The City Café, open since 1900, is the oldest restaurant in Murfreesboro. Drawing people in for more than the food, locals gather at the eatery for camaraderie and the opportunity to recount the stories of their past.
Henry Matthew Ward has been visiting City Café on the Square for more than 50 years. In that time, he’s been exposed to the tales—and tall tales—of locals at the community table.
Ward’s most recent publication, True Stories (and Other Lies) Told at the City Café, is a compilation of our community’s finest storytellers and their anecdotes. He began typing the stories out this past spring, but the book’s stories are 50 years in the making.
“I have repeated so many of the stories and jokes to current regulars at the café that someone in my morning kaffeeklatsch said, ‘You ought to write this stuff down and put it in a book,’” Ward told the Pulse. And that’s where the inspiration struck.
Years ago, Ward made a list called the Dearly Departed Regulars of City Café. He sadly added names for a few years as he heard of passings, then recovered it during the writing of this book.
“It helped immensely as I recalled some of these I might have otherwise forgotten about. Once the individual was recalled, remembering stories or jokes told by them was magical,” Ward said.
The City Café’s tales are both heartfelt—such as the author’s own silver anniversary tale—and humorous, like the section about Judge J.S. Daniel.
“When he was on the bench as a judge, he had a case before him involving a local bootlegger,” Ward said. “When the white-lightning brewer was brought before the bench, the judge asked him what name he went by. ‘Joshua, suh.’ replied the defendant. Judge Daniel, making a whimsical Biblical reference, asked, ‘Oh, are you the Joshua that made the sun stand still?’ ‘No, suh,’ responded the accused, ‘I’s de Joshua that made the moonshine still.’”
More short stories and quips comprise the finished work, some even from the City Café’s past and present owners.
“I got a whole box full of mementos from Garry and Pat Simpson, who owned it for 22 years,” Ward said. The box had newspaper clippings, photos, personal notes, letters and a scrapbook put together by their good friends Barbara and Dwight Faircloth. “Barbara had collected so many one-liners and zingers heard in the café that I put an asterisk to credit her in front of each of her many contributions.”
While 90 percent of the book is comprised of stories and banter heard at the eatery over the years, there is a section on the history of City Café with photos. Also included is an old menu from years ago and a faux menu titled “Road Kill Café” that Garry Simpson, the former restaurant owner, used to jokingly pass out to selected customers. Ward said it had “such delectable entries as Oodles of Poodles, Filet of Shar Pei, Road Toad a la Mode, and The Chicken (that didn’t cross the road).”
True Stories (and Other Lies) Told at City Café is currently available at City Café, Palace Barber Shop on the square and Hylabrook Antique Mall on Chaffin Place. It can also be ordered from Ward’s website, parkbenchpub.com.