Earnestine and Hazel’s

In Podcast by Caitlin L. Horton4 Comments

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca and I visit Memphis’ favorite historical dive bar, Earnestine and Hazel’s. We pull up a stool and hear what soul burger cooker and bartender Clarence has to tell us about E&H. We’ll also take you on a tour of the bar and then wrap up by dancing the morning away with sounds of a haunted jukebox.

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Earnestine & Hazel’s began it’s life as a church in the late 1800s.

Earnestine and Hazel's Memphis BarHowever, 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.

Earnestine & Hazel's Memphis Bar

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.

Earnestine & Hazel's Vintage Photo

Earnestine & Hazel’s back in the day (via Dixie Spirits Blog)

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. 

Soul Burger cooker Clarence at Earnestine & Hazel's in Memphis, TN

On a hot day in June, Rebecca and I sat down to chat with Clarence about the history of E&H. Follow along with the photos below!

Club Paradise Memoribilia

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Links Mentioned:

Earnestine & Hazel’s: Ragged But Right

Earnestine & Hazel’s Facebook Page

The Long, Twisted History of Earnestine & Hazel’s, Americans Greatest Burger Dive Bar via Thrillist

What It’s Like to Work at the Most Haunted Bar in America by Karen Brownlee

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Caitlin L. Horton

Author of Memphis Type History & Brand Strategist at Caitlin L. Horton Brand Strategy
Partner-in-crime for entrepreneurs and community builders getting their message out with thoughtful design and marketing.

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Comments

  1. Caitlin, we listened to this episode on a road trip yesterday and when the subject of Russell George who owned Murphy’s came up, I thought you might remember that was where your dad proposed while playing shuffleboard! I have told you that story many times of how Murphy’s had a side bank table and we played there nearly every night! Obviously, we loved Murphy’s!

  2. This episode was the best! Clarence was such a great guide. Can’t wait to hear more restaurant-related episodes 🙂

    1. It means so much to us that you would stop by and share your enjoyment of the show! We LOVED getting to spend time with Clarence and we really hope his love for E&H, the Soul Burger, and his great tour guide abilities showed through in audio! This week’s episode also happens to be restaurant-related, so you’re in luck! Check it out over at memphistypehistory.com/dining1

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