An Insiders's Guide to the Memphis Bar Scene
Eden Brent performing on Beale Street
illustration by Martha Kelly | Memphis Urban Sketchers
Whether you’re a dancing queen or a wallflower, a sports buff or a hipster, a heavy drinker or a light sipper, there’s a watering hole just waiting to become your new home base.
Over many a cocktail (for research purposes, of course), we’ve narrowed down a list of the city’s hottest bars and clubs. And to help you avoid any awkward first visits, we’ve listed the bars based on the personality type and demographic the bars tend to attract. You know, we’d hate for you to show up at, say, the no-frills Lamplighter Lounge in your finest party dress.
- photographs by Justing Fox Burks
Alchemy is where Midtowners go to feel fancy. It has valet parking, pricey gourmet cocktails, and a swank atmosphere. Order a small plate to share and sip on a Sparkling Pears cocktail (Absolut Pear vodka, fresh pear puree, star anise, lemon, and Prosecco in a chilled flute). 940 S. Cooper. 726-4444.
The motto at this salon-themed bar and eatery is “Look Good. Feel Good.” Patrons sit in retro hair dryer chairs, and there are hair-washing sinks at the bar. Do your ’do up right, and hit up the Beauty Shop for a cocktail and a slice of homemade coconut cake. 966 S. Cooper. 272-7111.
Plush couches, space-age décor, and sleek blue lighting lend this sushi lounge an ultra-hip vibe. The bar area is rather small, so grab some friends and a table in the main dining room. Or better yet, organize a party and reserve the private dining room, where guests sit on pillows on the floor. Bluefin also has a spacious patio overlooking the Main Street Mall. 135 S. Main. 528-1010.
Mollie Fontaine Lounge
Located inside a converted Victorian home, Mollie Fontaine’s has the ambiance of a rich friend’s house party. Patrons lounge on sofas in the various rooms, which are decorated with a mix of antique and modern furniture. A grand piano downstairs provides the music. Though not officially a gay bar, Mollie’s has, in recent years, become a gathering place for the LGBT set. 679 Adams. 524-1886.
Side Street Grill
Martinis are served in oversized glasses at this Overton Square bar. Order a Coonass Martini (Absolut Peppar vodka, olive juice), and lounge on the spacious patio. The place has a “see and be seen” vibe without a twinge of haughtiness. 31 Florence St. 274-8955.
Hip downtowners sip wine and nosh on gourmet pizzas prepared in a wood-burning oven at the end of the bar. But the wood isn’t the only thing burnin’ at Spindini. Spindini has been known to make a burnin’ love connection or two — it’s been voted the Best Cougar Bar in the Memphis Flyer reader’s poll. 383 S. Main. 578-2767.
Brookhaven Pub & Grill
Multiple flat-screen LCD TVs and a large selection of craft brews make Brookhaven the perfect East Memphis spot for catching the game with friends. Plus, it has live music. 695 W. Brookhaven Circle. 680-8118.
A sports bar with drag show? Yep, that’s Jack Magoo’s. This Broad Avenue Arts District bar caters to a diverse crowd. On any given night, you may find bros downstairs cheering on the Griz and glamorous drag queens upstairs strutting their stuff. 2583 Broad. 746-9612.
Sweetgrass Next Door
This small bar next door to Cooper-Young’s Sweetgrass restaurant is packed wall-to-wall with Grizzlies fans on game night. Order the signature Sweetgrass Cocktail (gin, coconut rum, Pimm’s No. 1, and ginger ale), and bring on the grit and grind. 937 S. Cooper. 278-0278.
This beloved Midtown rock club recently relocated from its home on Poplar Avenue to a smaller, more underground-style spot in the Crosstown neighborhood. Catering to everything from indie rock to heavy metal, the Hi-Tone is still the place to go for live shows. 412-414 N. Cleveland. 278-8663.
This all-ages Beale Street music venue features live shows by well-known traveling acts, such as Widespread Panic and Henry Rollins, not-so-well-known death metal bands (ever heard of Severe Headwound?), and even Elvis impersonator competitions. 330 Beale. 525-8979.
