Memphis Stories and Tips

Bar Hopping on Beale Street

Beale Street Photo, Memphis, Tennessee

While most people claim Bourbon Street in New Orleans as the best party street in the US, most Memphians would probably disagree. Beale Street in downtown Memphis is where the party never ends and where anyone who is looking for excitement and a good time can be found, day or night. Beale Street stretches 1.8 miles from the Mississippi River to East Street, but all of the clubs, restaurants, and shops can be found within the barricaded two block section between 2nd St and 4th St. Beale Street was created in 1841 and was named for a forgotten military hero. Just as New Orleans gave birth to the jazz style of music, Memphis gave birth to the blues where famous musicians from W. C. Handy, B.B King, and Muddy Waters could be seen showing off their new style of music. Beale Street was so instrumental in the creation of the Blues genre that Congress declared it "Home of the Blues", and the street has been designated a National Historic Landmark, a distinction that even Bourbon Street doesn’t have.

Beale Street hasn’t changed much from its heyday in the early 1920’s when clubs, restaurants, and stores lined the streets. The only thing missing is the prostitution, gambling, and murder that became commonplace during the rise of the mafia and notable frequent visitors such as Machine Gun Kelly. Beale Street is barricaded between 2nd St and 4th St making it easier to get around to the different bars and restaurants without having to dodge cars. Beale Street is also a pretty safe area since the Memphis Police has a unit that specifically patrols this area. Just watch out for the occasional beggar who tries to offer you directions for money.

Beale Street can be fun during the day, but to really experience it, you need to do the bar hop. With so many bars and restaurants, it is difficult to visit all of them in one night and after two nights of bar hopping, there were still a few that we missed. A night of drinking requires food and Beale Street has its fair share of restaurants. The first night we started off at BB Kings, for some food and blues. While I waited for my BBQ Pork platter, I sampled some of their world championship Gumbo while listing to a local band play some blues tunes including some of BB King’s favorites. After we were finished eating and three beers later, it was time to begin the hop.

We first stopped off at Wet Willie’s. Behind the counter is a line of slurpee machines, but these aren’t the ones you get at the 7-11. These frozen drinks are made with liquor and a few are made with 190 proof grain alcohol. I started off with an Attitude Improvement, which is a tangy orange drink made with grain alcohol and Bacardi light and dark rum. My attitude was already great, this just made it better. So good, that I sucked down a few Jell-O shots made with Everclear. This is one of those bars you return to so you can try the different drinks ranging from Sex on the Beach, Shock Treatment, Chocolate Thunder, and their signature drink Call-A-Cab.

Our next stop and what turned out to be the last stop of the night was the Coyote Ugly Saloon. The bar received attention when in 2000 a movie was made based on the bar set in New York City. The back of the bar is interestingly decorated with women’s bras stretching from one end to the other. I don’t know if they are new or left behind by patrons, which after this night, I wouldn’t count it out. The bar is famous for the female bartenders who dance on top of the bar throughout the night. They even go further to take body shots off each other and for $20, you can take a body shot off one of these beautiful bartenders too. By the time 2am rolled around, I wasn’t ready to leave. I woke up the next morning in the hotel room wondering how I got here. If the second night was going to be anything like the first, we were going to need a week to recover.

Our second night on Beale Street started off on a low note for ECU fans after we lost the Liberty Bowl to the Arkansas Razorbacks in overtime. After sitting through a four hour football game in twenty degree weather, it was time to warm up. There was no better place to do that than at Silky O’ Sullivan’s. Silky’s, an Irish pub, is housed in the former Gallina building which is over 100 years old. There is outdoor seating which makes this place great during the day if you want to grab a drink. Watch out for the Irish Diving Goat. Silky’s doubles as an oyster bar and after six oysters on the half-shell and an oyster Po’ Boy sandwich, I finally felt the feeling coming back to my toes. While I stuck with beer at Silky’s, I couldn’t help but notice these large plastic mugs at different tables. Their signature drink, known as the Diver, is a gallon mixed drink served in a large yellow plastic mug usually with four or five straws. Known as a gallon of Southern fun, the ingredients remains a secret. There is live entertainment almost every night with different musicians. However, the must see show begins at 9pm with the Dueling Pianos. These two guys will have you laughing all night long until they close.

After a few hours there, we headed over to Rum Boogie Café to grab a drink. The bar is decorated with music memorabilia to include autographed guitars and even a cape worn by Issac Hayes when he won his Academy Award. It is more of a restaurant than a bar, but a great place to grab a beer or one of their rum specialty drinks. We popped into Alfred’s, which when it opened in 1986 became the first club to highlight rock and roll music. A multi-level patio allows for patrons to eat upstairs or shake your tail feather on the dance floor. In 2007, Alfred’s was voted the #1 dance club in Memphis.

Some bars we didn’t make it to such as the Double Deuce, a country western bar, Black Diamond, a live blues bar, and Club 152, a techno bar catering to the very young crowd. Although most bars offer food, there are some famous restaurants on Beale Street staying open late for those with late night food cravings. Most people will recognize Hard Rock Café and then there is Dyers, serving their famous deep-fried hamburgers since 1912. If BBQ is what you are looking for, then Pig on Beale is where to go. Just look for the Pig with Attitude.

You can shop day or night on Beale Street. Strange Cargo offers unique Beale Street merchandise and Memphis Music is the largest Blues specialty store in the world. Beale Street has always had a connection to voodoo and Tater Reds continues that connection to this day. Tater Reds is your one stop voodoo headquarters but they also sell music memorabilia as well as your nicely decorated glass smoking pipes. (For tobacco use only, of course.)

You don’t have to drink to have a good time on Beale Street. Just enjoy the people you meet while eating some great food and just let the good times roll.

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