illustration by Martha Kelly
Hop aboard for our street-savvy guide to Memphis nightlife. Between airlines and bike lanes, Memphis has been abuzz with transportation talk. So what better way to plan your evening than a transport-centered nightlife guide? We’ve divided the city into the prime neighborhoods for trolley riding, cycling, and driving. Saddle up: It’s time for your tour de Memphis.
One of the fixtures of down-town Memphis is its streetcar system, with brightly colored vintage trolleys rattling up and down the tracks. All along Main Street and Riverside Drive, you’ll be able to catch a lift old-school style — and on the cheap as well. For only $1 a ride or $3.50 for a day-pass, you can tour the bars along Main Street, visit South Main, and take a short walk to Beale.
The Main Street Mall is a picturesque way to start the evening. Grab a beer and something to nosh on at Local Gastropub (95 S. Main), enjoy a sushi happy hour and sake at Blue Fin (135 S. Main), or sneak in dinner and a strawberry-basil martini at Majestic Grille (145 S. Main). All three spots have patios right on the mall, perfect for sunset outings. If you’re going for more of a late-night vibe, head to the Blind Bear Speakeasy (119 S. Main), where you can slip into a leather-bound booth and order up a Moscow Mule or a Swanky Summer Sipper from their “Giggle Water” menu. And just off of Main Street, you’ll find the Brass Door (152 Madison), a beautiful old bank transformed into an authentic Irish pub run by a man named Seamus. Toss back a Guinness or four and watch a European soccer match.
You won’t have to veer far off the trolley line to see the bright lights and hear the sweet sounds of Beale Street, Memphis’ most famous historic hangout for blues, barbecue, and boogying. The New Daisy (330 Beale) is the premier concert venue on Beale, but be sure to check its schedule and get tickets for events in advance. For a more spur-of-the-moment selection of activities, check out Silky O’Sullivan’s (183 Beale) where you can get a Silky’s Diver — a bucket of liquors with multiple straws for sharing — and listen to their famous dueling pianos. Rum Boogie Café (182 Beale) features an extensive selection of fine rums, as well as beers, blues, and a collection of celebrity guitars for your perusal. B.B. King’s Blues Club (143 Beale) is your best bet for live music, while Alfred’s (197 Beale) offers late-night dancing and a balcony view of all the action on Beale.
Hop back on the trolley and head south to hit the South Main Historic Arts District, where you’ll get a taste of Memphis history at Earnestine and Hazel’s (84 E. G.E. Patterson). This two-story brothel-turned-bar comes with a cool vintage atmosphere, a full bar, and piping hot “soul burgers.” Venture around the corner on foot for drinks and karaoke at The Blue Monkey (513 S. Front), or head catty-corner to Max’s Sports Bar (115 E. G.E. Patterson) for a glimpse of the laid-back South Main locals in their natural habitat. If you’re looking to go a little more upscale, try South of Beale (361 S. Main) for quality cocktails, local beer, and gastro pub eats.
Midtown has long been an unofficial home of cyclists, but with the recent addition of bike lanes along Madison, McLean, and North Parkway, this part of town is officially your best bet for safe cycling. Hop on your penny-farthing and head to Broad Avenue for an evening off-the-beaten path, cruise down Madison for a gamut of upscale and dive bars, or park and walk around Cooper-Young for good eats and quality cocktails.
Before the mayor began putting in bike lanes all over Midtown, Broad Avenue put in its own for the New Face For Old Broad event in 2010. The cycling reputation stuck, so pedal down to Jack Magoo’s (2583 Broad), for a great place to watch the game, get an import beer on tap, or try one of their beer cocktails (barbecue beer anyone?). Nearby, the nautical-themed bar, The Cove (2559 Broad), has tasty foods and cocktails and a loyal following, all wrapped up in the perfect dive bar atmosphere.
Ride due north and you’ll hit one of the longest stretches of bars in Memphis: Madison Avenue. Near Overton Square you can feast on olives and cheese and charcuterie at Bari Ristorante e Enoteca (22 S. Cooper) and follow it up with a few well-crafted cocktails or a bottle from their extensive wine list. Just up the street, Boscos Squared (2120 Madison) features a variety of their handcrafted beers on tap as well as pizzas from their wood-fired oven and a beautiful patio.
