City Portrait

Memphis, Tennessee’s Hot Spots

Explore the city’s renowned institutions and the best of what’s next

Photo: Randy Harris

The James Lee House parlor.

Where to Eat & Drink

Bounty on Broad
A row of mostly empty storefronts less than a decade ago, Broad Avenue now anchors a revitalized arts district. One of its latest additions is chef Jackson Kramer’s field-to-fork restaurant, housed in a two-story building that’s simple but elegant—like Kramer’s food. The dishes—creamed kale with fried grits; quail stuffed with cornbread and andouille sausage—are served family-style, so bring friends. Or don’t, and eat as if you did.—2519 Broad Ave;


Bryant’s Breakfast

For years, a sign inside read: WE MAY NOT BE WORLD FAMOUS BUT IN MEMPHIS, WE ARE KING. When it comes to the biscuits, that’s no hyperbole. Golden on the outside and pillowy inside, they draw a diverse crowd (black, white, business, blue-collar) who fill the red and yellow booths. Fair warning: cash only.—3965 Summer Ave.;


Earnestine and Hazel’s
Memphis is Dive Bar, USA, and this is its capitol. Once a brothel, it’s dark, ceiling tiles are falling out, and the floor is chipped, but the place is almost always lively even when the street is quiet. Don’t miss the Soul Burger, served with cheese, grilled onions, mustard, and potato chips.—531 S. Main St.;



Gus’s Fried Chicken
Once you’ve had your share of the city’s abundant ribs and barbecue, stop by Gus’s and round out Memphis’s Holy Trinity of Food with crispy, just-spicy-enough fried chicken. For authenticity’s sake, go to the downtown location, and remember: It doesn’t count unless you get the plate, complete with beans, slaw, and a slice of white bread.—310 S. Front St.;


Hog & Hominy
With their second successful restaurant, chefs Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer (of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen) have proved that their mix of Italian and Southern has culinary staying power. Get the “Thunderbird! Forty Twice!” pizza and marvel at how its sweet honey drizzle tames the pepperoni’s kick. If you don’t like pizza, take a long look in the mirror. Then order octopus, served warm over mole verde.—707 W. Brookhaven Circle;


Lamplighter Lounge
A popular neighborhood dive, Lamplighter feels more like your buddy’s smoky living room than it does a bar. There’s no pretense and no craft beer, but there is live music and always plenty of PBR, or any booze you like so long as you bring it yourself.—1702 Madison Ave.; 901-726-1101

The Fashionable cocktail at Mollie Fontaine Lounge.

Photo: Randy Harris

The Fashionable cocktail at Mollie Fontaine Lounge.

Mollie Fontaine Lounge

Not a fan of the dive? Head over to Mollie Fontaine Lounge, tucked into an 1880s Victorian on what was once Millionaires Row. Relax in mid-century armchairs and couches while you sip a classic French 75 or a Naughty Apparition. The fries, seasoned with truffle oil, pepper, and Parmesan, might be the best-kept secret in Memphis.—679 Adams Ave.;

You’ll smell it before you see it. But when you do find the back alley entrance, follow the steps downstairs, grab a spot along the bar where locals lunch, and order a full rack of charcoal ribs (with a side of beans and slaw). This church of barbecue has become one of the city’s top tourist spots, but that hasn’t driven away the regulars: The ribs are just that good.—52 S. Second St.;

Another round at Rendezvous.

Photo: Randy Harris

Another round at Rendezvous.

The Second Line
Reflecting his New Orleans roots, Kelly English’s follow-up to the elegant Restaurant Iris is laid-back Cajun fun. Start with barbecue shrimp and segue into the fried oyster po’boy. Or any po’boy, really—there are nine on the menu.—2144 Monroe Ave.;

Las Tortugas
Go for the real-deal Mexican food but stay for the stories told by the seventy-one-year-old, skydiving (6,012 jumps!), motorcycle-racing founder, Jose “Pepe” Magallanes. His son runs the kitchen now, visiting as many as seven markets a day to ensure the food is as fresh as it is authentic: Pepe is anti–Tex-Mex, allowing only dishes you’d find in Mexico City, his hometown.—1215 S. Germantown Rd.;

Wiseacre Brewing
Memphis’s Wiseacre beers are served at most restaurants in the city, and though they’re tasty anywhere, it’s worth a trip to the source (which also offers karaoke and foosball). The taproom and porch are open Thursday to Saturday, drawing hops-loving Memphians who sample brews such as the refreshing Tiny Bomb, a pilsner spiked with local wildflower honey, or the Gotta Get Up to Get Down, a coffee milk stout.—2783 Broad Ave.;

Where to Sleep

James Lee House
Jose Velazquez and his wife, Jennifer, operate this intimate five-bedroom B&B and live on the top floor. They’ve kept original doors, tubs, walls, and other finishes throughout much of the 1800s home and tend the historic space with lots of love. “It’s the small touches that matter,” says Jose, who goes so far as to make sure every pillowcase gets ironed.—690 Adams Ave.;

The James Lee House's Victorian facade.

