Singer and songwriter Coco Hames takes us on a tour of the best of Memphis.
Memphis is the Birthplace of Rock & Roll and the Home of the Blues, and while those are catchy titles pinned on by the tourism board, they are also apt in describing the city that gave the world America’s greatest exports. There’s Graceland and there’s the Grizzlies, but here’s what to do with yourself in Memphis, like the locals do.
If you’ve never been to Memphis, your trip is not complete without visiting Sun Studio (where Sam Phillips recorded Howlin’ Wolf, as well as Jackie Brenston and Elvis Presley); Stax for a history of Memphis soul; and the Civil Rights Museum (prepare yourself for the converted Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated – it is shockingly small among regular shops and businesses downtown).
Hu Hotel bar
Local college students go here many with their scannable fake id, but we take visiting friends for a sunset drink at the rooftop bar – the views are stunning. Gaze out over the skyline and the Mississippi River all the way to Arkansas. Don’t count on the cocktails (they’re not good) but grab a beer or a straight shot of something stronger, and watch the sun set in another state.
Short for “Don’t Know, Don’t Care”, this little venue hosts live music from blues trios to full New Orleans zydeco bands to drag dance nights. Come early enough to snack at the bar (they share a kitchen with the Beauty Shop restaurant next door, a converted salon where Priscilla Presley used to get her hair done) and order one of their fun cocktails or local beers. Bonus: they have a photo booth.
The Grey Canary and Gus’s Fried Chicken
The Grey Canary is a new spot downtown that has the look and feel of a hot big city place. The space is nice, and the oysters are good, but save your real appetite for Gus’s Fried Chicken across the street. Park, get a drink and some oysters at the bar, and then walk 15 feet to the greatest fried chicken of your life.
City & State and The Liquor Store
Owned by the same people (and on the same block), these two new-ish hipster spots are on Broad Avenue, a growing area of shops and restaurants. If you need a caffeine fix, stop by City & State (Yay! Coffee!) and visit their adjoining shop for curated gifts or something special for yourself. If you have time to sit down and eat, check out The Liquor Store down the street for an updated greasy spoon, with vegan and vegetarian options.
The heart of the Midtown Cooper-Young neighbourhood, Goner Records has everything you need if you’re picking up some music while you’re here. If you’re lucky enough to be in town for their annual Gonerfest music festival, don’t miss it. In the summer, they put on the River Series, a run of daytime outdoor shows. Or just ask whomever’s at the counter who’s playing where tonight; they won’t steer you wrong.
Earnestine & Hazel’s
Don’t Google or Tripadvisor this landmark, just go. Order a hamburger (you will want more than one) and a beer, and put something good on the jukebox.
The Blue Monkey and Ardent Studios
You don’t need quaaludes to enjoy an evening at the Blue Monkey, the bar closest to Ardent Studios, where some of your favourite albums were recorded.
Payne’s and Cozy Corner
There is plenty of barbecue to be had in Memphis, from the airport to Beale Street to the suburbs. But ask any local BBQ lover and they will whisper these names in reverent tones. Payne’s for a sandwich and Cozy Corner for the ribs, where it’s been said they’re so good, you might get high.
Pink Palace Museum
One of the more special museums in town, the Pink Palace has truly bizarre exhibits as well as an IMAX theatre and planetarium.
Stock & Belle
A massive emporium mixing local art, a mini grocery, as well as clothing and furniture, Stock & Belle is in the heart of the South Main shopping district. A great place to pick up something cute to wear or a locally made memento.
Full Gospel Tabernacle Church
Come for a Sunday service and you might get saved by the Reverend Al Green. You read that right. The Reverend still preaches and sings to his congregation here.
Located in the historic Fire Engine House No. 1, this is exactly what it sounds like. You can check out exhibits of antique firefighting equipment and engines in the country’s premiere museum about firefighting.
Side trip: Drive down the historic Highway 61 — past the casinos of Tunica and the cotton fields-turned-Monsanto farmland — and visit Clarksdale, Mississippi. There are numerous juke joints and places to see live music, and the place to stay is the Shack-Up Inn. Talk to proprietors Guy and Bill and ask them where to go for the best music. Sometimes, it might be right there in their on-site venue, the Juke Joint Chapel.