Owned by the affectionately referred to Ms. Ann (Bradley) and presided over by the equally affectionately remembered Miss Shirley (Williams), Memphis’ Lamplighter Lounge is one of the oldest bars in the city and perhaps its oldest dive bar. Some names are whimsical references to a time gone by and some are quite literal, in this case Lamplighter Lounge’s lack of overhead lighting true to its namesake. The space is lit entirely by lamps, the light bouncing off of a furniture collection that can generously be referred to as mismatched (or chaotic, or maniacal). Though the green paint outside has seen a few touchups over the years, Lamplighter Lounge’s exterior fits the dive bar description, faded white paint above a large awning and not one but two signs, each beautiful inscriptions of the Memphis dive bar’s name.
Most stories about Lamplighter Lounge’s past include a reference to Miss Shirley, a bartender who first came to the Memphis dive bar in 1983. She famously suffered no fools, allowed no cursing and served the bar’s famed Shirley Burgers before unfortunately passing away in 2010. Ms. Ann, owner of the bar for over 40 years, retired in 2018, selling the bar to Memphis music scene regulars Laurel Cannito and Chuck Wenzler. Renovations of course took place, smoothing out a rough edge here or there, but the vibe is the same, the live music stage expanded and the furniture thankfully untouched.
Today’s Lamplighter Lounge experience includes an expanded menu, though the burgers are said to stay true to Shirley’s method. After purchasing a vacant storefront next door, new live music opportunities exists, making for lively and varied entertainment. In addition to live music, drag, karaoke and comedy shows all command the small space in the bar’s main room. A beer-only and cash-only business, liquor or wine can be brought in for a “corking fee” of sorts.