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Memphis Dive Bar Adventures: Perfect Ribs at 3 a.m.

by Rob Bellinger
photos by Rob Bellinger and Dan Meade

The Memphis dive bar scene is legendary, but not many people outside Memphis know that.  Here are the ten most insane Memphis dive bar adventures we had, over the course of just six nights.  All the stories are true.  Take your pick — one or all!

The Last Real Place in MemphisActual Meth Camper | Snake Tattoo Face | Down by Sundown | Ghost Mustang & the Magic Skillet | Bar-B-Brawl at the Bar That Never Closes | Perfect Ribs at 3 a.m. | Cougar in Training | Searching for Life on the Mississippi | PRAYING FOR YOU HATERZ

 

EPISODE FIVE: PERFECT RIBS AT 3 A.M.

It was late Tuesday night.  We’d been trying to get smoked ribs from Alex’s Tavern since the Saturday before.  Every day we’d call Barkeeper Rob, who seemed to always be on duty, and ask him if there were any ribs left.  MEMDIVE_e3_summAlex's Ribs

On Sunday Alex’s took its sabbath from smoking.  On Monday they’d sold out while we were getting into trouble at the Young Avenue Deli (also a bar, but not a dive).  Now it was Tuesday night and we placed the call.  THERE WERE STILL RIBS.  The only trouble was that we were over at the P&H, and the P&H was our third bar of the night.  We needed transport.

Whenever you want to go somewhere in Memphis, somebody’s car appears.  In just a few nights, we rode in a restored ’69 Mustang, a Ford Aerostar minivan with only two seats and the contents of an entire apartment in the back, a two-door coupe with one functioning door, and a couple other vehicles.  We never took, or saw, a taxi.

On this particular night, we were picked up by an SUV.  To my surprise, and quite horrifyingly so, the massive vehicle had to be steered by committee.  But we made it to Alex’s in one piece, and we didn’t hurt any innocents or break anything.

The bar was shockingly crowded for a Tuesday.  This time there were five or six cops, again with the Diet Coke and red Solo cups.  All the cops wore full uniform, and they were comparing their smartphones.  Barkeeper Rob recognized us right away and asked if we wanted a full or half slab.  Half will do, I said calmly and pridefully.  As he wrote out the ticket for the kitchen crew, we felt like we had won something.

Alex's Rib Ticket

 

By all accounts, Alex’s serves top-tier ribs.  In Memphis, that really means something.  During the day, the kitchen crew smokes ‘em out back using the kind of simple barrel smoker you’d expect to see in someone’s backyard.  You should be able to see the smoker here on Google Street View.

Reheating those top-notch ribs during the late night hours is something that has to be done gingerly, to avoid compromising moisture, tenderness, and texture.  It’s not as much as an art form as the seasoning and smoking, but it’s a critical process.  To us, the wait for warmed ribs was perfectly welcome.  In essence, we’d been waiting our whole lives to try these ribs.  Just knowing that they were in the oven inspired Pavlovian effects.

The Local Celebrity was with us that night.  The wait for ribs was making her antsy, and fast.  She had to fly to LA in the morning to shoot something.  She needed to be packing, not waiting to watch these boys eat ribs.  She was a vegetarian or something.  She demanded in demure-yet-direct Southern lady ways that one of the four men present take her home.

Danny and I looked at each other.  We’re not gonna do it, we agreed wordlessly.  We don’t even have a car, much less the ability to drive one.  No one is gonna get with this girl, definitely not one of us.  We’ll find a way home from Alex’s Tavern.  And we’re not leaving without the ribs.

Someone else fell on that sword.

And then, The Ribs.  Succulent, platonically moist, fall-aparty, infused with Memphis-style charcoal smoke, served with a dusting of finishing-spice and a side of sweet house sauce.  In other words, perfection.

The story of Alex’s Ribs, as told by a Camel Light, without a single good photo of the ribs themselves:

Rib Death Triptych

It didn’t take much work to eat a half slab, and pretty soon the only things on the table were the bones and the kitchen ticket Barkeeper Rob had written 30 or 40 minutes earlier, timestamped 2:58.  On a Wednesday morning.

A dude was now sleeping in the booth across from ours, taking up two seats.  This town knows how to party, I thought.

Passed Out Guy

Choose your next adventure:

The Last Real Place in MemphisActual Meth Camper | Snake Tattoo Face | Down by Sundown | Ghost Mustang & the Magic Skillet | Bar-B-Brawl at the Bar That Never Closes | Perfect Ribs at 3 a.m. | Cougar in Training | Searching for Life on the Mississippi | PRAYING FOR YOU HATERZ

 

 

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