Literary Haunts of Chattanooga.

Most, if not all, great literature is specifically grounded in a certain place or geography. Think about it: Twain’s Mississippi River, Faulkner’s Jefferson, Cormac McCarthy’s American West, Joyce’s Dublin, Hemingway’s Paris, and more recently Annie Proulx’s Wyoming. Some places leave such an impression that artists cannot help but memorialize them in their work. With a flock of young writers and artists emerging in Chattanooga, one cannot help but think of what places in the city are distinct enough to be preserved in literature. Notice I’m not saying what places are “nice” or “pristine” enough for literature, as it’s not about how beautiful a place might be, but rather the individuality of the location. In a world of Chili’s, Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings (here’s looking at you Chattanooga city leaders for letting those downtown), it’s nice to think that our little scenic city is still memorable for more than just its mountains and rock gardens. What follows is a list of places that are specific enough to Chattanooga to fit well within the pages of great literature.

1. The Mountain Opry

The Mountain Opry is unforgettable. Tucked away on Signal Mountain, each Friday night the Opry hosts live bluegrass music in what seems to be an old church or schoolhouse. Having been around as long as most Chattanoogans can remember, the Opry isn’t one of those revitalization projects put on by some community development none-profit group, but simply a bunch of old timers who really like picking out old tunes and don’t mind if people stop by and listen. The smell of popcorn wafts through the air, white haired seniors nod along to the music, children sip cokes, and teenagers lean into each other in the pews. The whole scene could fit well within the pages of Wendell Berry or William Gay novel. The best part of all, the Opry is always free.

2. Lamar’s Restaurant and Chrystal Lounge

While The Mountain Opry might be family friendly, Lamar’s has become known across Chattanooga for serving the strongest drinks in town. Located on the corner of MLK and Central, Lamar’s Chrystal Lounge boasts satin wallpaper, candles on each table, a killer jukebox, and a bartender that still wears a bowtie and pressed white shirt. While most bars downtown are slammed on the weekends, Lamar’s never feels too packed or too empty, filled with a wide array of people that keep the bar from being stale and predictable. It’s easy to imagine James Agee hunched over one of the back tables nursing bourbon if he were still around.

3. Wally’s

While few would claim Wally’s has the best food in town, it wouldn’t be a surprise for many to admit the diner is still their favorite place to eat in town; and for good reason. The food is fairly priced—less than five dollars for a full breakfast or dinner—, the service is sharp, everything’s clean, the coffee is strong, and the whole restaurant has that timeless aura that only a place that’s been around longer than your grandparents can muster. Wally’s could easily be the small town diner that Truman Capote details in In Cold Blood or one of the haunts in Sherwood Anderson’s classic Winesberg, Ohio.

4. T-Bones

The appeal of T-Bones is not what it is, but what it’s not. It’s a no frills, honest bar where normal people come to drink beer, listen to music, and maybe discuss football, fishing, politics, or The Rolling Stones. It’s not slummy enough to attract a swarm of art school students or polished enough for the entirety of UTC’s Greek life, as T-Bones instead welcomes whoever needs to get away for awhile while and just be around friends. Cormac McCarthy’s Bud Suttree and his gang of misfits would be right at home in a booth choking down BBQ tacos and bottles of High Life at T-Bones, and that’s a good thing.

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The Importance of Food and Drink

It is 11:23 on a Thursday morning and a large plate of pumpkin spice chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are basking in the sunlight that has been strolling through my open kitchen window. I have a bushel of apples waiting to be sliced and diced for some apple cider pies, and warm baguettes waiting to be slathered with honey goat cheese and pumpkin butter. There are pumpkins to be carved and seeds to be roasted and toasted with cinnamon, salt, and oregano. It is a morning perfect for getting lost in the world of literature, for feeling the fall breeze dance into the room and help stir my pen.

This is the season that begins months of a holiday love affair with food and drink. Take a look at any writer: I am sure most all will be able to sit and describe for hours their favorite food and drinks. For anyone wanting to dive into some of the favorite dishes and drinks the top literary authors and poets have mentioned in letters, books, or interviews, you have to check out the blog Paper and Salt. With cherished recipes including Agatha Christie’s Fig and Orange Scones with Devonshire Cream, Robert Penn Warren’s favorite cocktail recipe, and even Wallace Stevens’ Coconut Caramel Graham Cookies, the blog won’t let you down. Let’s zoom in on Stevens for a minute, whose “humdrum evening routine consisted of eating a cookie while reading the paper.” To all of us with a sweet tooth, Stevens is a dear kindred spirit. Nicole from Paper and Salt writes:

On his doctor’s orders, Stevens repeatedly tried to cut his dessert intake, but when a friend sent him a bottle of coconut syrup that reminded him of his beloved caramels, it all went out the window. “God help me, I am a miserable sinner,” he wrote, “and love being so.”

I am sure there are many jokes out there about “drink” being the true “ink” in a writer’s pen, but it is necessary to stop and reflect on various drinks for a minute. For writers in general—but poets especially—there is nothing more stimulating than good conversation accompanied by wine paired with the right cheese. See The Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide at Winemonger for suggestions.

And last but not least, what about those of you who love actually entering into the literary world and experiencing their own food and drink? For those of you who want a nice warm butterbeer on a cool fall evening without having to migrate to Orlando for the world of Harry Potter? I recommend including Guinness in your recipe, because what’s the magic in making butterbeer if you don’t tweak it to your own taste? Add a little Buttescotch Schnapps and research your own recipe! Seriously. Make your own magic, folks. (Except for the under-21s, only cream soda and butterscotch syrup for you!)

Or perhaps you want a fresh drink, something for a picnic, don’t forget to look up Anne (with an E)’s recipe for Raspberry Cordial. If you’re feeling extra silly, you can even re-enact dear Diana’s encounter with the “Raspberry Cordial.” Or just drink some currant wine yourself.

So writers, readers, lovers of food and drink: dive into the culinary world. The world of scents and flavors. Savor the spices, the aromas, the textures. Nerd out with your favorite literary recipes. Research what your favorite authors liked to eat and drink. Don’t forget to check out the Paper and Salt blog, and plunge into the best part of writing: eating and drinking.