In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca and Caitlin visit Memphis' favorite historical dive bar, Earnestine and Hazel's. They pull up a stool and hear what soul burger cooker and bartender Clarence has to tell about E&H. They also take a tour of the bar and then wrap up by dancing the morning away with sounds of a haunted jukebox.
Earnestine & Hazel's began it's life as a church in the late 1800s.
However, the building at 351 South Main Street in downtown Memphis then became a dry goods store. And then it was a pharmacy owned by Abe Plough of Coppertone fame. He became a multi-millionaire so he sold the business to the two sisters who ran a hair salon upstairs (while also living there): Earnestine Mitchell and Hazel Jones.
Upstairs the hair salon remained, with additional rooms being rented out to ladies of the night. The downstairs flipped over to a jazz night club run by Earnestine's husband, Sunbeam. He was a local music producer and promoted, and had opened Club Paradise over near Stax Records – so he knew a lot of famous musicians – and they would often come down to his wife's café for general frolicking late into the night. Ray Charles was apparently a regular.
But by the end of the '70s, Stax was gone and with it, Club Paradise. The whole brothel aspect limited the café's customer base. By the '90s, Earnestine and Hazel were looking for a way out.
As a ten-year-old, Russell George competed in the James Brown Dance Contest at the Mid-South Coliseum. Brown himself awarded this only white boy in the competition first prize. Five years later, George was running an illegal bar out of his apartment called Jefferson in the Rear. As a young man, he played a part in making Murphy’s Oyster Bar happen and became The Memphis Icebreaks' band manage (and also was one of their dancers). In 1992, he bought the brothel, invented the Soul Burger, and the rest, shall we say, is Memphis dive bar history.
Russell George tragically died in 2013 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after battling cancer and depression. At 62, he was the thirteenth person to move into the next world at E&H.
His Soul Burger has fed the souls of so many throughout the years, and Clarence continues to serve them up from the same griddle Earnestine and Hazel used back in the combo café/brothel days. On a hot day in June, Rebecca and Caitlin sat down to chat with Clarence about the history of E&H.
You can follow along with the full show notes at memphistypehistory.com/eh