Memphis, Tennessee in Forty-Eight Hours by Madeline Scharff
Your head is throbbing for caffeine. Your legs are wobbly from being a cramped plane ride. As you take the escalator that leads to baggage claim your nose is overwhelmed by a certain smoky, savory smell. BBQ. You are hungry and you want whatever you can find first: BBQ ribs, nachos, or a sandwich—anything. After the escalator you notice that Memphis International Airport has its own BBQ shop and it is open. Do not give in! You have much more to experience than just airport BBQ. So where do you start?
This Forty-Eight Hour Week-End Guide will point you to the best of Memphis’s cultural, historical, and just plain fun activities—all near the best places to eat.
Breakfast: Brother Junipers
A family owned restaurant that seems to specialize in every breakfast food known. Sit at a table of the coffee bar, which only has 6 stools. A big plus—you can wear your pajamas there without getting any weird looks. Get the cheese grits, a southern specialty and they make the best—the perfect combination of thick, creamy, and cheesy.
Where to work off the breakfast pounds: Vintage Shopping
Head downtown for the rest of the day and mix the pleasure of shopping with learning important history. This includes poking around vintage shops then touring the Civil Rights Museum.
South Main Street has a collection of chic boutiques for unique finds, visit the two vintage shops. Hoot + Louise has both men and women’s retro clothing, as well as contemporary wear in the front of the store. Ever dreamed of being an iconic pin up girl? Then Red Velvet Vintage is for you.
Lunch: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Another family found owned restaurant, The Rendezvous has been in operation since 1948. It continues to attract out-of-towners, locals, and celebrities alike. The Rendezvous is only open for dinner except on Fridays and Saturdays when it is also open for lunch and every customer is treated to a free bowl of red beans and rice. Some of the waiters have worked there for 10 years, some have been there even longer. You will be treated with real southern hospitably here. Start with a cheese and sausage plate but leave room for a slab of the best ribs you will ever eat.
Get Lean after Lunch: The Civil Rights Museum
Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most famous and important civil rights leaders to this day, was assassinated in Memphis on April 4th, 1968, while standing on his hotel balcony at the Lorraine Hotel. He was only 39 years old. James Earl Ray, an escapee from the Missouri State Penitentiary plead guilty to King’s murder and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. In February, King had gone to Memphis to support African American city sanitation workers who were on strike, protesting unequal wages and working conditions. He returned to Memphis on April 3rd to make a speech at Mason Temple; the next day he was tragically shot and killed.
The Lorraine Hotel is now museum that honors and keeps the legacy of King alive by taking visitors back to King’s era of the Civil Rights Movement. In 2013 and 2014, the property on which the Lorraine stands, was completely transformed after undergoing a $27.5 million renovation.
The museum’s new additions place King’s enormous legacy in context. It is now very interactive with videos, listening sets, a small move theater, colorful visuals, and life size replications of the bus Rosa Parks rode, a sit-in at a diner, and much more. Still there for all to see is the bedroom King stayed in as well as where he stood on the balcony when he was shot. This is a place of profound spiritual pilgrimage visited by people from all over the world.
Located in the heart of downtown Memphis, McEwan’s is a fantastic place for a casual but tasty meal with flavorful seafood options, yummy dessert such as their famous Banana Cream Pie, and an endless wine list. Customer favorite include a southern classic, Shrimp and Grits and the Chilean Seabass. Many vegetarian options are also available. Do not forget to ask to sit in the Wine Room downstairs!
The After Party: Beale Street
Beale Street is a must, especially on a weekend night when people lose all inhibitions to keep up with the spirited, boozed up crowd. Neon bar and restaurant signs light the street, while musicians play their saxophones, harmonicas, and piano keys to keep patrons lively. If you are lucky you will hear renditions of B.B. King, whose early records were produced by Sam Phillips, founder of Memphis’s most popular recording studio, Sun Records. B.B. King later founded his own record label, with headquarters on Beale Street. Other blues legends such as Muddy Waters, Rufus Thomas, Louis Armstrong, Furry Lewis, and Albert King got their start on Beale Street, helping to define a music style known as Memphis Blues. The Beale Street Flippers dominate the road’s center with acrobatic tricks like continuous backward flips from street end to street end. If you see a police officer on a horse coming toward you, you will know it is time to go home. But before you do, make to check out Silky O’ Sullivan’s. Order a diver bucket to split and slurp amongst a group of friends. It is a mode podge of liquor, beer, and wine in a gallon bucket.
Breakfast: The Slider Inn
After a night on Beale Street you will wake up thinking I’m never drinking again, until these three fried egg, bacon, and avocado sliders are brought to you fresh from the grill. Breakfast would not be complete without a side of home fries and a Bloody Mary. The waiters are friendly and accommodating and the atmosphere is lively but relaxed. If the weather is nice enough, eat outside; The Slider Inn was voted as having Midtown’s best patio.
Sing Away the Hangover: Stax Museum of American Soul Music
From the outside it may look small, but the inside reveals how this tiny record store turned recording studio became a cultural phenomenon that shaped the future of the international music industry. Today the museum honors and keeps alive the memory of all the artists who recorded there such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, the Bar-Lays, Booker T. & the MG’s, and many more. This interactive homage to soul music’s past has over two thousand exhibits, which showcase memorabilia such as costumes, films, and artifacts such as original vinyl records.
Lunch: Café 1912
Located in the Cooper Young Area of Midtown Memphis, resides Café 1912, with a charming, intimate atmosphere and a bistro vibe. There is something on the menu for everyone from perfectly seasoned, French Onion Soup, White Wine Mussels, Pommes Frites, Maple Glazed Salmon, Nicoise Salad of Seared Tuna, to the Burger with roasted garlic aioli.
Digest at the Dixon: Dixon Gallery & Gardens
Now that spring is in full bloom in Memphis, spending the afternoon amongst lush gardens full of sweet pollen and bright colored flowers, is a great way to invigorate yourself after lunch. The Dixon is a fine arts museum that also offers educational programs, workshops, and special year-round events apart from its art collections. Even if you do not have kids, feeding the koi fish that live in a stream in the middle of the gardens is always entertaining. You can purchase food to feed them and the ducks at the front desk when you walk in. Make sure to bring your camera! You will want to take pictures of everything!
Dinner: Interim Restaurant & Bar
Interim never ceases to deliver delicious, beautifully plated, farm to table appetizers, entrées, and desert. This upscale restaurant, serves American fare, brought to you by the utmost personable, professional, knowledgeable, chefs, waiters, waitresses, and bar tenders. The managers, Lisa Franklin and Stephen Shumate, are always roaming the dining room and bar area to ensure their customer’s needs are met. Bartender, Ben Rhea, makes a gorgeous Pear Blossom Martini, a perfect start for Executive Chef Jason Dallas’s Mangrove Snapper with corn puree, okra, purple hull peas, and heirloom tomato.
Night Cap at The Madison Hotel: Twilight Sky Terrace
End your night and weekend in Memphis on the Madison Hotel’s Rooftop, which has a spectacular view of downtown as well what locals call the “Memphis Bridge” or the “Old Bridge”. The Twilight Sky Terrace has a swanky ambiance with an eclectic mix of patrons and hip-hop/rock music. The chic decor adds to the ambiance as well with open fire pits and cream sofas and lounge chairs. Their special- crafted cocktails will make you dance the night away.
Madeline Scharff has a love for pencils and notebooks with scribbles and crossed out lines. She’s happiest when playing with her pup, Lily, and eating apples with peanut butter and honey.