar charm becomes even more apparent.  What you see is what you get, an interior that’s long and narrow and not laid out to accommodate huge crowds, and that’s OK by me. 

The bar at the end of the walk caps off the Green Beetle’s dive bar credentials.  The bar boasts more than 50 brands of beer, and somehow most are in that refrigerator.  The selection of nearby craft brews is downright impressive (as is the artwork above the cooler), but a first-time dive bar visit usually calls for a classic macro brew …

… like, in Punky’s case, a Miller High Life tall boy.

Or a Yeungling bottle, which is almost mandatory for me whenever I visit Memphis.  Seriously, when are they going to start selling Yeungling in Illinois? 

Having been intrigued by the sign out front, I also had to try a bushwacker (that’s how they spell it), and it turned out to be quite good.  I’d compare it to a more over-the-top version of a frozen Irish coffee made with rum instead of whiskey.  Needless to say, it was easy drinking to the point of being a little dangerous. 

While we enjoyed a couple of rounds at the bar, we started chatting with a local couple sitting next to us and became fast friends sharing our love for New Orleans, Clarksdale, Miss., and the blues, as well as Punky’s aversion to anything casino-related in Tunica, Miss.  That’s another thing I love about the really good dive bars … you’re never a stranger for too long, and the customers define the experience as much as any other factor.   

We also watched a steady procession of food orders stream out of the kitchen, especially for a mid-afternoon.  We didn’t eat, but everything we saw looked tempting, particularly their burgers.  In a downtown where you’re competing with Dyers and Huey’s, for the Green Beetle to be known for its burgers says a lot.  But I wouldn’t overlook their appetizers and other sandwiches and plate dinners, either.  It’s an excellent tavern menu.     

If you really want a sense of where the locals in Memphis go to chill and have a good time, the Green Beetle seems to me the perfect place to start.  It’s one of many gems in the South Main neighborhood that are underappreciated by most tourists.  But do yourself a favor before you go anywhere else:  find the building adorned by the big bug and crawl back in time in the oldest bar in Memphis. 

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...