Dining in Memphis Part 1

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, we tell each other about a restaurant from Memphis history. Caitlin starts us off with some old timey vocabulary before diving into Anderton’s (get it??) Rebecca follows up with charming stories of The Four Way, which is so near and dear to our hearts.

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Herbert Anderton learned how to cook on a Texas Army base before bringing his skills to downtown Memphis.

The History and Memories of Anderton's Oyster Bar in Memphis, TN

Herbert Anderton, restaurant owner in Memphis, TN
Herbert Anderton (Image via University of Memphis Special Collections Department)

In 1945, Anderton’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar opened at 51 Madison to immediate success. In 1956, Anderton’s East opened up in the former Gilmore Seafood Restaurant at 1901 Madison as a second location. There was also a third location around 1965 in Whitehaven, across from Graceland. Then it and the original downtown location closed, and Anderton’s East became the only one – and this is the one that most people have such fond memories of… due in part to its amazing piratey, nautical-themed interior.

In the restaurant’s first ten years, it served over six million oysters to more than two million diners. On their 10-year anniversary, they baked a cake to serve 2,500 customers so that anyone who came in on that day could enjoy a slice. If you have a photo or memory of this event, please get in touch with us. We need to hear more about this event!

Anderton's Restaurant History in Memphis, TN Nautical Interior Design

Anderton’s closed in 2005 and was demolished in 2009 BUT the décor lives on at The Cove on Broad Avenue.

The Four Way makes a strong appearance in our book, and we were thrilled to revisit it for this week’s podcast episode. It’s located in Soulsville, one of the most historic neighborhoods in Memphis.

Willie Earl Bates of The Four Way in Memphis, TN
The late Willie Earl Bates (Image via The Four Way on Facebook)

It began as a small pool hall where you could also get basics like a hotdog, a sandwich, or a beer. In 1946, Clint and Irene Cleaves took out a loan on their house to purchase the building. Their restaurant had an upscale feel with white tablecloths and snazzy servers. They added a private dining room in the back complete with a doorbell and required staff approval before entry.

The Four Way was one of the few places in Memphis that white and black people ate at together. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a regular, as were many famous Stax recording artists. And, of course, Elvis also dined there.

The restaurant closed in 1996 due to Mrs. Cleaves’ declining health. Willie Earl Bates purchased it when it went up for auction in 2001. He remodeled it and expanded dining space by removing the pool tables and adding an upstairs dining room for groups. But he did keep the menu as close to the original Cleaves’ version as possible, even having cooks help with taste-testing to make sure the food remained “rightly seasoned.”

Today you can still find amazing soul food at The Four Way, as it carries on even after Mr. Bates’ passing in 2016.

Links Mentioned:

Gone But Not Forgotten

Journey of 1,000 Meals Begins With One Bite

Lost Memphis 2: Anderton’s

The Four Way Website

Rightly Seasoned in Memphis Magazine

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