An Insiders's Guide to the Memphis Bar Scene
Eden Brent performing on Beale Street
illustration by Martha Kelly | Memphis Urban Sketchers
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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.