Explore the city's hottest bars and clubs in 48 hours.
Photos by Justin Fox Burks
Some weekends are for catching up on projects, doing yardwork, or cleaning out your closets. This will not be one of those weekends.
For the next 48 hours, we'll take you on the ultimate pub crawl through the city's classiest martini bars, the hippest dives, and the liveliest music venues. As soon as you punch the clock on Friday afternoon, follow us to happy hours, late-night disco dances, Saturday afternoon beer breaks, and Sunday morning (or early afternoon) brunches. Don't worry — we'll make sure to stop for some great Memphis muchies throughout the weekend to help absorb the alcohol.
When the clock strikes 5 p.m., rush out the door and head downtown to the South Main Arts District for happy hour drink specials at Spindini (383 S. Main, 578-2767), an elegant trattoria founded (he's since moved on) by Judd Grisanti of Memphis' most well-known family of Italian restauranteurs. Refresh with a classic dirty martini and a platter of fried calimari. By the way, Spindini was voted Best Cougar Bar in the Memphis Flyer's Best of Memphis poll last year, so if you're a lady on the lookout, this is the place to be.
If you'd rather trade your stiff suit for a comfy pair of jeans, head to the new Escape Alley Sundry (651 Marshall, 528-3337) instead. This artsy Edge District bar features discounted beers from 4 to 7 p.m., as well as a casual menu of classic comfort foods. Bologna sandwiches or PB&J, anyone? Live music by local acts begin at 7 p.m. Oh, and all the eccentric art on display (like a giant profile of Elvis, a few paint-by-numbers, and some odd bric-a-brac) is for sale.
If you plan to meet friends after work, organize an outing on the Majestic Grille's (145 S. Main, 522-8555) breezy sidewalk patio. This former movie-theater-turned-restaurant offers fantastic happy hour deals — $2 domestics, $3 imports, $3 well drinks, and $4 select wines. Order a couple of flatbreads to share for only $9. We recommend the strawberry basil martini and the grilled artichoke flatbread with spinach, garlic olive oil, and feta.
Finally, don't miss the happy hour at S.O.B. (361 S. Main, 526-0388) (that stands for South of Beale, mind you . . . probably not what you were thinking). This quaint South Main bar offers $3 draft beers and $4 house wines from 4 to 7 p.m. daily. And do check out the menu. S.O.B. may feel like a casual joint, but the pub bites are top-rated gourmet. Try the beer-braised brisket egg rolls served with a Dijon beer sauce.
Once you've gotten your fill of happy hour drinks and appetizers, it's time to head home and wash up for dinner. Change into the sexy new black dress (unless you're a dude), and meet your date at Circa by John Bragg (119 S. Main, 522-1488). Partitions separating tables at this elegant downtown restaurant double as wine racks, so that should be evidence enough that you'll be best off starting the meal with a glass from Circa's impressive wine menu. Pair your vino with Chef Bragg's popular sorghum-cured rack of lamb with sweet potato-shiitake flan.
Alternatively, you could grab a quick bite at home and head down to the South Main Arts District. If this Friday happens to fall on the last Friday of the month, you'll be just in time for the monthly trolley tour featuring multiple art openings in the galleries throughout the neighborhood. After the art receptions end at 9 p.m., duck into Earnestine & Hazel's (84 G.E. Patterson, 523-9754) for beer and ghost stories told 'round the tables in the supposedly haunted upstairs rooms. The place once housed a lively brothel and the spirits of the long-gone ladies of the night are said to come out at night. Stay late and cure the late-night munchies with a Soul Burger.
If live music is your bag, there's sure to be a rock show scheduled at the New Daisy (330 Beale, 525-8981) on Beale. This all-ages rock club hosts national touring acts ranging from heavy-hitters Henry Rollins and Gwar to folk rocker Ani DiFranco.
The gay boys (and plenty of straight folks too) spend their Friday nights at Mollie Fontaine Lounge (679 Adams Ave., 524-1886), a Victorian-House-turned-funky-martini-lounge in the Victorian Village neighborhood. Rooms in the historic home are filled with a mix of antique and sleek modern furniture, perfect for lounging on while sipping a glass of Bitch grenache or a classic dirty martini.
FRIDAY LATE NIGHT
If swanky isn't your style, Midtown offers plenty of low-brow dive bars. Grab a pitcher of ice-cold brew and sing your heart out at the P&H Cafe (1532 Madison, 726-0906), where Friday night is karaoke night. This Midtown institution is the haunt of hipsters, artists, and thespians.
Need a place to cry into your PBR? At The Lamplighter (1702 Madison, 726-1101), Ms. Ann will surely lend an ear. This tiny, low-key Midtown bar offers Papst Blue Ribbon on tap, dirt-cheap pool, and a jukebox filled with the classics (think Frank Sinatra). Sadly, our favorite Lamplighter bartender Ms. Shirley suffered some recent health problems and she's no longer behind the bar.
