Downtown Memphis on the cheap

You have to be careful with your money when you live downtown. The bars are in walking distance, and very accessible. You can easily blow $200 or more a week going out if you don’t know how to do downtown on a budget. Below are some suggestions to live it up downtown without spending a lot. A couple of notes before we start;

  • I’m not a vegetarian. I am, as my 5-year-old neighbor Dara would say, a “meatatarian.” There are probably some cheap veggie eats downtown but I have no idea what they are. I know I have some regular readers who are vegetarian, and if they want to e-mail suggestions I’ll add them.
  • I have no idea what there is to do downtown that’s cheap and family-friendly. Unless your family likes to go to bars.

I’ll try to update this list from time to time, and change the timestamp so that it bumps up to the top of my blog. Okay, let’s get started with the list:

$1 PBR, Sundays at Sleep Out Louie’s – A friend of mine hung out at Sleep Out’s for 5 hours recently on a Sunday, and his bill was $6.24. Not bad. You’ll have to endure the stupid antics of the drunks at the bar, though. One of the drunks will be me.

$1 PBR, Mondays at the Tap Room – Not positive this is still going on, but I think so. They’re getting annoyed because the bums will beg for change on the street, then come in and pay for a beer with pennies. Anyway, cheap way to drink and watch Monday Night Football.

Pint Night, Mondays at the Flying Saucer and Dan McGuinness Pub – Your chance to drink some beers that are normally in the $4-5 range for $2.50. The Saucer has a wider selection of beers, and they have waitresses in miniskirts, so I tend to hang out there more. But both are good choices.

Pint Night, Tuesdays at the Tap Room – Again, $2.50 for all their drafts, which would cost $3-6 any other night. I usually stop by for a Stella Artois or a Bridgeport IPA. In addition, the bartender, Maurice, has excellent taste in TV and usually has the Cartoon Network on, so I get to watch Family Guy and Futurama while I drink.

Pint Night, Tuesday’s at TJ Mulligans – Never been to this, but their ad says $2 for draft pints.

Lunch at Cafe Samovar – Samovar, in my opinion, is among the best restaurants in town. Their lunch menu has many of the same selections as dinner, but you pay $8-9 instead of $15-25.

Food at the Black Diamond – The Black Diamond on Beale (open 6 pm – 5 am) has surprisingly good food, and except for the large pizzas nothing is over 6 bucks. Great way to fill up on a budget. They’re also the only bar downtown to serve PBR properly – ice cold, in a can.

Dyer’s on Beale – Instead of paying $19 for ribs at one of the surrounding restaurants, come here and get a really good burger for 5 bucks. In my opinion Dyer’s burgers are far better than Huey’s, which always wins the Best Burger polls. My recommendations: the double-double with fries, or the split dog sandwich.

Beef Salad at Sawaddii – Thai beef and vegetables for 6 bucks. Enough food to call a meal, and I doubt there’s a single carb in this thing if you’re watching your weight.

Sasquatch Burger at Big Foot – I’m listing a $20 burger as a value? Yes, if you’re there with a big group. A group of 6-10 could dine on one 4 lb. Sasquatch burger, be quite full, and have a check that amounts to only a few bucks a person.

Court House Deli – Really good Cajun dishes (try the crawfish etoufee, or the cajun chili) for under 5 bucks. They also serve sandwiches. Lunch-only. I always ask for extra crackers with my chili, then after I’m done eating I walk outside to Court Square and feed the pigeons.

Omelets and egg platters at Blue Plate Cafe – for under 7 bucks, you can get your choice of several omelets, or egg dishes (benedict, florentine, huevos rancheros, etc.), and they come with biscuits and sawmill gravy, and your choice of hash browns, grits, or 3 buttermilk pancakes. This is enough food to fill you up for the rest of the day.

$5 Fish and Chips at Dan McGuinness – every Thursday, all day long, unless they’ve changed it.

