Words and Images by Anthony Maranise
In the South, we have a phrase used frequently to describe little-known places that have a great deal of character, flavor, or personality.
“It’s a little hole in the wall!”
Yes, that’s the phrase, and while at first pass, it may sound derogatory or belittling in some way, the fact remains that, at least in the South, some of the best of the best places, shops, or eateries are described in this manner.
It comes from the idea that holes in walls are usually small and, at times, can go unnoticed. There’s also another phrase used in conjunction with this one that goes, “If you were to blink, you might miss it.”
Reflecting on these in-tandem phrases, I compiled, here below, a brief guide to three “hole-in-the-wall” locations around the Memphis area: one recreational, one shop, and one restaurant-bar. So, venture out… go for a journey… discover and enjoy!
Richard & Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park
701 Perkins Extended
Memphis, TN. 38117
Truth be told, I discovered this “hidden gem” in the city of Memphis about 4 years ago when I was writing one of my books. The whole process had become, as almost every writer well understands, a bit too “mechanical.” I was having to force words and ideas out of my psyche rather than having them simply “flow.” I was “blocked.” Add to that a severe bout with anxiety and you have a decidedly impeded writer. I needed to both generate, stimulate, and free my ideas, but also needed to not become overwhelmed by them.
I went for a drive. From my East Memphis home, I set out, headed down Poplar, with absolutely no idea where I would end up that day. I was aimlessly wandering. After making a turn or two, I found myself waiting on a train to cross the intersection of Southern Avenue and Perkins Extended. When the cross-bars raised and the train had cleared, I saw a sign which I still contend that “if you were to blink, you would miss it.” It simply read: “Cancer Survivors Park.”
A cancer survivor (of leukemia) myself, I knew this would be just as good a place as any to visit. I pulled into a small parking lot, admiring as I did, the beauty of the spring day and the various statues and art-pieces with which the park is filled. This is a small place, and it’s not so surprising that people often don’t know where it is or what it is when I speak of it. In fact, they probably think it’s still Audubon Park, as it sits directly adjacent to it. But, in fact, this place about which I recount to you today is its own independent, privately-funded (yet city maintained) entity.
One of the most moving sculpture pieces in the park is entitled, “Stages of the Fight.” The sculpture shows, at one end, a small line of persons, some old and some young, about to enter a vertically-spiraled maze. In the midst of the maze, you see the facial expressions of the persons noticeably changed from apprehension to mixtures of fear, peace, and even happiness. At a certain point, as the maze nears its end, the facial expressions of the line of persons has changed to joy.
I am no art-critic, nor do I pretend to be, but I fought the battle with cancer so I am pretty certain I understood the meaning of this sculpture as intended by the artist. The line of persons represents three groups: those who have lost loved ones to cancer, those who are presently fighting the battle with cancer, and survivors. The maze, then, can represent grief, the battle with the cancer itself, or even the often confusing, but still very real, “survivor’s guilt.” The optimism of this sculpture, however, makes it worth admiring. No matter the group, all do eventually emerge from the maze… and with a renewed sense of joy and peace.
Another beautiful feature of this park is the life-sized labyrinth which sits in the middle of a sort of outdoor atrium. Labyrinths are used as spiritual tools to help calm the mind and center the troubled soul such that one can more effectively pray and communicate with the Divine. When I was an undergrad, I learned about labyrinths in one of my favorite courses taught by Dr. Emily Holmes, entitled, “Christian Spirituality.” Having seen the labyrinth and understanding its purpose, I immediately approached it, removed my shoes, and entered the paths. Surely and soon enough, the worries I brought to the park that first day of discovery dissipated and my ideas once more opened up.
Pro-Tip: When you visit Cancer Survivors Park, locate and read the tiles which make up an art-piece known as “The Tree of Life” by the local Memphis artist, Kristi Duckworth. It’s worth your time and will likely increase the awareness of your own blessings & how often we take them for granted.
The Dirty Crow Inn
855 Kentucky Street
Memphis, TN. 38106
The ways in which I came to know about this place confirm, at least for me, that we truly do live in a “small world.” Having finished a particularly difficult run one afternoon at the end of a particularly difficult week, I felt as if though I had earned a beer. I called a good friend of mine and asked if he’d like to go “grab a cold one.” Unsurprisingly, he agreed.
“I want to go somewhere we’ve never been before,” I said to him.
“Arkansas?” he asked me.
“Hell, why not Kentucky?!” I retorted.
“Hey, the Ghost River Brewery is on Kentucky Street, “he replied.
