The Burger Bar in Bristol, Virginia has been slinging burgers and fries in this small Appalachian community since 1942 – and mighty fine burgers they are.
But it was a late night guest on New Year’s Eve 1952 that put the Burger Bar on the map for many a country music fan around the world.
Big Bang of Country Music
Bristol was already on the map since a 1927 recording session here by a big New York record company launched the genre of country music.They call it the Big Bang of Country Music and the story is well documented at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum that opened in 2014 in Bristol. Even if you’re not a country music fan, you might enjoy the museum because of the fun collection of antique recording devices and the exhibits on the changing technology that makes recording music the art form it is today.
The museum is about three blocks from The Burger Bar where, on the night of December 31, 1952, a car carrying superstar Hank Williams pulled up out front. Hank had hired a college student to drive him from Knoxville to Charleston WV, the site of his next performance.
Hank was not feeling well in the back seat. That’s code for “Hank was drunk as a skunk.”
They both got out; the driver stretched his legs, ordered a cup of coffee and asked Hank if he wanted something. Hanks said he didn’t think so, and those are the last words he spoke. The next time the car stopped, Hank Williams was dead in the back seat.
And that’s why the Burger Bar is famous today.
Good Burgers and a Sense of Humor
The main room of the original diner looks the same as it did that night Hank stopped in – just an eight barstools and three little tables. But they’ve expanded to a second room, and soon a third to accommodate a growing catering business.
The burgers are named after Hank Williams songs. “Hey Good Lookin'” comes with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” comes with green chilies and so on. They are really good and reasonably priced.
But here’s something you really need to know before you go to The Burger Bar – the owner, Joe Deel, has a wicked sense of humor and a little joke he likes to play on his guests. There’s a quarter on the sidewalk just outside the front door. The quarter has been there a couple of years now, glued down with epoxy to the sidewalk. For some reason, most folks don’t see it when they are walking in, but as you leave, you automatically look down and there’s the quarter.
I followed a waitress out the front door. She was taking change to a table on the sidewalk when I looked down and saw the quarter. “Excuse me, I think you dropped a quarter,” I called.
“DON’T PICK THAT UP” everyone screamed.
But too late. I bent over at the waist to grab the quarter and the door slammed me in the rear end – just enough to give me a little nudge.
Good thing my backside wasn’t bigger or I would have gone sprawling. And good thing I didn’t go to high school or college with Joe Deel from the Burger Bar. Something tells me we would have gotten into a lot of trouble together.