National Dive Bar Day: Is There a Portal To Hell In Memphis?
National Dive Bar Day is July 7, and a small Memphis joint may be pulling double duty as a dive bar and a portal for dark energy.
The building that houses Earnestine and Hazel’s in Memphis, Tennessee has been a church, a store, a hair salon, a cafe, a brothel, and a dive bar — and it has picked up its fair share of paranormal activity.
The bar’s namesakes were hairdressers in the building in the 1950s. The entrepreneurs had grand plans, turning the operation from a salon into a jazz cafe and brothel. Earnestine’s husband owned a jazz club, so Earnestine and Hazel’s cafe was the perfect spot for entertainers to grab a bite to eat and unwind with one of the ladies upstairs after a long night of performing.
As the birthplace of blues music, Memphis’s clubs saw their fair share of big-name acts before they were household names. Musicians such as Ray Charles, Tina Turner, BB King, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett all stopped in at Earnestine and Hazel’s. Ray Charles even had his own suite upstairs.
It was a Memphis hotspot until 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel just two blocks away. Both King and Memphis died that day, leaving the area boarded up and abandoned.
Earnestine and Hazel’s, however, got a new life. Today, the historic cafe is a bar with live music, and a former bartender spoke to Jack Osbourne and Katrina Weidman, the costars of Portals to Hell.
Karen Brownlee worked as a bartender at Hazel and Earnestine’s for almost 20 years before leaving at the end of 2018. Prior to working at the downtown dive, she didn’t believe in the paranormal, but her two decades of bartending left her with countless stories of spirits, apparitions, disembodied voices, and faint whispers she could hear when the bar was silent and empty. The jukebox occasionally turns on by itself. According to Karen, it broke into “I Feel Good” by James Brown while bar employees were discussing the soul singer’s 2006 death.
Upstairs, Ray Charles’s old suite is a tiny bar-within-the-bar called Nate’s that opened in 1992. Nate told Osbourne and Weidman that he senses all kinds of paranormal activity in his bar and on the entire second floor. He still feels the presence of Russell George, the bar’s former owner who died by suicide in his upstairs office.
Most of the paranormal activity seems to happen on the second floor where the brothel operated. Karen regularly heard an old piano playing up there, and when she was alone in some of the rooms, she could hear whispers in her ear. Most often, she heard a man’s voice saying, “hey, hey.” Occasionally, the piano in Ray Charles’s old suite plays by itself.
Just as Osbourne and Weidman began to discuss the bar’s musical history with Karen, the old jukebox played a few bars of “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash.
“Long Black Veil” is a song about a man accused of murder, but his alibi was an illicit affair with his best friend’s wife. In the song, the man chooses death over revealing his secrets.
What secrets will Osbourne and Weidman uncover at Earnestine and Hazel’s? Find out on Portals To Hell, available on discovery+.