This Midtown rock lounge has been around since 1978, and it’s been through plenty of phases. These days, the bar caters to the music-loving hipster set with rock shows, songwriter showcases, karaoke, and even a comedy night. 2586 Poplar. 324-6550.
This Overton Square martini bar is just a block away from three live theaters and one movie theater, making it the perfect spot for a pre-show cocktail. If the weather is nice, grab a seat on the spacious patio overlooking the busy Madison/Cooper intersection. 2125 Madison. 207-1436.
Both locations of this gussied-up bar & grill are within walking distance to theaters. Grab a bite from Local’s menu of upscale pub grub and a high-gravity beer before walking to the Orpheum (if you’re at the downtown location) or Playhouse on the Square (if you’re at the Midtown Local). 95 S. Main. 473-9573.
For the Dancing Queen
B.B. King’s Blues Club
At age 87, B.B. King is still singing the blues. And while he only makes rare appearances at his Memphis blues club, his B.B. King All-Star Band and other local acts get the dance floor riled up every night of the week. Order a Lucille (coconut rum and blue curacao), named for the Blues Boy’s guitar, and strap on your dancin’ shoes. 143 Beale. 524-KING
The city’s hottest LGBT nightclub boasts plenty of spaces for dancing the night away. The main dance floor has raised platforms with poles for those who want all eyes on them. The pool table room provides a chill place to catch your breath. And there’s plenty of room to strut your stuff near the drag show stage, but wait until the queens are done performing. You wouldn’t want to steal their show, would you? 616 Marshall Ave. 292-2292.
This old juke joint attracts a diverse crowd of music-loving tourists and blues-loving locals. The dance floor heats up as patrons down 40-ounce beers to the sweet sounds of the live blues band. The communal seating means you’re destined to befriend a stranger before the night is through. 1580 Vollintine. 726-5473.
Get in touch with your inner child with Chiwawa’s menu of hot dogs and tacos. But don’t worry — the kid staples are gussied up with adult ingredients, such as homestyle slaw, chipotle ketchup, and salsa roja. Order an “adult snow cone” spiked with tequila and flavored with margarita mix to wash it all down. 2059 Madison Ave. (207-1456).
Dubbed “the college bar you never graduate from,” Newby’s caters to both students from the nearby University of Memphis and post-grad patrons who come to Newby’s for the diverse line-up of live music, pool tables, and inventive cocktails. 539 S. Highland. 452-8408.
For years, the Pump has garnered the award for Best Gay Bar in the Memphis Flyer reader’s poll. And while on the inside, it looks like your typical gay bar, the outside is home to a giant treehouse built into the patio. Climb up at your own risk. You never know who you might find K-I-S-S-I-N-G. 1382 Poplar. 272-7600.
Craft wine and small plates — that’s the premise for this South Main Arts District craft wine bar. Some of the wine is served on tap, a new idea for Memphis, and wine flights are available for sampling. Menu items, such as cheese or sausage plates, are meant for sharing. Try the Winemaker’s Bread (house-made fougasse stuffed with seasonal ingredients and drizzled with wine). 314 S. Main. 401-0043.
Flight Restaurant & Wine Bar
The restaurant’s signature wine flights are organized by wine varietal and region, giving patrons a chance to sample a wide range. Flight also offers a sizable list of wines by the bottle. The list is heavy on California wines, but there are a number of Italian, Australian, and a few French wines as well. 39 S. Main. 521-8005.
Le Chardonnay Wine Bar & Bistro
Located in the newly revived Overton Square, Le Chardonnay offers a variety of wines by the glass or bottle. Sip a glass in the dim dining room, and order a signature wood-fired pizza to share with a date. 2094 Madison. 725-1375.
Affectionately dubbed The Buc, this tiny pirate-themed dive bar has the look and feel of being inside the belly of a rustic-but-beloved old boat. Several nights each week, fledgling punk bands or well-known local legends perform to packed crowds. The beer is cheap, and when there’s a cover charge to see a band, it’s typically $5 or less. 1368 Monroe. 278-0909.
