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Downtown Memphis Walking Tour

This is an itinerary that covers a lot of the southern half of Downtown, and that I think really introduces people to the soul of the neighborhood.  Get your walking shoes on for this one – gonna be a long day.  This would be best done on a Saturday.

National Civil Rights Museum: Gotta start here if you’ve never been.  This, of course, is the site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on April 4, 1968 (look for the wreath on the second floor).  It’s the old Lorraine Motel, converted into a museum full of items that tell the story of the civil rights movement in America.  It’s at the corner of Mulberry and Huling in the South Main District.

Then walk or trolley north on Main, and turn right on Beale to get to

A. Schwab: This is a “dry goods” store that has been on Beale Street since the 1870s.  You’ll find all kinds of mementos in there that you never knew existed.  Everything from 40 different kinds of hot sauces to size-70 overalls to funny hats to candles to Elvis memorabilia and much more.  Great place to get souvenir shopping and gift shopping done.  Get there before 5 PM; the upstairs closes at 5 on Saturdays and the entire thing closes at 5 the other days of the week (and it’s not open at all on Sunday).

Then walk west back to Main, then turn right and walk 1 block north to

Center for Southern Folklore: This little gem on the Main Street Mall is full of local artwork, Memphis music CDs and DVDs, books about Memphis music, and lots of related items.  They have live entertainment on stage from time to time – ask for a schedule.  They also sell coffee, food, and beer.  Over Labor Day weekend they sponsor one of the best street festivals in the area.  The employees and volunteers at CSF are great people to tell you all about local and regional music.

Then walk south on Main 3 blocks, turn right on Pontotoc, and walk 1 block to Front.  There you’ll see

Gus’s Chicken: Time for dinner.  This restaurant on Front has the best chicken in town.  It was won national awards, and people have been known to actually fly to Memphis just to pick up Gus’s.  Today’s special: CHICKEN.  It doesn’t matter what day you read this post – the special is always chicken.

Then walk back to Main, and walk or trolley south 5 blocks to

Earnestine & Hazel’s: This is a little bar at Main and G.E. Patterson that has the best jukebox in town and a burger, the “Soul Burger,” that is among the best Downtown.  Be sure to walk through the upstairs if it’s open.  For years and years (up until about 18-20 years ago) this place was a brothel, and they have not redecorated the upstairs at all since those days.  In the very back corner of the upstairs there’s a tiny bar run by a guy named Nate on the weekends – one of the best bartenders in the city.

Then walk half a block east on G.E. Patterson to

Calhoun’s: This one is a little bit different.  All the places I’ve named up ’til now have been around for years and years, and represent the soul, the history, of Downtown Memphis.  Calhoun’s Sports Bar, on the other hand, is barely more than a year old, but I’m including it because I feel it represents the current history, the present, of the South Main area.  There you’ll meet the owner, Max, and the locals, who will tell you more about Downtown Memphis than I can possibly include in this post.  You haven’t truly experienced Downtown until you’ve met its best feature – the people.  Drink some beer, watch some sports on their TVs, play some Buzztime Trivia or poker.

– For the last stop of the evening, it’s time to go dancing.  Hollywood Disco at Mulberry and Vance is my recommendation for now; however, as of the first weekend in April, you have your choice between Hollywood and Paula & Raiford’s Disco on Second just north of Monroe.  (I’ll leave it to locals you meet at the earlier stops to recommend one or the other.)  In either case, you’ll get a club experience unlike any other you’ve had.  Great disco and ’80s and soul music.  Leather couches, handprints on the wall, fog machines, disco balls and lights.  Forget everything you know about clubs; this is something completely different.

You may want to get a hotel room to crash for the night, rather than driving to other parts of town after a long day out.  I recommend the Sleep Inn at Court Square if you’re looking for value, and the Westin if you want something upscale.  Hotels with rooms for less than $50/night that are within walking distance of Downtown should be avoided at all costs.

There ya go… that should keep you busy for about 12 hours on a Saturday – probably 2 PM to 2 AM or thereabouts.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Downtown Memphis Walking Tour, Information Please | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment