Does Anyone Remember This 1960s Memphis Coffeehouse?



Photo courtesy White Station High School

A standard feature of old (and maybe recent) high-school yearbooks is to pose groups of students in popular settings or hangouts away from the school. And so the editors of the 1964 edition of the White Station High School yearbook did just that, by putting their "Who's Who" campus leaders in places like Shoney's Eastgate or the parking lot of the Tropical Freeze.

Most of these places are (or were) close to the school. After all, that's where the kids hung out, and it made it easier on the school photographer if he or she didn't have to haul the students all over town just for one picture.

But I'm stumped by this photo, which shows a group of clean-cut students listening to a stand-up bass player in what seems to be a coffeehouse. The background doesn't reveal much — what seems to be an elaborate brass coffee machine, maybe a stained-glass chandelier, and in the background an air conditioner stuck in a high window.

I know the most swingin' place in town in the early 1960s (this photo ran in the 1964 yearbook, remember) was the Bitter Lemon, at Poplar and Humes. Not exactly in the White Station neighborhood, but nothing else comes to mind.

Does anybody remember or recognize this place? Was it indeed the Bitter Lemon, or another place entirely? And while you've got your thinking caps on, does anybody know the students pictured here?

Reader Comments:
Aug 23, 2012 12:32 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Those nicely dressed WASPs don't look like people who frequented the Bitter Lemon. The Bitter Lemon was the known hangout of the "beatniks" (forerunners to hippies) of the 50s and 60s. The beatniks would have had long hair (washed or not), raggedy clothes (washed or not), and sunglasses day and night--indoors or out, and never would they be wearing white socks--no socks and sandals was the preference.

Aug 23, 2012 06:05 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Half & Half Coffee House on Union

Aug 23, 2012 08:31 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

The Half and Half started out on Cleveland across from Crump Stadium, by the time it moved to Union, this crowd would have been much older.

Aug 23, 2012 11:15 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I worked at the Bitter Lemon, along with Herman Patterson, manager, Charlie Brown, poet and the owner/founder/artist/sculptor/educator(Memphis Acad of Arts/Overton Park)and mystic John McIntyre. A lot of great music and musicians played there, to include folks like Don Nix, Gimmer Nicholson, Jim Dickinson, et al. I parked my 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite out front most days, and in the back parking lot nights. The drink everybody ordered was the sanguine mist... what memories. And, yes, I had a beard!

Aug 24, 2012 02:28 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Possibly, the Oso Coffee House which was popular for aa minute.

Aug 24, 2012 05:03 am
 Posted by  picker49

It's the Oso...look at the floor...it was a big white house...all the others had concrete flooring...

Aug 24, 2012 11:02 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

The Bitter Lemon didn't Have a hardwood floor like that, I don't think. Half and Half did but I think that is the Oso.

Aug 25, 2012 10:25 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Could it be The Pastime Coffee House. I used to go there and listen to the Hammer Singers. We would snap our fingers instead of clapping to show appreciation for the good folk music!

Aug 25, 2012 01:25 pm
 Posted by  mr.songplugger

Visited the Bitter Lemon many times and even dated one of the waitresses while never having to pay a cover charge. Saw many great acts there including The Knowbody Else with 7 band members performing on that tiny stage. Loved the regular house band, The Groupe, and even saw Paul Revere and The Raiders at a private event there. Once I brought a dead snake into the coffee house and slung it around the room like a whip. Plus, on two different occasions I drove my motorcycle through the building while bands were playing by entering through the front door and exiting out the back. Charlie Brown loved it!

Aug 28, 2012 11:45 am
 Posted by  Vance Lauderdale

You can't go by the clothing. This wasn't a candid shot, taken at night when the Bitter Lemon was swingin'; it was posed by the yearbook photographer during the schoolday to show some class officers from White Station, so they would have been dressed neatly for their yearbook photos. I did a story on the Oso years ago, and one of the complaints from neighbors was that the owner had painted all the walls inside black, unlike this place. Now the yearbook photographer took different groups of kids to very obvious hangouts that were near the White Station campus, such as the Shoney's in Eastgate, the McDonald's on Poplar, and the Tropical Freeze at Poplar and White Station. He didn't have time to haul people all over town for just one shot. So where would this place have been. What coffeehouse (if that's what this is) was closest to White Station High School?

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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