The plan was set… so we thought. We would go have a Ghost River Beer at the Brewery. As we were driving there, we saw a small shack-looking building on the corner, just across from the Brewery. It had an amazing deck and it was a surprisingly mild winter evening. Curious about this place, we ventured over. The closer we got to it, the more cars we saw beginning to arrive. The screech of a microphone hit our ear as a band was starting to tune-up.
Walking in, we were greeted by the faces of “regulars” to The Dirty Crow Inn. Soon after still getting our Ghost River beer (which they have on tap there), we learned that this place had only been open about a year or so and had already received a pretty prestigious designation from Memphis Magazine who named it “a 5 star dive bar.”
And for good reason…
I got the opportunity to chat a while with the owner, Paul Atkinson, with whom I also found out I had more in common that I could have ever known. He too was a CBHS graduate.
“All of the Downtown residential population is coming to this area; it really is undergoing a revitalization. It’s basically two sides of the tracks coming together to shake hands here and we’re glad to be at that intersection,” said Atkinson when asked about The Dirty Crow’s location.
Offering a full bar, local craft beer both on tap and in the bottle, a large deck with covering that can be added or removed depending on the weather, at least 4 TVs, an eclectic menu (that is both meat-eater and veggie friendly), and an incredibly attentive and humorous staff, it’s no wonder this place has become the success it has in only one year’s time.
Mike & Donna Kane come across “the old bridge” to Memphis from Proctor, Arkansas once or twice a week to patronize The Dirty Crow. They said, “We love the live music; it’s always local and when the weather is right, you can’t beat the deck. Great food too.”
Appetizers at The Dirty Crow will cost you between $5 - $7 while sandwiches ranging from their spin on a grilled cheese to an epic burger to even a selection of Po’ Boys will cost only a little more at between $7 - $8.50. I’m not a land-meat eater myself, but I am told that their “claim to food fame” is their selection of chicken wings, the soy-ginger wings having been strongly recommended.
I couldn’t “leave well enough alone,” so I asked Atkinson why he named the place “The Dirty Crow Inn.” Smiling a bit mischievously, he walked around the bar and picked up a bottle.
“It all begins with Old Crow Whiskey,” he said. “I started calling it ‘Dirty Bird’ after about 8 years of enjoying it. I just combined the names, ‘Old Crow’ and ‘Dirty Bird,’ then soon enough, I had the name.”
Atkinson speaks with well-earned pride about his “little gem” of Downtown Memphis. He said, “I am sometimes very stressed, and extremely tired, but I am also extremely happy… I just want people to enjoy their experience here.”
Pro-Tip: The live music on the deck at The Dirty Crow happens on Wednesday and Saturday nights. If the weather is decent, it’s totally worth it. Be sure and say hello to Chandler, the owner’s (Paul Atkinson) son, who is usually around tending bar or helping the scene run smoothly.
13 Florence Street
Memphis, TN. 38104
Florence is a tiny street in the Midtown Memphis area. This entire street is easy to miss due to so much foot and automotive traffic around the bourgeoning Overton Square area. It connects Madison Avenue and Union Avenue.
Located closer to the Union side of Florence is Maggie’s, a quirky, cool, and compact shop specializing in all that is natural. From teas to herbs to mineral and gemstone jewelry, Maggie’s is both local and without a doubt, one-of-a-kind.
Whether you are seeking a gift for a special someone or in-need of natural remedy yourself, Maggie’s boasts an impressive selection of both healing oils as well as aromatics and ones suitable for use in home-diffusers. Moreover, the selection of natural herbs (both for healing and for cooking) and incense (especially useful in both relaxation, meditation, and worship) is sure not to disappoint.
Though called a “Pharm,” short for pharmacy, of course, this clever word-play also emphasizes the shop’s dedication to natural farm-grown ingredients, free from pesticides or unnatural additives. If you are a coffee-fiend, they also have a selection of local beans in store that they are happy to grind for you on the spot.
Aside from its uniqueness in merchandise selection, Maggie’s is also one of the original Overton Square businesses that has outlasted both the economic decline as well as urban-restructuring. It opened in 1981 and has been serving a very dedicated and loyal customer base for more than thirty years.
Pro-Tip: Explore beyond the herbs, spices, and scents. Maggie’s features a number of local products of practical and spiritual use made exclusively by local artists.
Anthony Maranise is an editor with The Galleon and is with the Master of Arts in Catholic Studies Cohort at Christian Brothers University.