First off, I must admit, I detest most mass produced American beer. I’d rather go thirsty than drink a Budweiser or Miller Lite. But sometimes, the forces of the universe come together in a way that can make even a crappy bottle of beer taste like liquid gold from heaven. On this particular night, in this particular place, my bottle of Miller High Life rivaled the finest champagne. What!? How? Why? The reasons are many. But let me set the scene…
The place – Earnestine & Hazel’s Bar in Memphis, Tennessee. It was HOT out, and hot in the bar, as well. Memphis heat in the summertime somehow feels exponentially hotter than it should due to some insane screwup in the Lord’s system for maintaining a proper humidity level in the atmosphere. Sweat is a constant companion. All attempts to escape it are futile. Earnestine & Hazel’s probably has some form of air conditioning, I’m not sure. I do know that the warren of decrepit rooms upstairs is kept company by a single floor fan in the hallway, a floor fan that feels great if you’re one foot away from it, but is maddeningly ineffective at any other distance. Does it sound like a crappy place to be? It’s not. It’s a run down mess of an amazing place, seeped in soul, awash in memories, sweating out years of alcohol and dancing and music and ghosts and sex (Disclaimer: the building is a former brothel, no sex took place at the establishment on this particular night, at least none that I’m aware of).
This particular night was a Sunday night, which is jazz night at Earnestine & Hazel’s. The scene is straight out of a Treme episode (if Treme were set in Memphis rather than New Orleans), musicians hanging out loosely at the bar and at tables around the small area set aside for the band, alternately drinking beers and standing up for effortlessly enthusiastic solos. The band was on, coming together in waves, improvising, coming back to the melody, darting off again. They added to the heat in the air, the sticky humidity.
So we’ve got a hot Memphis night, a hot old dive of a bar, a hot jazz jam, and… oh, yeah, the main accompaniment to that Miller High Life – a hot “Soul Burger.” There is no menu at Earnestine & Hazel’s, unless you consider that taped-on sign above the flat top grill to be a menu. The Soul Burger does indeed have soul, thin patties pounded down, chopped onions and pickles, mustard, a crisped bun, all crunched together into a moment of burger righteousness. So now the setting is complete. Hot night in Memphis, hot dive bar, hot music, hot burger – the conditions are right to elevate just about any beer to savior-status. While Earnestine & Hazel’s is light on air conditioning, their beer fridge works very, very well. So this particular beer, an ice cold Miller High Life, “the champagne of beers” (of course!), was given every benefit in life, every opportunity to make his momma proud, and he delivered. This was the Miller High Life to beat all Miller High Lifes. Liquid gold from heaven, with a side of soul.
(Speaking of soul, check out my post on seeking soul in the Memphis dining scene, over at Creative Loafing’s Omnivore blog)