205 Beale St.
“Memphis is not what it used to be.” — Texas songwriter Owen Temple from his song “Memphis”
No, Memphis is not what it used to be.
I suppose most folks think that’s a good thing, especially when you hear Will Shade, leader of the legendary Memphis Jug Band, describe what the infamous Beale Street was like over a century ago:
“You could walk down the street in the days of 1900 and like that and you could find a man wit’ throat cut from ear to ear.”
“Also you could find people lyin’ dead wit’ not their throat cut, money took and everything in their pockets, took out of their pockets and thrown outside the house.”
“Sometimes you find them with no clothes on, throwed out of winders here on Beale Street. Sportin’ class o’ women runnin’ up and down the street all night long.”
After reading that, I suppose I also agree it’s a good thing.
I’m not keen on having my throat cut.
But there is something sad about such an iconic part of America existing now as a 21st century Disneyesque mockery of the blues.
Consider the words of the great B.B. King, whose B.B. King’s Blues Club now stands as the flagship attraction on Beale Street:
“I don’t think of Memphis as Memphis. I thought of Beale Street as Memphis.”
Before the days of urban renewal, Beale Street was Memphis, the soundtrack of the blues — that soulful, haunting sound that gave birth to almost every form of modern music from rock n’ roll to R&B and hip-hop.
Beale Street was a bustling, bubbling gumbo of sweaty fun.
But just about all of THAT is long gone, plowed over by progress, as they like to call it.
The traditional gritty joints were replaced with Coyote Ugly and the Hard Rock Café.
Drunken revelers from the Delta were replaced with drunken tourists from Des Moines and Buffalo.
The authentic, coarse, gut-bucket blues was replaced with what I call “the tourist blues” — endless renditions of “Mustang Sally” and “She’s a Brick House”.
Gag. So predictable.
But I’m happy to say there is one piece of old-style Memphis that still survives to this day.
It’s the grease at Dyer’s Burgers.
Yes. Dyer’s has been deep-frying their burgers in a cauldron of hot grease that hasn’t been changed in over a century.
You read that right.
Dyer’s deep-fries their burgers. In grease that’s never been changed in over 100 years.
Oh sure, an employee will strain out all the burger and fry bits, maybe add some fresh oil at the end of the night. But change the grease?
Nope. It’s never been done.
In fact, the Memphis police department gave Dyer’s precious grease an entire armed escort across town when they relocated to 205 Beale Street years ago.
I feel like I’m giving the fascists over at the FDA the giant middle finger when I sink my teeth into such an unhealthy, grease-laden indulgence as a Dyer’s burger.
The beef patty and cheese are submerged into Dyer’s gurgling grease for a few moments, then placed on a soft, squishy bun.
The result is hot, gooey burger bliss.
And well deserved after an evening full of countless renditions of “Mustang Sally” and Beale Street’s ‘Big Ass Beers’.
One thing is for sure, the chance to eat a greasy Dyer’s burger right in the middle of Beale Street as the clock strikes midnight has to be one of life’s greatest sinful pleasures.
And at least I know I won’t get my throat cut for it either.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!