If sitting still isn't for you, burn off those beer calories at one of Beale Street's dance clubs. Alfred's (197 Beale, 525-3711) may be a restaurant by day, but after hours, a DJ spins all your Top 40 faves. Club 152 (152 Beale, 544-7011) features three floors of butt-shaking booty music. On the first floor, a DJ spins dance tracks from 1970s, '80s, and today. The second floor is Mustang Sally's, a hip-hop and old-school dance club, while the city's most respected electronica DJs transform the third floor into an old-fashioned rave party.
Once you've danced 'til you drop, you'll be ready to call it a night. After all, we've got two more days of partying to go.
Sleep off your hangover on Saturday morning and roll out of bed in time for a casual bite at the Young Avenue Deli (2119 Young Ave., 278-0034). This Cooper-Young spot boasts the finest French fries it town as well as an impressive selection of specialty and seasonal brews.
Once your food settles, continue the beer-drinking theme with a stop at one of the the Flying Saucer's two locations (130 Peabody Place, 523-8676 or 1400 N. Germantown Pkwy., 755-5530). The Saucer offers the largest menu of beers in the city. Sample craft lagers, ales, stouts, and porters from around the world. If the massive selection (over 200 beers on tap!) seems daunting, ask for assistance from one of the Saucer's mini-skirted "beer goddesses."
After your world beer tour, it'll probably be time to catch the game. See all the action and drink a few PBRs at Calhoun's Sports Bar (115 E. G.E. Patterson, 528-8600) in the South Main Arts District. This no-frills bar features multiple screens and some of the nicest bartenders you'll ever meet. If you'd rather stay east of the Parkways, the game will surely be playing on one of Brookhaven Pub & Grill's (695 W. Brookhaven Circle, 680-8118) big-screen plasma TVs. The East Memphis bar features Newcastle on tap and plenty of game-time grub, like fried pickles and chicken tenders.
If the Memphis Redbirds are playing tonight, meet up with friends at Bardog Tavern (73 Monroe Ave., 275-8752). This humble downtown watering hole is located less than a block from the stadium. Order a platter of fried egg sliders and a beer and chat it up with Bardog's loyal regulars while you wait for the baseball game to kick off.
Alternatively, you could skip the game for an early dinner at Automatic Slim's Tonga Club (83 S. Second, 525-7948). Funky artwork meets Wild, Wild West decor at this restaurant and bar. For something totally different, order the vegetarian pan-seared tempeh with white rice and seasonal veggies. Enjoy it all with a happy hour $5 speciality martini. The Popsicle Martini garnished with a frozen fruit juice on a cinnamon stick is not to be missed.
Slim's has been under new ownership for over a year, but it was the brainchild of eccentric restauranteur Karen Carrier. Carrier still has a hand at the Beauty Shop (966 S. Cooper, 272-7111), a Cooper-Young hair-salon-turned-funky-eatery. Grab a seat under one of the still-intact hair dryers (now converted into restaurant seating) if you're dining solo or invite all your friends to eat at a large communal dining table. Try the steak frite plate complete with delicious Parmesean-truffle fries. You'll want to order martinis for a drink that jives with the hip ambience.
If you'd rather not be stuck indoors one cool vening, eat next door on the spacious patio at Cafe OlÉ (959 S. Cooper, 274-1504). This Tex-Mex joint offers fresh South-of-the-Border grub and some of the finest icy martinis to ever cross your lips.
But let's say you have a date and you'd like something a bit more upscale. Schedule a reservation at Bari Ristorante (22 S. Cooper, 722-2244). in Overton Square for fine Italian cuisine prepared by Chef Jason Severs. Bari is dedicated to fine wines, featuring over 30 by the glass. Want some cheese with that? Bari's cheese menu boasts over 40 Italian varieties. Wine and cheese flights are available every night of the week.
SATURDAY LATE NIGHT
After dinner, change into your dancing shoes and head to Beale Street for a tour of Memphis best blues clues. Fresh off its 25th anniversary, Rum Boogie Cafe (182 Beale, 528-0150) doubles as a museum of music memorabilila. Over 200 guitars autographed by famous musicians line the walls, and house act James Govan and the Boogie Blues Band plays nightly.
Next stop — B.B. King's Blues Club (143 Beale, 524-5464). Though you likely won't glimpse the King (he only plays here about once a year), you will hear some fine, homegrown Memphis blues from the Carl Drew Blues Band or the Will Tucker Band. Order a Jelly Roll cocktail and head upstairs for a bird's-eye view of the stage.
A trip to Beale wouldn't be complete without a stop into actor Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club (310 Beale, 590-0997). The juke joint recently moved from an obscure location on G.E. Patterson to a new home on Beale. A spin-off from the original Clarksdale, Mississippi location, this joint offers live Dirty South Delta blues and Southern soul favorites like fried catfish BLTs.
If live blues isn't your thing, how about pirates? You won't find anyone saying, "Ahoy, Matey" on Beale (well, you might), but a quick drive to Midtown should satisfy all your nautical needs. The Cove (2559 Broad Ave., 730-0719), located in the up-and-coming Broad Avenue Arts District, features a ship-shaped bar and old murals of sailors salvaged from the now-defunct Anderton's seafood restaurant. The Cove is the place to go for cocktail connoissiours since the bar boasts a large list of premium mixed drinks, all of which are made from scratch. You won't find any margarita mix behind this bar. We love the Vampire, a Bloody Mary-like concoction made with tequila, organic tomato juice, lime, red chili, and balsamic vinegar.