Further west is Midtown’s Blue Monkey location (2012 Madison), a place for karaoke, live music, a full bar, and late-night hours every night of the week. The new Dublin House (2021 Madison) across the street adds Irish flair to the neighborhood with fish and chips, Harp Lager, and dark pub décor. Further west on Madison you’ll run into some of Memphis’ favorite dive bars, starting with the tiny Lamplighter Lounge (1702 Madison). This beloved hole-in-the-wall serves cheap beer and greasy hamburgers, somehow squeezes in live music gigs, and has long maintained a large hipster and local following. Similarly, the P&H Café (1532 Madison), located across the street from the concert venue Minglewood Hall, has a longstanding reputation as one of Memphis’ favorite watering holes. Craig Brewer named his first major film after the place, and folks still flock here for pitchers, pool, trivia, and karaoke.
For a sampling of sophisticated drinking spots, bike south to Cooper Young, where you can park your wheels and walk from bar to bar. For a younger, more casual evening, stop at Young Avenue Deli (2119 Young), where you’ll find an eclectic mix of patrons, a wide selection of beers, a laid-back atmosphere, and some of the tastiest French fries in town. Celtic Crossing (903 S. Cooper) has a similarly young vibe, and features a full bar, covered patio, and a Sunday brunch to sop up the sins of the night before.
For a more upscale setting, Tsunami (928 S. Cooper) has a recently extended bar and serene décor for a relaxed evening of cocktails, wine, and izakaya (Japanese tapas).
Across the street, Sweet Grass Next Door (937 S. Cooper) offers the same sophisticated drink menu as its sister restaurant Sweet Grass, but with plenty of televisions for catching whatever game you’re interested in.
And for an evening that feels more cosmopolitan, try Alchemy (940 S. Cooper), where the impressive bar, luxurious décor, and high vaulted ceilings befit the culinary offerings and handcrafted cocktails. On the corner of Cooper and Young, Cortona Contemporary Italian (948 S. Cooper) is a tad more upscale, and offers a unique vantage point for people watching, from its cozy patio or the picture windows in its dining rooms. The nearby Beauty Shop (966 S. Cooper) and Do- (964 S. Cooper) offer a similar high-quality experience in a more intimate setting.
Heading eastward from the river, with the sun setting in your rearview mirror, you’ll head into a neighborhood with some of the most elegant spots in the city: East Memphis. Enjoy a few artisanal cocktails at ACRE (690 S. Perkins) in its cozy bar, or really anywhere in this impeccably designed restaurant. (No wonder Urbanspoon recently included them on a list of the 250 most popular high-end restaurants in America.)
Tucked away off the main drag of Poplar Avenue, the restaurant Erling Jensen (1044 S. Yates) has the perfect small bar to sip high-quality cocktails and classic vintage wines with some of the best small plates in the city. Interim (5040 Sanderlin), with its extensive wine list and culinary delights, also falls into this relaxed but sophisticated category, as does Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen (712 W. Brookhaven Circle), where the “Old Memphis” specialty cocktail (bourbon, apple, cinnamon, pomegranate, and orange) will get your night off to a good start.
For a slightly more raucous evening, drive from Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen to the nearby Windjammer (786 E. Brookhaven Circle), known for its karaoke, or to Brookhaven Pub and Grill (695 W. Brookhaven Circle), which has a strong local following, live music, and a nice patio for catching the night air. Across Poplar, Dan McGuinness (4698 Spottswood) is the go-to Irish pub for East Memphians, with classic fish and chips, a game room, and plenty of televisions for watching the Grizz or the Tigers play. Neil’s (5727 Quince), the former Midtown institution that burned down last August, has risen like a Phoenix in East Memphis, with the same live music and vibrant ambience that made it a favorite in its former incarnation.
Near the University of Memphis, the Highland Strip is home to a number of popular nightspots. Newby’s (539 S. Highland) is a college favorite, with pool tables, foosball, and live music. Head to Juicy Jim’s (551 S. Highland) for cheese steaks and cheap pitchers, and Ubee’s (521 S. Highland), for beer busts and DJs. RP Tracks (3547 Walker), located alongside the train track, boasts a surprisingly vegetarian- and vegan-friendly menu (barbecued tofu nachos!) and a lengthy menu of shooters, which are discounted every time a train goes by. And not too far from Highland, Lucchesi’s Beer Garden (3358 Poplar, formerly Raffe’s) offers the perfect spot to grab an import beer for sipping on the patio.
If you’re heading to Cordova, do as the locals do and watch the game at Fox and Hound (847 Exocet), a 21+ spot for pool, ping-pong, brews, and bar food. Or stop by the Flying Saucer (1400 N. Germantown Pkwy.), where the selection of beers will keep you and your fellow “beer knurds” busy for a long while. And if Raleigh is your final destination, don’t worry for a second that you’ll be far away from the nighttime action: The Stage Stop (2951 Cela Rd.) will have all the music, dancing, steak nights, and drink specials you can handle.
This is just a taste. For a complete guide, visit memphismagazine.com.