What made us choose to visit the Southern Empire Emporium? Sheer curiosity, really. It is positioned on the south side of exit 446 at 1212 Mullowney Lane, and we had gone past the place too many times not to check it out.
We weren’t expecting much, but it turned out to be a memorable decision.
We parked in front of the Emporium’s unmistakable red awning, and the first patron we saw was a woman wearing men’s pajama pants. Obviously, casual attire is all right. We entered through the “lounge” and saw a gaming area full of the usual machines, a small bar and a large, brightly lit diner-style restaurant.
The restaurant seemed to cater to the iceberg-lettuce, pudding-on-the-salad-bar crowd and looked fairly unremarkable with its linoleum tabletops and curved metal chairs.
We always prefer a seat at the bar anyway, but we noted that there weren’t two available seats next to each other. Luckily, one customer stood up, chugged two beers in quick succession and left. We took his seat and settled in.
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Mr. Bitters ordered an old-fashioned. The bartender looked terrified by the request. So did her coworkers, who heckled her as she made the concoction. After consulting a bartending manual, she resorted to the recipe on the bottle of bitters. When she opened a sugar packet, Mr. Bitters almost canceled the order. She stirred the sugar in the well bourbon—a blended caramel-colored liquor product—for what seemed like minutes, added a dash of bitters, a cherry and some soda water. Surprisingly enough, the result was sweet, but quite drinkable.
Olive decided to play it safe and ordered a beer.
As we sipped, a loud gentleman at the keno machine regaled us with stories of death, heart attacks and murder via surgery—but the best segment of his declamation was a description of an argument he’d recently had with his (drunk) girlfriend regarding whether or not she was, in fact, pregnant. Alas, we were not told whether the question had been settled.
The customer next to us at the bar suddenly asked for a bandage but then canceled the order. He had stopped bleeding. It seems that he had been stabbed with a razor earlier, but was fine.
After deciding to look over the menu to sample the full breadth of the establishment, we noted that Thursday’s prime rib special appeared to offer a good-sized cut at a very reasonable price. We settled on a basket of fries. The bartender assured us they were hand-cut and delicious.
As we waited for our food, an incredibly inebriated man came in to get a drink. The bartender, who seemed eminently capable of taking care of herself, refused to serve him. He proceeded to call her a witch—yes, a witch—and explained that he wasn’t drunk, he had just been huffing paint. Readers, please don’t try that at home, or ever, really. After a few more minutes of this surreal conversation, the bartenders threw him out handily.
This situation caused a lively debate among the bar customers regarding the prevalence of racism and reverse racism in society. We chose not to voice our opinions. Olive almost inserted herself into the debate when the discussion turned to the Glenn Beck show, but somehow she managed to restrain herself.
While we ate our fries, which were served on a plate rather than the promised basket, we ordered another round. Noting Mr. Bitters’ preference for cocktails, the bartender asked if she could make a recommendation. She offered a “Grinch,” which is made from Blue Curacao, vodka, orange juice and peach Schnapps (we think). It was served in a tall glass and was, in fact, green. And delicious. Well balanced and not as sickly sweet as expected.
If you find yourself at the Southern Empire, we highly recommend this cocktail no matter the season.
As our readers have undoubtedly noticed, this review has focused more on the other customers in the bar rather than the establishment itself. That’s because the regulars were far more interesting than anything else we could possibly report. We were obviously the only two strangers customers in sight, and the Southern Empire seemed to be a place that remembers regulars and their preferences.
Everyone we met this evening was welcoming, and we learned a lot from our conversations with them. For instance, we did not know that hydrogen peroxide was the best solution for taking blood out of concrete. Furthermore, the metric system did not seem as confusing when described in terms of “pharmaceuticals.” We learned about some great hunting locations, and listened to a long description of why “butt plugs” (some kind of entrails-extraction device) are excellent for hunting.
When the Grinch was empty, we asked for our tab and had no idea what to expect. The pricing system was baffling—the menu stated that a basket of fries was $5.75, which seemed exorbitant for the small handful we were given, and listed ranch dressing for an additional $2.75. Huh? Drink prices were unlisted.
Our tab came and totaled $12.50 for our two beers, two specialty cocktails and a basket of fries (with ranch). There was no itemized total included, so we’re not sure how this was calculated. There was some indication on the receipt that there was “happy hour” pricing, but it seemed far less expensive than anticipated, so we didn’t complain.
Welcoming, interesting, and entertaining regulars
Cheap (if confusing) prices
Great cocktail recommendations
Friendly bartenders who are not afraid to overshare about their personal lives
Other than the bar, the atmosphere was less than appealing
Food seems heavy on grease, low on originality
Chapter 1—The Squire Lounge.
Chapter 2—The Alpine Casino.
Chapter 3—Buck’s Bar.
Chapter 4—Stadium Club.
Chapter 5—Bones Arcade.