Manchester: Eating a Cheeseburger at Pat’s Snack Bar
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.
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).
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.
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