After you've had your fill of fancy drinks, you'll likely be in the mood for some more live music. The Hi-Tone Cafe (1913 Poplar, 278-8663) is hands down the place to go for the best in indie rock performed by both local and national touring acts. This initimate hipster hangout has played host to local garage rockers River City Tanlines, Florida pop punks Against Me, Middle Tennessee's garage country outfit Those Darlins, and hipster idol Elvis Costello to name a few. Grab a tall-boy can of PBR from the bar and you'll fit right in with the cool kids.
A newcomer to the local music scene Minglewood Hall (1555 Madison, 312-6058) in Midtown has been drawing impressive, big-name acts for shows in its massive concert hall (formerly Strings 'n' Things guitar center). Need proof? Electronic gods The Crystal Method, folk hero Lucinda Williams, Irish punks Flogging Molly, and even Hansen (yes, the "Mmm Bop" kids are all grown-up now) have played recent shows there. One word of warning: The security staff at Minglewood takes their jobs very seriously, so be on your best behavior.
If you'd rather be on a dance floor than inside the mosh pit, trade your Converse All-Stars for some shiny disco boots and head over to the Paula Raiford's Disco (14 S. Second St., 521-2494). The legendary Robert Raiford of Hollywood Disco fame has moved his shiny cape from his own old Vance Avenue discoteque to new digs on Second Street. Soak up the light of the disco ball while the jerry-curled Raiford spins all your favorites from the 1970s and today.
Disco not your deal? Opt for Retro Amnesia Night at Senses (2866 Poplar, 454-4081) instead. This award-winning, ultra-modern dance club recently brought in a whole new clientele of gay men and their straight friends by reviving the spirit of Amnesia, the long-defunct gay club that once operated in Senses' building. Though not exclusively a gay club now, Senses offers a gay club environment on Saturdays complete with fabulous dance tunes and drag shows.
If you're longing for Beale Street blues by this time in the night, skip the drive to downtown and make your way to Midtown's Wild Bill's (1580 Vollintine, 726-5473). A Memphis must-do, Wild Bill's features live blues by the Memphis Soul Survivors late, late into the night. Brown bag your liquor or purchase beer by the quart and dance until last call.
You really ought to be worn out after a day-and-a-half of bar hopping, but if you still have some juice left in you, there's one little place where the party never stops. Alex's Tavern (1445 Jackson, 278-9086) stays open until the sun comes up. Play a few tunes on their phenomenal jukebox and grab an order of French fries to stave off a Sunday hangover.
Hopefully, last night's late night munchie session served to stave off the Sunday morning blues. But if you're still feeling a little groggy from too much Saturday night imbibing, never fear. The Bayou Bar & Grill (2094 Madison, 278-8626) offers a cure in the form of the city's best Bloody Mary. Get a healthy dose of lycopene (and vodka) in this spicy Cajun-style cocktail, and you'll be raring to go for one more day.
Alternatively, gather your posse for mid-morning cocktails at the Blue Monkey's Midtown or downtown locations (2012 Madison, 272-2583 or 513 S. Front, 527-6665). This casual bar & grill offers discounted Bloody Marys and champagne Mimosas on Sunday mornings.
After a healthy liquid lunch, you ought to be in good shape to take in some real sustenance at Boscos Squared (2120 Madison, 432-2222). This popular Overton Square eatery features live jazz by soulstress Joyce Cobb every Sunday during brunch. Try the Oscar benedict (a toasted English muffin with asparagus, crab meat, Canadian bacon, two poached eggs, and Hollandaise) alongside the bar's home-brewed Famous Flaming Stone beer.
Want a little culture with your omelet? Opt for the Irish brunch at Celtic Crossing (903 S. Cooper, 274-5151). The Cooper-Young pub serves up brunch favorites alongside live Irish music by Bob & Susie Salley or the Reel McCoys.
If you're the church going type, you might have to forgo the mid-morning Bloody Marys and microbrews for a large family brunch at Owen Brennen's (6150 Poplar, 761-0990). The Memphis location of this New Orleans-based institution is family-friendly with an impressive Sunday brunch buffet and live jazz from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. An entree station features Cajun favorites like jambalaya and crawfish etoufee, but don't pass up the cooked-to-order omelet station, seafood station, and dessert station. Oh, and even if you're with the fam, you can still sneak a mimosa. Tell grandma it's orange juice served in a fancy glass.
If there's still room left in your belly for a late dinner and drinks, East Memphis' Grove Grill (4550 Poplar, 818-9951) is the place to go. Chef Jeff Dunham serves up gourmet fare, such as cedar-planked Atlantic salmon and low-country shrimp and grits. But the best part? The Grove Grill discounts wine by the bottle on Sunday nights. Bottles under $50 are sold at half-off so long as patrons purchase at least $25 worth of food.
After dinner, head home to hit the hay early. You'll need plenty of rest to sleep off the weekend's whirlwind bar tour. The plan for next weekend? You could do it all over again or maybe you should stick to cleaning out the closets.