Thursday, February 16, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: The Horseshoe Lounge 2.0

The first visit to Johnson City, TN's Horseshoe Lounge in 1992 by Schaefer co-founder Philly and me was random. Our return visit in 1994 was planned. As we hit the county line to ready for the Food City 500, we knew our destiny was to once again order the best burger in Johnson City along with a cold Busch or two to wash it down.

As we pulled into the parking lot, we were confused a bit by a new sign. Instead of Casey's Horseshoe Lounge, the sign now read McCreary's Horseshoe Lounge. Yet we walked into the place like we were old timers and found a seat at an empty table.

Our waitress came over and politely let us know the table was reserved. (I don't remember her name, but I'll refer to her going forward as Shirley because the name fit the place.) "Reserved? Y'all take reservations??" Surprisingly, they did take call-ahead seating requests - especially for regulars which we were not. But Shirley said they weren't expected for another hour, so we could stay until then.

We had to ask - McCreary's? What happened to Casey? "Aww, that changed a couple of months ago hon. Hey y'all! When did we change the name?" [from behind the bar: "Wasn't it the week after the Super Bowl?"] DOH! OK, that answered that question.

Hot, fresh, tasty burgers and fries arrived along with a cold brew - and then began the afternoon entertainment: karaoke. Some sad sack named Johnny took the mic - black toboggan on his head, scraggly beard, a pack of smokes in his pocket, and a beer in hand. Johnny commenced to singing (or attempted to sing) some sort of sad, country ballad. Something along the lines of Merle, Hank or Cash - though I've long forgotten the barely recognizable tune. But rather than just sing, his drunken state led him to keep the microphone almost in his mouth. His singing came off more like a Bill Cosby bit or a low-octave version of Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown's teacher.

After Johnny finished and earned some tepid applause, another couple of brave souls took the mic to sing redneck karaoke. Johnny soon returned, however, and was ready for more. Our burgers had fortunately vanished by then; otherwise, we could not have eaten them because of our laughter.

Having lost track of time, we were a bit surprised when Shirley returned, apologized, and said she needed our reserved table. We understood and were prepared to make our break. But this sweetheart had more. "Y'all ain't gotta leave. Nina and Larry said y'all could sit with them."

Who? Sure enough, we turned around and spotted a random couple at another booth waving at us. Shirley had done some recon for us, explained we were race fans from out of town, and were facing "no room in the inn." We laughed, politely declined the kind offer from Nina and Larry, but chose to stick around for a bit more of Johnny's hillbilly lounge act.

Shirley continued to be an excellent waitress. She kept an eye on us and made sure we had a cold replacement. As we stood against the wall, a table of beastly females started grinning and asked if we wanted to sing with them. Before I could suggest we tab out, Philly said "Sure! Sign us up!"

Shirley returned and asked "another'n?". Though I wanted no part of road pig karaoke, I did make a final request.
Shirley, we want two Miller High Lifes. But - I  want you to peel the labels off of the bottles. Miller sponsored Bobby Allison. Did you know when he got hurt at Pocono in '88, they dropped him like a bad date? So we ain't about to publicly support the brand. Got it?
She walked away confused - and rightfully so considering my embellishment. Meanwhile, we got a countdown update. "Y'all 'bout ready? We're number 6! What y'all wanna sing?" Lawd almighty, get me out of here.

Philly then nudged me, pointed and said "Look at that." Sure 'nuff, Shirley was at the bar with with two High Lifes and a butter knife.

We're number 3 y'all!

She brought two nekkid bottles to us, and I gave her a hug and asked for the tab. With a clink and a laugh, I told Philly "Bury it so we can go."

We're up next y'all! Chug man.

When Shirley returned, we palmed her plenty of cash to cover our tab plus a generous tip. We tossed our empties, turned for the door, and thankfully escaped the grand stage of McCreary's Horseshoe Lounge.

A few years ago, I stumbled over Horseshoe Lounge written by songwriter Slaid Cleaves. Though I understand the song is based on a real bar by that name as well as plenty of general bar adventures, the song isn't about our Horseshoe. Nonetheless, Slaid included enough close-to-the-pin references that I can relate it to our two visits.



  1. So. When DO we get to hear you sing?

    1. Under the star-lit skies of Talladega in May 1992 as we stoked a campire under a dry pine tree (stupid), Philly and I sang Roxanne by The Police. That was my one and done.