Photo: Randy Harris

The James Lee House’s Victorian facade.

The Peabody
If a quintet of North American mallards get to sleep in penthouse digs by night and swim in the lobby fountain by day, imagine how the grand hotel’s staff pampers its human guests. Book one of the sumptuously appointed rooms or suites to find out. Have a mint julep in the plush lobby bar, or on Thursday nights in summer, head upstairs to a rooftop party, where cocktails are accompanied by a river view.—149 Union Ave.;

Guests anticipate the Peabody Hotel's time-honored duck parade.

Photo: Randy Harris

Guests anticipate the Peabody Hotel’s time-honored duck parade.



What to See & Do

Live Music
Coming to Memphis and not catching a live performance would be like not coming to Memphis at all. A few choice spots: After closing in the 1970s, Lafayette’s Music Room reopened last October and is a great place during the week for dinner and an intimate show, be it jazz, bluegrass, or local blues. For bigger indie concerts, visit the more established Minglewood Hall in midtown, or on a warm spring day, the historic Levitt Shell—the outdoor stage where Elvis played his first paying gig.


Memphis in May
A hundred thousand fans—of every age, shape, size, and appetite—descend on the city to cheer on the princes of pork and sample some of the best ’cue on the planet. The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the cornerstone of the city’s famous month-long festival, is by turns an up-all-night college bender and a thesis-level master class. And the Beale Street Music Festival offers more in the way of music appreciation than you’d ever find in a classroom, with the likes of the Alabama Shakes, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and Patti LaBelle. Get your tickets now.—

Music History
All over Memphis you can see the footprints of musicians who helped make it a capital of Southern sounds. Visit the Stax Museum for a look at the roots of American soul music (and Isaac Hayes’s gold-plated Cadillac). Then stop at Sun Records to discover the beginnings of rock and roll and a singer from Mississippi named Elvis. Been there, done that? Good news: The Blues Hall of Fame is slated to open this year.


Paula & Raiford’s Disco
Though Raiford’s is technically a bar, it’s really more of an experience. It opens at 10:00 p.m. and stays open until 4:00 a.m., and if you want a beer, it’s probably going to be a 40-ounce. The biggest draw is the fog-shrouded light-up dance floor, where the disco’s famed seventy-four-year-old DJ, Robert Raiford, spins records that range from old Memphis standards to seventies classics to more recent hits for a crowd that’s as mixed as the playlist.—14 S. Second St.;


Where to Shop

Hoot + Louise
Most of the clothing, jewelry, and accessories in this downtown boutique are like the owner’s grandmother (named Louise, nicknamed Hoot), who inspired it: a throwback. There are new things—from apparel and leather goods to made-in-Memphis ceramics by Brit McDaniel of Paper & Clay—but the bulk of the store’s charm comes from its vintage inventory, from sixties cocktail frocks to seventies-era Pendleton wool sweaters to Ralph Lauren blazers circa 1980.—109 E. Ge Patterson Ave.;


Phillip Ashley Chocolates
Phillip Ashley Rix woke up one day and said, “I’m gonna do chocolate.” He left his job at Apple to do just that, teaching himself to make confections by hand. Flavors range from jerk spice to strawberry balsamic basil to sweet potato to, yes, barbecue. The elegant designs almost make you feel bad for eating them. Until you eat them.—798 S. Cooper St.;


Record Shopping
Memphis might be getting a makeover, but explore its two best record stores—Goner Records in Cooper-Young, and Shangri-La near Overton Square—and you’ll see it’s still an old soul. Both are not surprisingly crammed wall to wall with CDs and vinyl but also other goodies: vintage copies of Creem magazine, Farrah Fawcett pinups, and movie posters. Buy a record from either store’s “Memphis” section (Otis Redding is always a good bet) so that once you’re home, it’ll at least sound as though you never left.

Shopping at Shangri-La.

Photo: Randy Harris

Shopping at Shangri-La.