In Memphis, Tennessee, the faded hues of yesteryear mingle delightfully with the invigorating aura of a burgeoning renaissance and prideful restoration of the city’s most historic locales. Beale Street, the city’s most famous stretch, is home to a handful of the nation’s most acclaimed music venues and once set the stage for some of America’s most inspired movements—everyone from B.B. King and Martin Luther King Jr. to Louis Armstrong and Elvis frequented here in its heyday. And, while music is certainly a primary draw for the nearly 200-year-old city, it’s working hard to attract more than just concert-goers and BBQ-eaters. Where sister city Nashville built itself to suit the expectations of its visitors, Memphis has stayed true to its locals—it’s soulful, resourceful and, best of all, rich with gems both old and new. These are a few of our favorite spots in the city by the Mississippi.
Hu. Hotel Memphis
Inside the Hu. Hotel Memphis—in walking distance to Beale Street and more of the city’s popular venues—open space abounds. From the lobby’s double-height ceilings to the building’s renovated rooftop space (the city installed a light show on its two longest bridges that can be seen from here starting at 7PM) the charming nooks and corners are endless. The lobby also feels much larger given that there’s no front desk: you check in at a coffeeshop-like counter just inside the front doors. There’s a consistent mid-century modern theme throughout, from the faded browns of the lobby to the pinkish hues of the hotel’s 110 guest rooms.
This newly opened airy spot in Memphis’ Pinch District is infusing southern, slow-moving hospitality into their chic, high-end coffee concept. Hayes and Amy McPherson, the couple behind Comeback Coffee, want to be a stopping place for all locals and visitors alike—and their expansive menu of delicious drinks and made-in-house treats certainly encourages this. Made by chef Cole Jeanes, the shop’s pastries are fresh and delightful and a rotating “market special” features local produce that isn’t used in the menu’s existing dishes. The interior is sparse but welcoming, and an adjacent back patio has enough room for dozens more. We recommend getting yourself a coffee soda—flash-chilled coffee infused with strawberries and lime, then put on tap—and a Mississippi Mud Pie (pictured here).
Catherine and Mary’s
Helmed by James Beard Award-winning restaurateurs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, Catherine and Mary’s is Sicilian food cooked family style. From the menu’s long list of delectable small plates to the fresh pasta made in-house, dinner here is grandmotherly—the restaurant is named after the chef’s own grandmothers, in fact. The meatballs are outstanding and made daily; the occhi (our favorite pasta dish on the menu) is cooked with artichoke, celery, whey butter, green garlic and fennel pollen; and a long list of cocktails and Italian wines will keep even the pickiest drinker pleased. Opting in for dessert is a must, too: rotating flavors of gelato include Nutella, Amaro, pistachio and chocolate with candied pecans.
Inside Crosstown Concourse, a 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use building, there are over a dozen floors of office, school, living, retail and restaurant space. Perhaps most impressive is the building’s art gallery: Crosstown Arts. Featuring a vibrant red staircase that leads you into its heart and a vast mural to welcome guests, the gallery features rotating shows and a quirky, not-for-profit venue called the Art Bar. On exhibition right now is Stitched: Celebrating the Art of Quilting, which showcases the work of local quilters of all ages.
Old Dominick Distillery
The Old Dominick Distillery is hard to miss. Not only is it situated across the street from Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken—a Memphis staple known for their fiery fried poultry—but its barrel storage room can just be seen peeking out of the second story window, which is frequently propped open to ease aging. The newly opened distillery is operating on a demand basis, meaning that if you stop in for a tasting or a tour you might not see much action. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t spirits to taste. The distillery makes a surprisingly nice suite of vodkas and gins and offers a preview of their one-year-old whiskey. The rest, which they plan to release at four years, is yet to come—though there’s plenty to be excited for.
Withers Collection: Museum of Photography
Situated on a lively block on Beale Street, the Withers Collection: Museum of Photography is a subdued and significant selection of photographs by the late Dr Ernest C Withers. Once a police officer, but most notably a freelance photojournalist, Withers documented life in Memphis: the Civil Rights Movement, the daily life of Martin Luther King Jr, Elvis’ earliest performances, Negro League baseball and more. In his lifetime, Withers shot an estimated 1.8 million photos—it’s the duty now of the full-time staff to digitize and archive his work. Those currently on display feature rarely seen photos of MLK Jr. on the day of his assassination, prominent jazz and blues musicians in action and other previously unseen, and profoundly political, moments in history. Admission is donation-based.
Stock and Belle
Situated inside the old Fred P. Gattas department store building—where Elvis famously frequented as deliveryman before becoming an international star—is Stock and Belle. Opened in 2015, the shop stocks local and national goods from a well-curated list of similarly-aligned brands. There’s also an eclectic collection of local art—most of which is produced in-house in the shop’s artist studios (pictured here in the rear of the store). From local fragrances to handmade art and furniture, there’s a vast selection of made-in-Memphis goods that aren’t kitschy or touristy.