Paul’s PBR Review: Max’s Sports Bar

Max’s logo, as seen on the table rub sold at the bar. Meats seasoned with the rub go really well with PBR.

Welcome to the second installment of Paul’s PBR Review, where I examine the best places in Memphis to drink a PBR. For those of you who prefer RSS, I’ve set up a special Paul’s PBR Review feed here that you can subscribe to.

February 24, 2007 was a sad day for Downtowners. That day marked the closing of Sleep Out Louie’s, a bar where many of the Downtown locals hung out. Sleep Out’s served PBR, and on Sundays it was only $1. Management closed it to turn it into a steak house. That left Downtowners with not many options. One of the bartenders got hired at Holiday Inn, but who wants to hang out at a hotel bar? The Green Beetle was mainly late-night at the time, serving mainly the Raiford’s/Hollywood Disco crowd. The Blue Monkey was still being rebuilt from its 2005 fire. That left Flying Saucer as the de facto locals’ bar for most of 2007. And the Saucer didn’t serve PBR.

I saw a glimmer of hope when I attended the September 2007 South Main Trolley Tour. There were two guys named Brad and Max set up with a booth outside of what used to be a convenience store on G.E. Patterson. They told me they were opening a new sports bar called Calhoun’s, which they wanted to have open by the end of the year. They told me how they were going to have all the games on many TVs, so that there wouldn’t be a bad viewing angle in the place. I asked if they planned to carry PBR and they said yes.

SIDE NOTE: The place across the street, which is now Rizzo’s, was a BBQ  joint when I first moved down here. I walked down and gave it a try one day and ordered something called a “rib sandwich.” It was four bones of pork ribs with sauce between two pieces of white bread. I have to admit I don’t really understand the concept of eating something with bones as a sandwich. It seems more like something you’d get at a gas station on Jackson Avenue than at a Downtown restaurant. I guess other Downtowners agreed with me, for the place went out of business before too long.

On December 31, 2007, Calhoun’s opened, and since all the other Downtown bars were closed until 5 on New Year’s Day, I made my way down there. As a sports bar, Calhoun’s pretty much had to be open for New Year’s sports games. Max was behind the bar and I learned he was an Arkansas fan, so I instantly liked the place. Another reason that I liked the place was the PBR that they sold for $1.50 a pint.

As the year went on, Calhoun’s gained steam not only as a place to watch sports, but as a home for the locals, especially those who lived in the South Main area. The regulars began to bond and came up with their own hijinks. In the fall of 2008 they came up with an event called “Downtown Olympics” which took place at several bars including Calhoun’s. We watched the 2008 election results there. In November, in response to pickets and protests happening around town at the time, the regulars staged a “positive picket.” People marched outside of Max’s carrying signs that read “Too Many TVs!” “Michele Gets Our Refills Too Fast!” “Beer Prices Too Cheap!” Max must have taken note of that last sign, because he raised PBR prices to $2 a draft the following year and $2.50 the year after that.

Michele with bat
Michele with bat

Regarding the “Michele Gets Our Refills Too Fast” sign: That refers to Michele Fields, the main bartender. She is extremely efficient getting PBR poured and served, and she’s known for fitting 17 ounces of PBR into a 16 ounce glass. She has placed in the Memphis Flyer’s Best of Memphis poll for both Best Bartender and Best Server in previous years, and rightfully so. I remember one year when she was at the Best of Memphis party for the bartender award, and I was there for Best Blog. The party was at Minglewood Hall that year and there was a huge food buffet presented by the restaurant winners. We finished our food and Michele started bussing our plates off the table. “Michele, you don’t have to do that, you’re not at work,” I commented. Be forewarned about Michele, though: She will beat yo ass if you walk out on your tab or otherwise cause trouble at her bar. She has a baseball bat to take care of any problems that arise.

SIDE NOTE: I enjoyed the Best of Memphis party but it would have been better if they had served PBR.

In 2010, Calhoun’s started getting cease and desist letters from a seafood restaurant in middle and east Tennessee, also named Calhoun’s. The restaurant’s owners were afraid people might confuse a large seafood restaurant with a tiny sports bar, and asked that the South Main Calhoun’s change its name. After months of legal wrangling, the owners decided to make the most logical name change they could, renaming the place Max’s Sports Bar. I wonder if Calhoun’s the restaurant serves PBR. Probably not.

