Memphis NightlifeSince an act of Congress in 1977, Memphis has officially been known as the “Home of the Blues,” and Beale Street has been the cherished front door of that home from the beginning, when musical pioneers such as W.C. Handy composed some of the earliest blues songs here in the early 1900s. Originally a bustling commercial district with African-American-owned businesses of all kinds, Beale Street fell on hard times until a 1980s revitalization project created the neon-lit, tourist-friendly and some would say sanitized version of today.
Crowds still make the pilgrimage to Beale Street restaurants and bars seeking that soulful sound in renovated brick buildings between Main and Fourth. On any given night you might hear rock ’n’ roll, jazz, funk and the latest dance club music along with the home-grown blues style so closely associated with Memphis and Beale. You'll have plenty of time to get your groove on, too, as many downtown Memphis bars and night clubs stay open until 2 or 3 a.m. (sometimes as late as 5 a.m.) and are open on Sundays.
Enjoying a prominent corner on Beale and Second, this location of the B.B. King’s Blues Club chain, 143 Beale St., might disappoint blues purists since the house band is as likely to play rock and funk as traditional blues, despite the name of the legendary guitarist and King of the Blues over the door. But anyone hankering for tasty Southern cooking and a lively atmosphere steeped in blues imagery is bound to leave this Beale Street landmark happy, and that’s not to mention the frequent appearances by big-name blues acts. Phone (901) 524-5464.
Across the street at 152 Beale St., Club 152 adds something different to the Beale Street scene by being both a blues venue, as you might expect, as well as an urban-style dance club. You’ll find the main stage on the first floor, which is the venue for both live music and DJ-mixed dance tunes. Phone (901) 544-7011.
Just down the block, at the corner of Beale and Third, is Rum Boogie Cafe , 182 Beale St., which has a reputation for rum drinks (hence the name), a respectable beer selection, Memphis-style barbecue ribs, and red beans and rice. Even if you skip the Southern cuisine you can still have a blast grooving to the blues and rock bands playing nightly or ogling the décor, which includes more than two hundred autographed guitars suspended from the ceiling and mounted on the walls. Look for the prized scribbles of George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting, Henry Rollins, Kenny Loggins and bands like Aerosmith and The B-52s. Phone (901) 528-0150.
Probably the most eye-catching establishment on Beale, which is saying a lot considering the gaudy neon signage competing for your attention, is Silky O’Sullivan’s Irish Bar , 183 Beale St. Massive steel beams support an elaborate three-story brick façade, all that remains of a 19th-century hotel, saloon and gambling den known as the Gallina Building. The old reinforced façade is now the entrance to a festive patio, scene of dueling pianos nightly, while blues bands play indoors. This is Beale Street, after all, and even Irish pubs host the blues. O’Sullivan’s other claim to fame? A gallon-bucket-sized cocktail called “The Diver,” to be shared, of course. Phone (901) 522-9596.
Find a seat on the second-floor patio at Alfred’s On Beale across Third Street from Silky O’Sullivan’s at 197 Beale St., and you’ll have a nice view of the goings-on along Beale. And you can enjoy good Southern comfort food while you people watch. Alfred’s books a variety of musical acts but focuses on classic rock ’n’ roll and Top 40 faves from the past. On weekends, the large dance floor stays busy late into the night. Phone (901) 525-3711.
If you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy a cold one, then walk on over to nearby Flying Saucer Draught Emporium , 130 Peabody Pl., which has what can only be called an encyclopedic beer selection. A bank of windows on two sides opens up to create something like a patio when the weather is nice, and the spacious brewpub has pool tables and dartboards that will help you pass the time with friends. Scores of plates displayed on the walls honor local beer connoisseurs—members of the “UFO Club”—who have managed to sample the Flying Saucer’s entire beer menu. Phone (901) 523-8536.
The Peabody Memphis hotel, 149 Union Ave., famous for its twice daily duck march through its lobby, is a favorite with tourists. Once you’ve seen the ducks waddle into the elevator to return to their rooftop pen around 5 p.m., step over to the Peabody hotel bar for a martini and a chance to take in the elegant setting without the crowds. Phone (901) 529-4000.
If you’re hungry, exit the Peabody and cross Second Street to Huey’s Downtown , 77 S. Second St., home of juicy, award-winning hamburgers and delectable onion rings. And you can hone your skill at blowing frilled toothpicks through a straw and into the ceiling, an activity the management surprisingly encourages; your waiter will show you the best technique. On Sunday evenings Huey’s features live bands playing blues, rock and soul. Phone (901) 527-2700.
If you want a taste of Memphis nightlife beyond the usual tourist haunts downtown, drive or catch a cab to midtown’s Cooper-Young District, an eclectic neighborhood popular with Memphians looking for innovative cuisine and cool, laidback hangouts closer at hand than the party dens of Beale Street. Celtic Crossing , 903 S. Cooper St., is one such gathering place, an Irish bar with a tree-shaded outdoor patio and live music on Sundays when weather permits. Phone (901) 274-5151.
And just off the intersection of Cooper and Young that gives the district its name, Young Avenue Deli , 2119 Young Ave., brings local bands to its stage several nights a week. What’s more, the deli’s better-than-average pub fare includes several vegetarian options as well as tasty beer batter fried pickles and homemade french fries. The deli’s combination of good food, a large beer selection and live alternative rock, pop and country music is a winning one. Phone (901) 278-0034.
Not long ago another exciting nightlife option appeared on the southern horizon when rural Tunica County, Miss., transformed itself virtually overnight into a 24-hour, Las Vegas-style gambling mecca. Less than an hour south of Memphis, the huge casino resorts along the Mississippi River boast headline entertainment, live music and comedy acts along with all the slot machines and poker, blackjack, roulette and craps tables you’d find on the Vegas Strip. Phone the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau, (662) 363-3800 or (888) 488-6422.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
State sales tax is 7 percent; occupancy tax is 6 percent; and Memphis sales tax is 2.25 percent, for a combined lodging tax of 15.25 percent.
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Baptist Memorial Hospital, (901) 226-5000; Delta Medical Center, (877) 627-4395; Methodist North Hospital, (901) 516-5200; Methodist South Hospital, (901) 516-3700; Regional Medical Center at Memphis, (901) 545-7100; Saint Francis Hospital, (901) 765-1000.
3205 Elvis Presley Blvd. Memphis, TN 38116. Phone:(901)543-5300 or (888)633-9099
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Discounts are offered to AAA members by Hertz, (901) 345-5680 or (800) 654-3131.
Amtrak offers passenger service from Central Station, 545 S. Main St.; phone (901) 526-0052 or (800) 872-7245.
The Greyhound bus station is at 3033 Airways Blvd.; phone (800) 231-2222.
The major company is Yellow Cab, (901) 577-7777. Fares are metered, with the basic rate $3.80 for the first mile, then $1.80 for each additional mile. One dollar is added for each additional passenger. A $3 surcharge is added to fares originating from the airport.
Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) buses operate Mon.-Fri. 4:30 a.m.-11:15 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. and holidays 8-5. Base fare is $1.75, with increases for zones outside city limits; a day pass can be purchased for $3.50, and covers unlimited bus rides. Ages 65+, students and the physically impaired pay reduced rates with a special MATA ID card. Park 'n' Ride service is available at multiple locations within the city. Not all routes operate nights and Sundays.