BBQ Buffet at Leonard’s, Main at Adams – the buffet here is not an incredible value (with soft drink, $10) but you get all the food (ribs, smoked sausage, pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, etc.) that you’d find on a $19.99 platter at Rendezvous or Blues City or King’s Palace, and you can eat as much as you want.

Happy Hour at LoLo’s table – well drinks, half off, 4-7 weekdays. Excellent value. A lot of people from my building (No. 10 Main) hang out there. If the bartender is a redhead named Alyssa, tell her I sent you.

Happy Hour at Swig – again, 4-7 weekdays. This is a chance to try some of their normally expensive martinis and mixed drinks at deep discounts. I forget exactly how much off you get, but it’s substantial.

Gin & Tonic at Swig – if you go there late night, and want to soak up the atmosphere without busting your budget on $10 martinis, order a well gin and tonic. Last time I had one it was $4.75, which is about as good a value as you’re going to find at Swig.

Fire Sale at the Flying Saucer – every day the Saucer puts one of their beers on sale for $2.50 (except Monday, when almost all of the drafts are $2.50). This is your chance to hang out there and enjoy a good beer without spending a lot. Typical Fire Sale beers: J.W. Honey Brown, Harpoon IPA, Pyramid DPA, Abita Turbo Dog, Abita Amber, Abita Purple Haze, Flying Dog Doggie Style, Sam Adams.

The Call-a-Cab at Wet Willie’s – Wet Willie’s Call-a-Cab is a daiquiri made of three ingredients – strawberry drink mix, cherry drink mix, and 190 Everclear. The large Cab ($7.25) has almost as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer. A good way to enjoy Beale on a budget is to start at Wet Willie’s, drink a Call-a-Cab, and then hit the pricey tourist traps and drink water. NOTE: absolutely NOT recommended if you have to drive a car home.
Also – I’ve heard that the food portions at Wet Willie’s are HUGE. Friends of mine have told me that an order of nachos (around $8) is more food than two people can finish.

Big Foot Beer at Big Foot Lodge – If you can tolerate Coors Light, you can get 34 oz. of it for $3.99. You can also get a 34 oz. Newcastle for $6.50, which is an excellent value.

Celebrity’s on Beale (in the building that used to be The Field and before that Dick’s Last Resort, Fourth and Beale) – This place is at the far end of Beale Street and has to try harder to get people down there. They often have the cheapest beer and drink prices on the street.

Never pay a cover at the Flying Saucer – Join the UFO Club for about 14 bucks. You get a free T-shirt, and you get a UFO Club card. Show the card at the door and you’ll never have to pay the cover (usually $3) again. Five visits and it’s paid for itself. I like this a lot, because I like to walk through bars and see if there’s anyone I know – if so, I drink with them, if not, I leave and go somewhere else. With the UFO card, I don’t have to pay just to go inside and see who’s there.

Mug Club at the Tap Room – If you spend any amount of time at the Tap Room on Beale, join the Mug Club. It costs $20 for the mug, but you get your first beer free, and after that you get $1 off any draft and you get a 22 oz. pint instead of the usual 16 oz. In the long run it pays for itself.

South Main Trolley Art Tour – The last Friday of every month, the galleries of South Main stay open until 9, and many of them put out free wine and food. Good atmosphere, good times. If you’re there for the art: Be sure to check out Jay Etkin (Main at Huling), Etched Art (505 S. Main), D. Edge (Main just south of GE Patterson), and the gallery on GE Patterson next to the Cheesecake Factory (can’t think of the name at the moment). If you’re there for drinks: Most places have wine out, but Gestures in particular usually has something unique and tasty.

$10 wristband Friday nights on Beale – if you want to go out clubbing on Beale, this is your chance to do it without blowing all your money on cover charges up and down the street.

