“I’ve been really trying baby…”
Marvin Gaye’s soulful vocals ring out over the bar and the crowd erupts in excitement. By now, everyone in the room has enough liquid courage sloshing about their bellies to belt out the chorus: “Let’s Get It On!”
City Grocery’s familiar, cozy vibes draw an array of folks, whether you’re the waitress that just wrapped up her Saturday double-shift at the restaurant around the corner, Eli Manning or the middle-aged couple knocking back a few cocktails after their evening Ash Wednesday service.
This is a place that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of Oxford, and everyone here seems to know and admire the man behind the bar this evening – a man of many names, including, but not limited to “99,” “Little Easy” or my personal favorite “Bvrutha Wade.”
Joseph Wade Thames (last name pronounced like “Tims”) goes by Wade, and he is the man who everyone claims is the embodiment of Oxford.
During his second year of college at the University of Mississippi, the Jackson native walked onto the Rebel baseball team that he pitched for and claimed a record 99.97 ERA, which is still standing.
Thames wrapped up his college career with a degree in graphic design in 2003 and soon moved back to Jackson. It would be just a mere four years before Oxford Town was calling Thames back to raise his daughter, Mary Laine, who is now 5.
You can throw a rock, blindfolded, in any direction from the City Grocery porch, and you are bound to hit another establishment where Thames has worked – Proud Larry’s, Boure, Frank & Marlee’s and Frank & Marlee’s identity in a past life, Murph’s.
When Thames isn’t at City Grocery, he helps run his family company, Thames Foods, which is known for their phenomenal Comeback Sauce.
“Whenever I’m not slingin’ drinks, I’m slingin’ sauce,” he said.
Thames is a vast majority of what makes the City Grocery experience so enjoyable. One is guaranteed a genuine, ear-to-ear grin, quick, impeccable service, good conversation, and his favorite drink to concoct – a martini – that you’ll almost feel guilty drinking because it’s a work of art, a Thames Original.
As long as you aren’t ordering O’Douls or tomato juice with a splash of Tabasco and lime in a cocktail glass that you so boldly claim to be a “Virgin Bloody Mary,” then you’ll be in the clear.
When asked what his biggest pet peeve as a bartender was Thames said, “When people need service across the bar, and I cannot respond to general questions like ‘Hey, how are you?’ ‘How have you been?’ ‘Good to see you, been a while’… the moments where you can’t take the time to interact.”
Thames’ response to why his job makes him happy references the community, “The people that come in definitely make me happy, and being a part of City Grocery and John’s (chef John Currence) initial seed planted in Oxford, I feel pretty special to be a part of it… It’s special to have garnered a lot of friendships, and that means the most.”
Multiple sources have confirmed that Wade Thames is a man who is the soul of Oxford.
If you don’t know him, make some time to go grab a beer and meet him. Chat him up about his daughter or Widespread Panic, or you can plan your escape to the beach together, because that is where he would be if he wasn’t behind the bar.