For our first of several stops in the Tri-Cities, an area that I very much want to revisit many times, we pulled into a 52 year-old burger joint. For quite some time, this place was the only survivor of a Tennessee chain that was founded way back in 1931.
In 1921, the first White Castle opened, and, within a decade, dozens and dozens of imitators had cropped up around the country, most of them named some variation of COLOR NOUN. Blue Circle Hamburgers, based in Knoxville, was one of these, and it spent about thirty strong years growing, opening dozens of stores in at least five other states. The Bristol Blue Circle opened to the public in 1964. According to the company’s web site, the chain was sold in 1966 to a corporation in Miami, and sold again in 1974, and the chain shut down in 1975. Only the Bristol Blue Circle survived, independent and quietly keeping to itself.
Reader Tim Burns shared the photos below with us. These are from one of the Blue Circle stores in Knoxville.
In 2012, Bart Long bought the aging Blue Circle, and it got some national press for the first time in a long while when Jed Portman wrote about it for Serious Eats. Long has been slowly getting ready to build the Blue Circle back into something like its heyday. Earlier this year, the first new Blue Circle to open in forty years greeted customers twenty miles south in Elizabethton TN.
Marie passed on a snack here, but my son and I settled in for some treats. Circle burgers are ninety cents here, or you can get a bag of a dozen for $10. They come with onions, pickles, and mustard of course.
I haven’t mentioned soda very much in the blog lately. It sort of goes without saying that Tennessee is overwhelmingly a Coca-Cola state, and Chattanooga especially so. Blue Circle is the first independent restaurant that we’ve seen to offer Pepsi in many months. Usually we’re good with water or, occasionally, sweet tea, but I was so pleased to see something other than the norm that I had myself a Pepsi. The following morning, we’d find something very unexpected, so stay tuned for that.
The tiny little patty in a slider isn’t big enough to give one of these burgers a big, meaty taste. Sometimes when I cave and stop by a Krystal, I might have a couple of doubles. Otherwise, these sliders are really, as Portman says, “more like steamy bread and onion than meat.” But that’s okay! They’re just so tasty for snacks and I love the history of the Blue Circle. I hope Long is successful in growing the chain back to its original size without compromising the fun quality of the food.
Blue Circle Hamburgers
333 Bluff City Hwy
Bristol, TN 37620
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