School lunchroom pizza with extra cheese and bacon added by Michele

Max’s is another place where the PBR complements the food well. They have school lunchroom pizza, and you can add extra cheese and bacon for a small additional fee. The PBR brings out the full, rich flavor of the cheese. Sometimes I wonder if the PBR/pizza combination is served at the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Bavaria. If not, it should be.

Another Max’s dish that pairs well with PBR is the honey habanero hot wings. In this case, the PBR does not so much add to the flavor as it does take the “edge” off the wings which are almost but not quite suicide hot.

Some patrons prefer to take a break from Max’s and walk nearby to eat. There are two very good BBQ restaurants nearby, Central BBQ and Double J. I won’t offer an opinion as to which is better, but I will note that Double J serves PBR.

SIDE NOTE: You know, I’ve seen the commercials for Burger King’s “Memphis BBQ” sandwich with pulled pork and onions, and I have to say, I don’t think that’s real Memphis BBQ. I mean, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen any BBQ restaurants in Memphis put onions on their sandwich. Now, I could be wrong. After all, you know what they say, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. And while that may or may not be true, my opinion is that Burger King is not serving “real” Memphis BBQ. Take that for what you will.

Max’s is a very popular place during football season. For college games, they post schedules of which games will be on which TVs, so you know exactly where to sit. For NFL games, they have the Sunday package, so you never have to miss out on your favorite team’s game. It’s ideal for fantasy football players who need to be able to keep up with multiple games at once. The bar stools swivel so you don’t have to crane your neck. Just be careful not to spill your PBR.

Basketball season is another time when the bar at Max’s fills up. The place is known as “Grizzville” during Grizzlies games. Especially during Grizzlies away games, the bar is loud and rowdy, the way a sports bar should be when the home team is on TV. During home games, many fans with tickets pre-game and post-game at Max’s. After all, a $2.50 PBR at Max’s sure beats an $8.50 Bud Light at FedExForum.

Max's Foursquare "mayor" Mike with Windell. I bet Mikey would rather be drinking a PBR.
Max’s Foursquare “mayor” Mikey with Windell. I bet Mikey would rather be drinking a PBR.

Max’s has been host to celebrities. In the summer of 2011, Windell Middlebrooks, at the time starring in Miller High Life commercials, came through Max’s on a tour of Memphis. Windell was seen on TV taking High Life out of places he felt were too high-falutin’ to serve his product. Max’s, however, got Windell’s seal of approval.

SIDE NOTE: I guess the paragraph above should have been a “side note” since it didn’t have anything to do with PBR.

When the weather is temperate in the spring and fall months, the regulars like to set up cornhole boards outside on G.E. Patterson Avenue. Max’s regulars Bad Shane and Fireball Joe are considered two of the premier cornhole experts in Memphis, and have been tapped to host cornhole tournaments at regional festivals. Unfortunately, some of those festivals do not sell PBR.

Except during big games, two of the TVs at Max’s are dedicated to the Buzztime game system. With one TV tuned in to poker and another tuned in to trivia, Max’s patrons can compete against each other in a fun, relaxed atmosphere while drinking PBR. Play is done on blue boxes known to the locals as “crack boxes.” Trivia winners earn points which accumulate over time.

Buzztime poker and trivia video screens
Buzztime poker and trivia video screens

SIDE NOTE: Look for “PROFPR” in the list of all-time top ten trivia points winners. That’s me.

On Thursday nights at 7 PM, a Buzztime poker tournament is held. Now, the tournament is played on the video screens, and the $15 prize is smaller than some of the other poker night prizes around Downtown. However, the game is possibly the best Downtown for a few reasons. You can’t rebuy. You can’t get in late. Most importantly, the game is over in two hours so you can get back to drinking your PBR (not that you have to stop drinking it during the game).

If you walk out the back door, you’ll be on Max’s Big Deck, a large patio area which is almost as large as the sports bar itself. It’s a fine place to relax and catch up with friends while sipping a PBR. When the weather permits, there is a TV on the deck so you can drink a PBR while sitting outside and watching your favorite games.

I hope this post has been informative, and if you have not yet had the good fortune to visit Max’s Sports Bar, I hope you will board the Main Street Trolley and ride it to the south end of the line sometime soon and visit this South Main institution. If you do, I am sure you will agree with me that it is a fine place to drink a PBR.