Remembering Mr. King and His Inn

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Robert H. King, who has passed away at 84, had his own set of rules for his pub, King's Inn, at 4403 Harding Road.

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If you could shave, you could drink. In 1980, when I was 16, Mr. King sold me the first beer I ever bought at a bar: a Hudepohl, served (as always) in a fully frozen mug, for 50 cents.

I was following in well-trodden footsteps. One Nashville nostalgia website recalls: "In the 1950's in West Nashville, it was practically a rite of passage for a young man to have his first beer at King's Inn (where no one ever asked for an ID)."

But a young person enjoying the Inn's hospitality was expected to behave. On one of my first visits, as I watched the ice slide down the outside of my mug, I overheard a muttered blasphemy from the old-fashioned pinball machine over my shoulder.

Mr. King heard it, too. And that was OK — as long as Mrs. Grace King was not within earshot. But she was just then serving a cheeseburger at the bar, and Pinball Boy had broken a cardinal rule by cursing in front of her. Mr. King summarily expelled him from the premises.

I remember King's as a place where people of different generations could feel comfortable mingling with each other, and where a teenager trying to become a man could act out the rituals of the adult world in a safe and friendly environment.

Society would never tolerate such an establishment today. (I'm not saying it should; we live in harder-edged times.) Maybe Mr. and Mrs. King could see how things were trending, or maybe they were just ready to retire by late 1984.

That December, before coming home for Christmas from a year-abroad program at the University of Leeds, I wrote to various friends and tried to set up a gathering at King's for the evening after my arrival. On December 17, my mother picked me up from the airport. As we drove home, I told her about my plans for the following night. Without explanation, she diverted from the usual route and drove toward Belle Meade.

She turned from Woodmont onto Harding Road and rolled slowly past the Commerce Union Bank. Nextdoor, in the darkness, I could see the silhouettes of a backhoe and the remaining walls of King's Inn. Its demolition had commenced that day. An oil-change joint has operated from that address ever since.

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