Free wireless Internet for customers at the following places downtown: Cafe Francisco, Empire Coffee, Quetzal, Sleep Out Louie’s, Dan McGuinness, Flying Saucer, Swig. There’s also free wireless in Court Square park, but you’ll have to deal with some of downtown’s more… um, “interesting” residents while you use it.

Free Internet terminal – If you don’t have a Wi-Fi enabled laptop but need to surf the net, head to Dan McGuinness – they have a free Internet terminal for customers’ use.

A. Schwab’s – they sell porcelain pigs, funny hats, and size-64 overalls. But sometimes you can find something you actually need there at a value price. For example, I recently needed black socks, and picked them up at Schwab’s for $1 a pair. Try finding socks at that price anywhere else – even Target – and who cares if they’re not designer-brand, they’re SOCKS, who’s ever going to know? Also a place to find some unique Christmas gifts.

$5 Memphis Grizzlies tickets – These go on sale the day of the game, at noon I believe. Many people have said that these $5 terrace seats are better than the $23 lower-level seats. WARNING: these tickets may be a value, but the food they sell at the FedExForum isn’t. Eat before or after you go.

$5 Memphis Redbirds tickets – You have to sit on the grass overlooking left field, but that’s part of the fun. Avoid the high-priced beer. The BBQ Nachos aren’t really a value, but I don’t see how anyone could attend a Redbirds game and not have them.

Buy a flask – A lot of downtowners carry a flask with them when they go to the higher-priced bars, so they can order a coke and then sneak off to the bathroom to add ingredients. Me personally, I wouldn’t do this, at least not at the higher-priced bars I respect (like Swig, for example).

Free parking – there’s lots of free parking on Wagner Street between Union and Beale. They are metered spaces but are free after 6 pm and on weekends and holidays. Also, if you’re going to FexExForum or Beale Street, note that you can find ample parking on the side streets off Main (Pontotoc, Vance) pretty easily, and it’s free.

Sunset Symphony – This is the class act of the Memphis in May events. Unlike the over-priced, over-crowded, drunk-and-rowdy Music Fest, Sunset Symphony is laid-back and affordable. You can bring in your own picnic baskets, including alcohol. Usually happens the Saturday before Memorial Day, and ends with fireworks around 9.

Places to avoid if you’re on a budget
Note: I’m not knocking the quality of food, drinks, service, or atmosphere at these places (except noted) – in most cases they’re quite good. It’s just that these places are not conducive to doing downtown on a budget.

  • McEwen’s, Stella, Felicia Suzanne’s, Grill 83 – It sucks that four of the finest restaurants in the city are within a block’s walk of my place, and I can’t eat at any of them. They’re high-priced and deservedly so, because they’re great experiences.
  • The Peabody – I love the lobby bar and Capriccio is very nice, but they’re in the upper-end tourist business and therefore pricey. The rooftop parties in the summer can be a value if you just pay the $5 cover and then don’t drink. If you need a buzz to deal with those people (quite understandable) go to Wet Willie’s and drink a Call-a-Cab first.
  • Automatic Slim’s – you add to your hipster credentials by drinking at bars owned by Karen Blockman Carrier, but you pay about a 30% premium on drink prices for being so hip.
  • Cafe 61 – One of my favorite former Blue Monkey bartenders works there during the week, so I recently went in to see her and had a drink, not even paying attention to the prices when I ordered. Then the bill came – $8.50! For one drink! Yikes! Great food, great service, but not a value.
  • BB King’s – the music is often very good but the drink prices are extremely high.
  • Alfred’s – at 2 AM on weekend nights, this is the place to go if you want a drunken piece of sorority ass and are willing to endure crowds, horrible music and high drink prices to get it. I can tolerate this environment once or twice a year at most.
  • Condos – as I wrote in an earlier post, the downtown real estate market is becoming badly overpriced. If you want to buy down here because you love the area, that’s fine, but don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s a good investment at current prices. It’s not.

That’s the list. Let me know if I missed anything, and like I say, I’ll update it and bump it from time to time.