Yet another pirate-themed bar, the Cove is decorated in nautical artifacts rescued from Anderton’s East before it was demolished in 2006. The Cove specializes in gourmet cocktails (try the Vampire, a Bloody Maria made with tequila, tomato juice, red chili, and balsamic vinegar), but it also offers a wide range of craft brews and wines. 2559 Broad. 730-0719.
Hog & Hominy’s Holding Pen
Most dive bars are actual holes-in-the-wall and have earned their prized dive bar status through years of wear and tear. But East Memphis Italian/Southern restaurant Hog & Hominy created a brand-new dive bar. They only serve cheap beers (PBR, Miller High Life, and Coors) and brown liquors — the drinks of choice of hipsters everywhere — and offer a handful of trendy menu items, like boiled peanuts and Frito pie. 707 W. Brookhaven Circle. 207-7396.
Authenticity oozes from the walls at this tried-and-true Midtown dive. Sure, it stereotypically serves PBR, but the Lamplighter’s been doing that long before it was cool. The jukebox offers a range of classics (think Frank Sinatra), and the décor isn’t too far off from your grandma’s living room. 1702 Madison. 726-1101.
The P&H stands for “poor and hungry,” but you won’t be either after leaving this dive. The ice-cold pitchers are cheap, and you can find a solid meal for less than $10 (cheeseburgers, patty melts, fried pickles). Stop by on a weekend night for occasional live music or karaoke. 1532 Madison. 726-0906.
Boscos creates hand-crafted beers, which pair wonderfully with the wood-fired pizzas (the crust is also made with Boscos beer). Some brews change each season, but a few standards are offered year-round — the light Famous Flaming Stone, the nutty Midtown Brown, and the stout Isle of Skye Scottish Ale. 2120 Madison. 432-2222.
With two locations, downtown and in Cordova, the Flying Saucer has beer nerds covered across the city. Offering more than 200 beers on tap and a UFO Club for those who want to sample every flavor, there’s no better place to go when you’re looking for hard-to-find, new, or rare craft and import brews. 130 Peabody Place. 523-7468; 1400 N. Germantown Pkwy. 755-5530.
Young Avenue Deli
Often touted for having the best French fries in town, the Deli also offers a wide range of craft brews on tap or in bottles. Wednesday night is pint night, and a DJ spins reggae tunes. The Deli also features occasional live shows if you’d rather sip your beer to the sounds of a rock band. 2119 Young. 278-0034.
Specializing in global street food and well-executed cocktails, Bar DKDC offers a trip around the world without ever leaving your barstool. The small plate menu changes every five weeks, so you never know what country’s food you’ll be sampling. 964 S. Cooper. 272-0830.
Bayou Bar & Grill
A taste of New Orleans in the heart of Memphis. Mardi Gras beads are draped over every surface and hang from the ceiling, and the Bayou offers several varieties of Abita on tap and in bottles. Don’t be afraid to sample the alligator chili. 2094 Madison. 278-8626.
Guinness flows like wine at this lively Irish pub in the Cooper-Young District. Soccer games are broadcast on game days, and the full menu of Irish delicacies isn’t to be missed. Try the shepherd’s pie or the corned-beef sliders. 903 S. Cooper. 274-5151.
This Irish pub at the edge of Overton Square offers a respite from the sometimes-overcrowded bars in the heart of that burgeoning entertainment district. Though the Dublin House is often packed on weekends, there’s typically always a table or two free. Order a pint of Harp’s on draft and some fish-and-chips and relax in good company. 2012 Madison. 278-0048.
Molly’s La Casita
Nothing beats an ice-cold, tangy margarita on the rocks on a hot summer day, and Molly’s has you covered. This beloved Midtown institution has been serving up some of the best margaritas in town for years. But beware — it’s hard to drink just one. Order some famous bacon-wrapped shrimp to keep your blood-alcohol level in check. 2006 Madison. 726-1873.