Hank and Whiskey

By on 16 May, 2018 in Bars, Karren Pell with 0 Comments

Carole King and I were giving a PowerPoint presentation to a group of international students the other day on historical sites in downtown Montgomery. We had, of course, included the statue of Hank Williams which now stands at the front of the tunnel entrance. We used the photo in our latest book, Images of Modern America: Montgomery; the photo features not only the Hank Williams statue, but my friend, Danish singer-songwriter Nils Maaetoft. The students, to both my horror and amusement, asked which one was Hank – the man or the statue. Well, I suppose the fact they are not Americans might be an excuse, but really – I thought EVERYONE knew about Hank Williams. This young generation worries me, but that is not the focus of this post.

So the news regarding Hank that merits this post, is that in addition to the statue, a museum (at 188 Commerce Street), and his gravesite in the Oakwood Annex Cemetery, there is soon to be a bar that features both his birth name and his history: “Hiram A Whiskey BAR with a Historical Perspective.” Owned by Mike Watson, the bar is connected to and a part of Montgomery’s Alley Bar development. It will be also be connected to another new libation location –  The Commerce BeerWorks. There is no excuse for not having a good time in the Alley.

The Hiram bar will open on June 1, but Landmarks Foundation is hosting the popular “Renovators Happy Hour” event at the bar on 166 Commerce Street on Thursday May 24, from 5:30-7:00. The event is free for Landmark members and $10 for guests. Come on out and get a sneak peek.

All very well, you say. So why is the bar not called “Hank”? Well, I’ll tell you. Hank’s birth name was Hiram. His father was a mason and his mother a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. They named their son after the legendary (mythical?) Hiram I of Tyre-one of the three founders of the Masons. But early in Hank’s singing career, he needed a more, shall we say mainstream, name. So Hank it was.

Hank Williams is one of America’s legendary singer-songwriters and a son of Alabama. He spent his childhood in Georgiana and then moved with his family to Montgomery. His mother ran a boarding house. Hank began his music career right here in Montgomery by hosting and performing a radio show for WSFA, housed at that time in the Jefferson Davis Hotel. Tales I have heard include shows with his band live on the radio, hot dogs at Chris’ Hot Dogs, and lot of alcohol and pretty girls. There are other legends and mysteries that will have to wait for retelling at another time– late at night at his gravesite when a full moon goes behind the clouds to hide its face and cry, or perhaps at the bar when we have full glasses to ease a night that seems so long…..

Hank was born September 17, 1923 and died on the way to a performance on January 1, 1953. Some of his famous rhinestone spangled suits, photographs, and the Cadillac he died in are to be seen and marveled over at the Hank Williams Museum on 118 Commerce Street. His funeral was held in City Hall and the number of people who came to pay their respects–some stars from Nashville and others who just loved him and his music-are still as legendary as the man himself. His gravesite remains a pilgrimage to all who love true music and heart rendering songs. In fact, just this April I was talking with producer, writer, musician, and author of Tom Petty’s biography Warren Zanes who was visiting Montgomery to participate in the Alabama Book Festival. Warren said that he had already paid his respects at the gravesite. I take every musician friend who has visited me here to Hank’s grave.

So don’t forget to get a sneak peek at “Hiram A Whiskey BAR with a Historical Perspective” on Thursday, May 24 from 5:30 to 7:00. For more info call 334 240 4500. I also want to thank the sponsors for making this good time possible: Crosby Electric, Standard/Taylor, Inc. and Whirley Construction Group, LLC.

Warren Zanes loved Montgomery. He says he is coming back. I hope he does, and I hope I get to see him again. Now when he and the rest of my friends come to Montgomery for a visit, we can go to Oakwood and say hello to Hank, and then we can go to Hiram BAR and have a drink. Or we can go have a drink, go say hello to Hank, and then go back and have another drink. Whatever. We’ll be in Montgomery having a good time. No point being lonesome.

Karren Pell is a writer, teacher, and performer who lives with her husband, Tim Henderson, and an assortment of cats and dogs in Capitol Heights. She is the author of three books. Her musical compositions range from commercial songs to theatrical works, with five musical adaptations to her credit.


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