Terre Gorham 0000-00-00 00:00:00
rendezvous and B.B. King’s Blues Club Two landmark restaurants: One survived the death of Downtown; one helped it come back to life. Both helped put Downtown on the map. Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos was not only a tough, savvy business man who saw potential in an obscure alley Downtown, but he was civic- and civil-minded, too, a guiding hand who helped fellow restaurateurs, businessmen, and friends alike. In 1948, cleaning out a basement below His 80-seat tavern, Charlie discovered a coal chute that would start a legend. The chute made the perfect vent to a large grill that propelled Charlie and his tavern from hamand- cheese sandwiches to world-famous ribs. The ribs, however, came along by accident. One day, Charlie’s ham supplier Fineberg Packing, stuck in a slab of ribs with the ham delivery. Charlie was a good cook, but he didn’t know what to do with the ribs. “Baste them in vinegar and water and put them on the grill,” he was told. So he did. As an afterthought, he decided to mix up some Greek spices and added a few seasonings his father used for his restaurant’s chili recipe. Charlie added that concoction to his rib experiment, and word flew fast about Charlie’s irresistible ribs. Customers savor the very same rib recipe today. But it’s about much more than the ribs in this literal hole-in-the-wall that today seats 700 and serves thousands on an average Saturday night. Appetizer plates, barbecue nachos, chicken, beef brisket, pork, and lamb join meatless red beans and rice, Mama’s Real Greek Salad, skillet of shrimp, and spicy mustard slaw. Oh, and don’t forget the BBQ popcorn. Beyond that, beyond the food that has become so legendary that Charlie opened a separate location just to “make hogs fly” with fully cooked and frozen menu items shipped overnight around the country, there is the equally legendary waitstaff. Employee turnover is not a problem for this restaurant — in fact, there’s a waiting list to apply. Some on the waiting list will have to wait decades, because — using history as a guide — once a Rendezvous waiter, always a Rendezvous waiter. Attitude sings out as the lively, saucy servers hustle the meals — and the customers — with wide, genuine smiles on their shiny, hot faces. Today, casual remains king in this underground enclave, lined with antiques, memorabilia, artwork, and laughter. Now owned and operated by Charlie’s three children — Tina Jennings and Nick and John Vergos — the restaurant recently opened the ground floor as a comfortable bar/waiting area above the historic cellar, where an old coal chute sparked the fire for the most historic ribs in Memphis. Rendezvous, 52 S. Second, 523-2746, hogsfly.com. ”B.B. King’s Blues Club at 143 Beale St. opened in May 1991 with all the fanfare of a Hollywood premiere. It brought the excitement of the old days back to the street with names made famous by the blues. The club offers dinner and live entertainment nightly, featuring some of the most famous performances in the music world today.” — Downtowner Magazine, January 1992 Bringing B.B.’s to Beale took eight years and 40 different visits with the King of Blues before the deal was sealed. Developer John Elkington, chairman and CEO of Performa Entertainment, was tasked with bringing Memphis’s most famous street back to life. He drew up a 50-page plan with three goals: return commerce, make it a music center, and make it a place where blacks and whites could easily participate and socialize together. Commerce-wise, only two businesses were open when Elkington started his comeback trail in the early 1980s: Hutkins Hardware and A. Schwab. Side-stepping bankruptcy several times, Beale Street officially reopened in 1983 … still a mostly deserted street. Then Riley B. King strolled into town to open the first B.B. King’s Blues Club, lending his famous name and legendary reputation To the slow-growing buffet on Beale. The club marked a turning point in Beale Street’s efforts to become a major tourist attraction, and it was the status symbol Beale needed, drawing many who hoped to catch a glimpse of the bluesman with his Gibson guitar lady, Lucille, strapped to his large frame. Born on a plantation in Itta Bena, MS,B. B. played on street corners for coins, hitchhiking to Memphis in 1947 to try his talented hand in the big music city. He got his first big break one year later on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program, and his nickname, “Blues Boy King,” was shortened to B.B. Since then, the blues have propelled him. The club’s interior was inspired by an authentic Delta juke joint, and photos and memorabilia line the cozy space, where a flight of steps leads up to a private party area overlooking the stage. In addition to wailing out the blues nightly with the famous, the up-and-coming, and the spontaneous jams, B.B.’s serves up lunch, dinner, and late-night partying. Their bestkept secret? The Southern-inspired food is every bit as authentic and noteworthy as the music. B. B. King’s Blues Club, 143 Beale, 524- 5464, bbkingclubs.com.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.