Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On At Jerry Lee Lewis’ New Beale Street Cafe & Honky Tonk
Jerry Lee Lewis has played to colossal crowds the world over, and even as he nears 80, you can bet he’ll be on the Beale Street Music Fest lineup every May. But friends say he prefers smaller venues. With a cozy dining room, secluded courtyard and exclusive second-floor bar, his new café and honky tonk at 310 Beale should fit just right.
Jerry Lee Lewis Café and Honky Tonk opened just in time for Memphis in May and promises nightly live music from crowd-pleasers like Johnny Holiday (who portrayed Carl Perkins in the 2005 film Walk the Line), omni-bluesman Jack Rowell, Jr. and pianist Sidney Kirk. Then there will be those who channel Jerry Lee – notably, Jason James and Landon Lane. We caught Lane the night of our visit, and the way he banged, clanged – and yes, hoisted a heel – on the keys was simultaneously derivative and danceable. An Elvis impersonator was anticipated later that evening. Staff members say Lewis himself has been asking when he can play “the club” – follow Facebook for details.
Between songs, we retired to our sidewalk table on Beale and listened as front-of-the-house man Marcus summoned wayfarers inside. “When the band finishes tonight, we’re going to karaoke…we’re going to keep it going all night long,” he’d say. (No exaggeration – the club will stay open until 3 a.m. Monday through Friday; until 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Karaoke takes over around 11 p.m. each night.)
Marcus’ alternating refrain, “Everyone’s welcome, from the smallest to the tallest,” embodies the establishment’s family-friendliness. Kids’ meals under $6 end with ice cream, and my five-year-old wasn’t the only young’un on the dance floor. As I talked with Marcus, a man and his 12-year-old son filed out and thanked him. “We were just walking by and heard the music. I got a picture of him with the piano,” the father beamed. The café opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, prime time for family lunch or dinner.
Shortly after dark, I.D. checks signal an acceleration in Beale’s intensity. That’s around the time, Fridays and Saturdays, when live blues electrify the café’s courtyard and you can drift upstairs to Twelve Bar, a low-lit lounge with tables, a notched-up menu and classic cocktails. Jerry Lee has a private room on this floor, and Morgan Freeman recently celebrated his birthday up there. Call ahead (901-596-9378) and the staff will open the adjacent private parking lot for you. Downstairs or up, there’s no cover.
The menu and décor (particularly the New Orleans-esque courtyard) nod to Lewis’ Louisiana roots while tugging at his Memphis and Mississippi ties (his ranch sprawls about 30 minutes south of Beale in the town of Nesbit, Miss.). Expect appetizers like Mississippi Frickles (fried spicy dills); one-pot wonders like Shanty Bow Stew (“Grandma’s recipe” of braised mustards, black-eyed peas, red bliss potatoes and smoked pork belly); po-boys and burgers; barbecue and seafood platters. You can even order Fireball Cinnamon Whisky in a souvenir shot glass, if you must.
But the showstoppers here are the nightly performers and memorabilia – from jackets and boots to a motorcycle and car. Personally, I liked the photo of Jerry Lee with Sam Phillips in the café’s sports bar for bringing the experience full-circle. Phillips’ Sun Studio sits less than a mile away from the café – tour it to glimpse where Jerry Lee played as a session musician under Carl Perkins, jammed with the Million Dollar Quartet and forever changed music with his 1957 hit “Great Balls of Fire.”
Have you been to Jerry Lee’s on Beale yet? Who’d you hear perform? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.