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VOL. 128 | NO. 70 | Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shakin’ Up Beale

Jerry Lee Lewis’ Cafe and Honky Tonk set to open

By Bill Dries

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The newest addition to Beale Street is a Memphis music legend. Jerry Lee Lewis, the last living member of the Sun Records’ “Million Dollar Quartet,” is lending his name and personal items to a nightspot at 310 Beale St.

Chris Gray of Memphis Delta Tent and Awning works on the balcony of the new Jerry Lee Lewis’ Cafe and Honky Tonk, which is opening at the old Pat O'Brien's location at 310 Beale St.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café and Honky Tonk – at the corner of Beale and Handy Circle in the former Pat O’Brien’s space – will have a preview opening Friday, April 12, a soft opening April 26 and a more formal grand opening April 27.

The new nightspot will feature memorabilia from Lewis’ long and storied career, including an old piano brought from Ferriday, La., by Lewis and his father when Lewis came to Memphis in the 1950s to audition for Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.

There is also a two-seat Cadillac Eldorado from the 1980s, 19 gold records and a soft tail 100th anniversary Harley Davidson with 47 miles on it that was presented to Lewis in 2003.

The club’s manager is Bud Chittom, whose other interests include Blues City Café at Beale and Second, and the new restaurant at Beale Street Landing that is in the build-out phase and should open soon.

“I’ve had the building about a year and these places kind of present themselves slow and what you are going to do and how you are going to do it,” Chittom said. “It’s showing up now.”

The Jerry Lee Lewis theme is the third makeover for the nightspot, which was built to specifications for a Pat O’Brien’s restaurant and bar long sought by district manager and developer Performa Entertainment. It opened in 2002 and closed in 2008.

It was Ground Zero Blues Club briefly.

Last year, Chittom and Preston Lamm opened the location as “Dancing Jimmy’s,” which had three banquet halls for rent and a corner bar. “Dancing Jimmy’s” opened about a year ago.

A flaming piano sits in the fountain inside the new Jerry Lee Lewis’ Cafe and Honky Tonk, which is opening at the old Pat O'Brien's location at 310 Beale St. 

Now Chittom is preparing for another opening in time to capture some of the traffic from the Beale Street Music Festival May 3-5, the first weekend of the Memphis in May International Festival.

The spring and summer nights, especially those during the festival, see crowds in the district that are wall to wall from the north side of the street to the south side.

“It won’t be like a Hard Rock (Café) where you go in and eat a hamburger and see somebody’s guitar. It will kind of show behind the scenes and more of the personal look,” Chittom said. “It will be Jerry and he’s working this year with Memphis in May. He’s been wanting to get out again.”

Lewis is now a regular performer each year at the Beale Street Music Festival. He has a much longer history of performing in local nightspots from the old Hernando’s Hideaway off Brooks Road in Whitehaven to the nearby Brooks Road nightspot “Bad Bob’s Vapors.”

“He’s asked to play once a month,” Chittom said of Lewis performing at his new namesake club. “But I don’t know that that stands up as well as going outdoors in Handy Park. … I don’t think I have a room to hold it. But I would love to see him go outdoors some.”

Lewis’ name was one of several courted by developers of the district since the renovated district reopened in 1983. Lewis committed to a club bearing his name in 1992 just beyond the western border of the district, on the western side of Second Street.

Jerry Lee Lewis’s Spot, owned by former Shelby County Commissioner Joe Cooper, opened in March 1993 in the building at 130 Beale St. that had been occupied for decades by the Lansky’s store and later by Elvis Presley’s, the short-lived Graceland-run Elvis-themed restaurant.

The Jerry Lee Lewis incarnation opened with a performance by Lewis just two months before he went into tax exile for a brief period in Ireland. By the time Lewis returned to the Memphis area, the restaurant nightspot was done.

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