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Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 in Eastern Kentucky | 20 comments

Manchester: Eating a Cheeseburger at Pat’s Snack Bar

Manchester: Eating a Cheeseburger at Pat’s Snack Bar

 

Pat's sign

If you ask someone from Manchester where they ate their best hamburger few would hesitate to say simply “Pat’s.” Pat’s, the eponymous pool room and snack bar of the late Pat House, is a Clay County institution. And the loyalty dies hard. My uncle in far away Georgetown, Kentucky has for decades left Manchester with a bag of Pat’s burgers whenever he visits. I’m confident he’s not the only one.

Founded after World War II by one of Clay County’s earliest basketball stars, the restaurant was a growing concern by the early ‘50s, my father recalled. As an assistant butcher at the nearby Taylor Baker’s grocery in the 1950s, my Dad told me how House would personally walk over to supervise the double grinding of the hamburger he bought in thirty pound batches. If business was brisk, Pat would stop by more than once that day.

My memories of eating there go back over thirty years when I was a boy tagging along on Saturdays with my father, who owned a monument company. He was a school principal, but set tombstones on Saturdays. On days we were lucky enough to be in town at lunch time we would sometimes go to Pat’s.

Pat’s was, and is, just off of the center of Manchester on Town Branch Road, backed up against the side of a hill like so much else is in Appalachia. You build where things will fit, and often you make it fit. My memory is of Pat’s as a bustling place. There was a door in the back leading to another room where men played pool in a smoky fog. I once expressed interest in joining those pool players to my Dad. He quickly shot down the idea.

Pat House still ran the place in those days, and I remember him, Pat, fat, and in a hat (the Seussian temptations are strong). His trousers were precariously placed, and he would take big lumps of hamburger and flatten out the patties one at a time. The waitress was an older hunchback woman who would take your order in a matter of fact way bordering on surly. She would limp off and start your order on the grill, delivering it hot and juicy in thin plain white wrapper.

And the burgers, oh, the burgers. Hot and juicy, delectable.

The last time I remember eating at Pat’s was during my last week in high school. Feeling rebellious, I skipped out from school to grab a Pat’s burger with some friends one day at lunch when I was supposed to be carrying a molded tray in the cafeteria. Forbidden fruit tastes the best.

And so it was with those memories that I visited Pat’s while home in Clay County this summer. Like the old days I went with my Dad, but also had in tow my eleven year old daughter. She’s the same age now I was back in those days of Saturday lunches.

The old Manchester businesses of my youth are largely closed down. H&N Drugstore where I bought comic books and where you could still get a root beer float at the soda fountain—like my Mom had done decades before—is long gone. But Pat’s is still there.

Pat's counter

The interior of Pat’s has changed, certainly a result of a remodel after one of its old periodic grease fires. It’s cleaner, but also a little more respectable. It’s just a “snack bar” now; the old pool room is gone. There are a few video games against the wall, setting idle during our visit. There was no bustle, but it was a little past any lunch rush.

Like the pool room, Pat himself is long gone, his picture on the wall in tribute. Two young ladies worked the counter, likely neither born when I visited as a high school senior a quarter century ago. I ordered my cheeseburger with everything, and added an order of “homemade fries” (Crinkle fries are also an option).

Pat's wrapper

They still make the burger while you wait, pulling a patty out of the mini-fridge. They’re not factory formed, somebody spent some time making it like Pat did. After the burgers are fried the cheese and top bun is added to the burger on the grill. It’s all delivered to you wrapped in the thin plain white wrapper I remember. You watch the whole process, including the fries being made just a few feet away.

But it’s always dangerous revisiting memories of youth. What would the burger really be like?

Hot and juicy, delectable. 

Pat's burger

The decades have changed the look and the personnel, but on my visit the burger was just right, one of the best I’ve had in awhile. The fries were also hot and good, demanding just a little salt. The serving was generous, enough to share with a friend.

