I’ve visited the new location of the Cherokee Drive-In three times now. Of course
I knew it was going to be different, but after this last visit (my first in
the evening) it is time to sit down and write a tender, teary elegy for the
Cherokee I once knew and loved.
For those of you that don’t live in Jackson, a brief history. The Cherokee
Drive-In is one of Jackson’s oldest and most revered (and therefore greasiest)
eating establishments. Since the 1950’s it was located in a building that can
only be described as more than mildly dilapidated on North State Street just
past Northside Drive.
I could fill volumes of personal reflections and recollections on my time at
the Cherokee, so let me briefly summarize. My personal love affair with the
joint started when I was 17, when Lucky first introduced me to the hallowed,
tobacco yellowed, halls. From then until the doors of that building closed for
good I rarely missed (aside from when I lived in New Mexico) eating and/or drinking
there once a week. In short, the place was my second home in Jackson:
- where, by far, the coldest bottled Budweiser in town was served.
- where I took many an ass-whooping on a fuss ball table on my way to becoming
an above average fuss baller
- where, on my 18th birthday, I had chili cheese fries and a couple of beers
before running over to golf world for some of the most raucous go-cart riding
I’ve ever had the pleasure to take part in.
- where, while in college, I could go and shoot pool and drink beer at 3
pm after class on Thursday with my girl and watch the winter sun sinking early
over the railroad tracks through the one gun slit-style window in the room
above the bar.
- where I have placed my only piece of bathroom graffiti (‘Time isn’t until
it was’ – William Faulkner).
- where the old black cook, Ms. Dolores, who has only called me ‘Youngblood’
since the day we met, and I would sit at the bar and have a beer and talk
- the home of the famous Roast Beef Thursday (and still is) and the not so
famous, but equally delicious, Country-Fried Steak Friday, as well as the
best fried chicken sandwich (topped with swiss cheese and ranch dressing) in
- home to a touching memorial to my college friend John Huber, who bartended
there and died in a fiery car crash in 1995.
- home to the best game of pool I’ve ever shot.
- where all my friends knew to show up in the days before and after Thanksgiving
and Christmas. You were going to see somebody you knew and probably hadn’t
visited with in a while for sure.
- where, while I lived in New Mexico, I could return and Lance would still
hand me a Budweiser without having to ask what I wanted, as if I had never
And the list goes on, and on, and on.
The Cherokee lives on in name, but for now it’s only a sad reminder of the
glory that once was, even though the same great people own and operate it. The
new building is clean and huge. The cooks are hidden in the back out of sight.
The food isn’t quite as greasy as it was (which leads me to believe the grease
permeating the air of the old location served to flavor the food both before
and after it was cooked). Having moved across the interstate it has (inadvertently?)
garnered a respectable, family-oriented clientele. Last night small children
and suit-clad professionals outnumbered faces I recognized from the old location.
Which actually bodes well for the bold new Cherokee, I guess. They have to pay
for the new building somehow. But it leaves me longing for the grimy, intimate
little building on North State that few respectable Jackson socialites would
dare step in, much less expose their children to.
These are the lessons of life. All things must pass. I actually think mourning
the passing of the old Cherokee is made harder by being able to frequent it’s
new makeover. If I was left only to my memories there would be nothing to ruin
them. Maybe it will take another 50 years to make the new Cherokee into the
beloved dump that I wish for so dearly. Until then I will certainly still frequent
it, though more likely in the early afternoon rather than during the yuppie day-care
that the evenings have turned into.
So goodbye my Cherokee, I will miss you so.
Want to learn more about the Cherokee? Read this article
from the Clarion Ledger.
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