From 1929 until it closed in 1966, the place to be in Memphis was 1579 Union. A drive-in with the curious name of Pig ‘n Whistle lured Elvis Presley, Dewey Phillips, and thousands of teenagers to its giant parking lot, night after night, where they could sip nickel Cokes and munch on 15-cent hamburgers, served up by carhops with such nicknames as Preacher, Redwood, Pharoah, and Gypsy.
Years ago, I remember speaking with Monroe Brown Jr., who worked as a carhop at the Pig in the late 1940s. He remembers that they had to be “rippin’ and runnin’” all the time, since they received no salary — only tips — and had to compete for business with 14 other carhops.
Samuel Peace, a carhop from 1944 to 1950, recalled sitting in the back of a car in the Pig’s parking lot at night and singing along with Elvis Presley “before he was known.”
The carhops knew — and greeted — every customer by name. If a stranger pulled into the lot, they would look up the car’s license number in a book and find the driver’s name. Such measures ensured a nice tip.
Old-timers may recall a cook named Katy Brown, who could whip up 12 barbecue sandwiches in less than a minute. Back in those days, the staff used code names for food. A hamburger was a “brother,” a hotdog was a “sweetheart,” and a small Coke was a “shot.” Order a couple of “Palm Beaches” with a “King” and a “Goo” and you got two pimiento cheese sandwiches, a Budweiser, and a malt.
“The Pit was a real hangout,” one of the managers told a newspaper reporter years ago. “That’s where Memphis went to let its hair down.”
After it closed, the Tudor-style building housed AAA auto club offices and the Dixie Auto Club, and then a stained-glass studio, but the decaying building was finally torn down in 1994. A FedEx Office copy center stands on the site today.