The old pool halls and local joints are shuttering everywhere these days, but especially in these small Kentucky towns. Downtown areas are largely abandoned while fast food chains vacuum up the dollars spent on eating out. If you have a local restaurant, and if they make the effort to give you good food, track them down and eat there.

Pat’s is holding on, and good for them. If you find yourself in Manchester make sure you stop by.

Pat’s Snack Bar
112 Town Branch Road
Manchester, Kentucky
(606) 599-0199

Pat's burger bite

 

20 Comments

  1. Great descriptive writing. I really enjoyed the review and could almost taste the hamburger. The pictures made it real.

  2. I’m 71 years old and I have eaten burgers from every place I have ever been and Pat’s is still the best I have ever eaten.

  3. Come to Clay County, eat at Pat’s. You can see our Salt Works Pioneer Village, ancient rock writings on petroglyphs, beautiful murals, whitewater streams for water sports, pretty parks, majestic mountains. And you can cross as many as twelve high-swinging foot bridges over gorgeous streams full of fish! Ride our mountain trails on horseback or atv, or hike our scenic trails! Read about our colorful history at our Pavillion in town. More info @welovemanchester.com

  4. When I was pregnant, Pat’s caught fire and had to be closed for repairs. I cried for two days.

  5. Ate a Pat’s cheeseburger for lunch today. They make Great Burgers!

  6. Fifty years ago we would buy a sack full of Pat’s hot dogs. Never found anything to match them.

  7. I haven’t had pats in years they have the best dang burgers in town!

  8. It’s 10:30 at night, and you’re making me want to drive from Louisville to Manchester for a cheeseburger. Thanks, Alan.

    • Dale, if I can get praise from you for my writing I must be doing something right. Thanks!

      And thanks to everyone for their comments.

  9. I can’t tell you how happy this post makes me. I love Pat’s. I am from Hazard, but dad is a Grubb from Manchester and I have so many fond memories, buying cheeseburgers, ale 8’s, and grippos there. I thought it had shut down. I was just telling my husband about it. Thank you for the post!

    • Courtney, thank you very much for the kind words. I’m always glad to find a fellow Pat’s burger lover. One of my first cousins in Clay County is married to a Grubb.

  10. I live in North Carolina and In reading this, instantly wanted a few of those hamburgers…. They were and I am sure still are delicious!!

    • Mike, I had one yesterday and they are still great. Thanks for stopping by Eat Kentucky!

  11. Alan,
    What was the name of the little Italian/pizza/hoagies shop that opened in Manchester back in the late 70s/early 80s? It was outstanding. We used to drive from Red Bird to eat there. RL Reeves Jr

    • The name isn’t coming to me, but that was a little before I was paying attention to such things. I’m sure some of the folks who have commented here could tell you, and likely would ring a bell with me. The place I was excited about was the mid-80s Pepperoni Playhouse, which had a great arcade and gave free tokens for As on your report card.

  12. I had no idea that Pepperoni Playhouse had an adjunct location in Manchester. We had one down in Corbin that saw the lion’s share of my spending money vanish into their Defender and Robotron machines. Wonder why the owners decided to fold up shop? RL Reeves Jr

  13. Papa Joes had the best hoagies in town. It sat at the junction besides the old Henny Penny just down from Whites Chevrolet.

  14. Somebody in Manchester eat one of those yummy burgers for me. An era disappearing as corporate USA overwhelms the country.

  15. I loved their hot ham and cheese also. A bag of BarBQ Grippo’s and a pint of milk. Good night just thinking about it and I worry my tongue may beat me to death.

  16. I haven’t been to Manchester in about 10 years but I always remember Pats burgers, the best I have ever tasted. The first time I ate them, probably 20 years ago my friends wouldn’t let me go there they went and got a sack full. Finally one day I went there, it was a little scary, a tiny little dark place with an older woman standing over the grill smoking cooking burgers, (coming from a city girl) but after I got over that and ate the first one, they are the best burger I have tasted anywhere and I travel a lot.

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