A few years ago, the Commercial Appeal newspaper compared Memphis to Austin in an article, a rather strange and forced comparison perhaps, despite the fact that both are music cities. When it comes to business, economy and culture, the two cities are nothing alike, but Memphis often seems envious of the kind of weirdness and success that Austin seems to represent. At any rate, over the last year, Memphis has witnessed the opening of two music venues that resemble the way things are done in Austin, Loflin Yard and now Railgarten. The similarities between them prove to be more than coincidence, as some of the same people are involved with both.
Anyone who has visited Austin during South By Southwest has probably been to Amy’s Ice Cream or the 24 Diner, both of which are located next to Waterloo Records at the central intersection of 6th and Lamar near downtown, and the developers of Railgarten seem to have patterned their location as a merger of Amy’s, 24 Diner and an outdoor-type music venue such as Austin’s Container Bar. The decision is an inspiring one indeed. First of all, Railgarten offers great food in their diner, breakfast items at certain hours, and gourmet burgers, including the one I had with a fried egg on top for good measure. Next door to that is an ice-cream parlor, that features homemade milkshakes as well. There is a ping-pong parlor in a building to the east, outside a volleyball court, and a lawn with fire-pits, as well as an outdoor stage made of shipping containers which incorporates the Skateland “Roller Skate For Health” neon sign from the legendary Summer Avenue skating rink of long ago. A food truck provides eats and snacks for those enjoying the outdoor music. All told, the fairly-large complex offers something for everyone.
ADDENDUM: Unfortunately, after my visit, all kinds of trouble broke out for this place. Local code enforcement, responding to complaints from the residential neighborhood north of the restaurant, hit Railgarten with “Do Not Occupy” warnings in April because of their use of shipping containers (despite the fact that the area is zoned industrial), and because they allegedly did not have a permit for live music. Further complaints to the Board of Adjustment stated that Railgarten did not have sufficient parking for a venue of its size. (It is worth noting that Austin did not have a problem with the Container Bar using shipping containers as part of its permanent building). As a result of the controversy, the backyard at Railgarten remains closed during a City Council-mandated 30-day delay before the Board of Adjustment can make a ruling as to whether it can reopen. The diner, ping-pong hall and ice cream parlor remain open under curtailed hours.
2166 Central Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
When I headed out from Monroe on Sunday morning, it was still raining. Although I had hoped the rain would end, it really did not, and was still going on when I arrived in New Orleans. I stopped and ate lunch at a place called Dis & Dat on Banks Street, a burger concept opened by the same people who started Dat Dog. From there I made my way over to the Treme Coffeehouse, and enjoyed a latte, as the second-line I had hoped to see was not being held due to the rain. Instead, I called my homeboy Darren from the TBC Brass Band, and we ended up riding out to Pizza Domenica with him, and then to the Maison Bourbon for live jazz. Ultimately, we ended up at the Howling Wolf in the Central Business District, where the Hot 8 Brass Band plays every Sunday night.
Over the last several years, a growing trend toward gourmet hamburgers has spread from America’s largest metropolitan areas to smaller cities and towns nationwide, but the trend largely missed Birmingham, Alabama, with just one gourmet burger bar opening over the last few years. But this summer has seen the opening of a new place in the Lakeview neighborhood called Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, the first foray out of Virginia for the Harrisonburg-based chain. I had occasion to try it on my way through Birmingham last week en route to the A3C Hip-Hop Conference in Atlanta, and I was quite impressed. The menu is rather simple, actually, a number of designer hamburgers, french fries, and beers. The burgers are made with wagyu beef, and I chose one with barbecue sauce, bacon and cheese, that was absolutely delicious, if a little small. The french fries were golden brown, crispy and plentiful. And there was a very unusual and tempting dessert- a fried oreo cookie, which proved to be something like a beignet with an oreo cookie inside. Prices were reasonable, and the atmosphere cheerful, in a dive bar sort of way. Jack Brown’s will definitely be my go-to on future trips to Birmingham, and they’re on their way to Nashville as well.
Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint
2811 7th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233
I checked out early from the Hyatt Regency, and had decided not to eat breakfast there because of the high prices. Instead, I used my iPhone to locate a new place called Rise N Dine in Emory Village near Emory University, so I drove there and enjoyed an outstanding breakfast. The coffee they were serving was Ethiopian Yergacheffe, so I purchased a pound of that, and then sat outside on a park bench calling stores around Atlanta looking for a used copy of Season Three of The Wire. Nobody had anything until I called the FYE in Union City, and they had a used copy for $45, but I suddenly remembered a store called Grumpy’s in Chattanooga that was full of DVD’s, so I called up there, and they had season three for $35, so I decided to drive home to Memphis by way of Chattanooga. The weather was really hot as I headed north on I-75, and when I got to Chattanooga, I stopped at McKay’s Used Books and CDs. I didn’t find any books to purchase there, but I did find some choral music scores for our church, and then I drove further north across the Tennessee River into Hixson, where Grumpy’s was located, noticing that a new waterfront restaurant had opened on Lake Resort Drive north of the river. At Grumpy’s I purchased The Wire DVD, and then I headed around the riverfront drive toward downtown, but I soon found it closed off for something called the Riverbend Festival, so I had to follow a detour in order to get to I-24. The drive from Chattanooga to Huntsville seemed to take forever, and at Huntsville, I decided to stop at Cheeburger Cheeburger in Providence, where I ate a bacon cheeseburger for dinner. Next door at Sweet Dreams Cafe, I ordered a latte to go, and then headed west on Highway 72 toward Corinth. At Corinth, I wanted more coffee, but the only coffee bar there, KC’s Espresso, wasn’t answering the phone, so I settled for something out of a convenience store, and headed on into Memphis.