Downtown Memphis orientation guide for 2009 Liberty Bowl attendees

I’d like to welcome everyone who is in Memphis for the Liberty Bowl – especially Hog fans. I’ve lived in Downtown Memphis for 8 years now, so for the benefit of our visitors, I’d like to offer a local guy’s orientation guide to Downtown. Here’s some info that should get you started, and help you make the most of your stay in Downtown Memphis.

The Memphis Flyer is a great resource for finding out what’s going on. It’s the free weekly arts and entertainment newspaper. Look for it in the green boxes. I believe the issue coming out Wednesday 12/30 is their “Annual Manual,” which is a fantastic overall guide to everything the city has to offer.

The calendar online at is a good resource too.

You may see people walking around wearing blue jackets and white safari hats, holding pamphlets. These are the Blue Suede Brigade, Downtown’s goodwill ambassadors. They’ll answer any questions you have, and they have information and coupons.

Parking at metered spaces is free after 6 PM and on weekends and holidays. If anyone tries to charge you for parking in a metered space, don’t pay them.

If you’re looking for a full-size, big-box grocery store like a Kroger, sorry… Downtown ain’t got one. We do have neighborhood grocery stores, though. Best bet is to ride the trolley to Main and Jefferson. Jack’s Food Store has most everything you’ll need, including beer. Next door there’s an Easy Way that sells produce and more grocery items. Jack’s stays open until 11 (10 Sunday). Easy Way closes early.

The local drug store is Walgreens (Main and Madison). In addition to the usual drugstore stuff, they carry a lot of Memphis/Elvis tourist items. They stay open until 8 PM weekdays, but close earlier on weekends.

Need coffee? Bluff City Coffee, on Main just north of G.E. Patterson, is the local coffee shop. There’s also a Starbucks on Third, across from the FedExForum just south of Beale.

Need gas? The best gas station is BP Riverside at the corner of Riverside and Carolina. If you’re hungry, grab a snack at their excellent deli while you’re there.

Need booze? I recommend The Corkscrew, on Front just north of GE Patterson. They’re really good at making recommendations if you don’t know exactly what you want.

The trolley will take you from one end of Downtown to the other. Fare is $1. Be sure to ask whether you’re on the Riverfront Loop, Main Street Trolley, or Madison Avenue Line. Good way to see the sights of Downtown. Don’t depend on them if you’re on a tight schedule.

If you need a cab, best places to find them are on Second across from the Peabody; Second at Beale; Third at Beale. Numbers are 323-3333 and 577-7777.

The locals don’t hang out on Beale a whole lot, but if that’s where you want to be, here are my picks:

  • Blues City Cafe has the best ribs
  • Otherwise I’d say King’s Palace Cafe has the best food overall. I particularly recommend the Chicken Pontabla (Cajun chicken with cheese and potatoes) and Mardi Gras seafood pasta.
  • Dyer’s has great burgers
  • Tap Room on Beale is the best hole-in-the-wall, locals-type bar on the street
  • A. Schwab is a “dry goods” store that has been there since 1876. Great place for souvenir shopping.

Like I say, though, locals don’t hang out on Beale a whole lot. Where do we hang out?

The Flying Saucer (Second and Peabody) has the best beer selection of any bar Downtown (75 draft, 125 bottles). Limited liquor selection. Pool, darts, waitresses in miniskirts. For my money the best bar Downtown (although “best bar” is very subjective, depending on the atmosphere you prefer). I’m there much of the time.

The Silly Goose is around the corner from the Saucer on Peabody. Huge liquor selection, 10 beers on tap including PBR.

Bardog Tavern (Monroe between Front and Main) is a little hole in the wall that feels like it’s been there 25 years (actually it’s only a year and a half old). Unusually good food, 10 beers on tap including PBR, plenty of liquor, kitchen open late.

You’ll have to walk or trolley a little bit to get to Calhoun’s, a sports bar at GE Patterson and Mulberry. It’s a tiny little bar with 10 TVs, most of the football and basketball viewing packages, Buzztime/NTN trivia and poker, $2 PBR, other beers on tap. No liquor though. Friendly locals. Max who owns the place is a Razorback fan.

Where to eat? It would take forever to type up a comprehensive list, but here are a few suggestions:

Gus’s Chicken, Front Street at Pontotoc. People actually fly in from other cities to get this chicken.

Bardog Tavern (see above). Really, really good bar food. I recommend the sliders and the spaghetti and meatballs, although you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Huey’s, Second at Union. Legendary for its burger. Nachos, tamales good too. They also have healthy items. Inexpensive, good bar food. A Memphis tradition.

Kooky Canuck, Second just south of Union. Bar food with a Canadian theme. They have more upscale entrees too (steak, Cornish game hens). 34 oz. super cold beers, 34 oz. big drinks, massive burgers and ice cream sundaes.

Flying Fish, Second just north of Gayoso. Seafood in a fun atmosphere, relatively inexpensive.

If you want something a little nicer but you don’t want to break the bank eating, try Majestic Grille (Main just north of Peabody). Elegant atmosphere, old movies shown on their big screen, good-sized portions, good brunch 11-3 on weekends. My picks on the dinner menu would include flatbreads, the whole rotisserie chicken, and especially the filet. Wednesday is chili day.

Another place to try would be South of Beale, on Main near Talbot. It’s a “gastropub” with really good food and premium beers on tap. I haven’t tried everything on the menu, but I recommend the duck with duck fried rice. Oxtail wontons are also popular. Sunday and Wednesday are their pint nights with all pints $3.

Breakfast: Try the Arcade, Memphis’ oldest restaurant, at Main and GE Patterson. Blue Plate Cafe (Court Square) is good too. Elliott’s (Second between Madison and Monroe) has great breakfast sandwiches, bowls, and burritos.

To hear some good Memphis blues and other Memphis music, my recommendations would be Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall (Beale Street), B.B. King’s (Beale Street), Ground Zero (on Lt. George W. Lee Ave. just south of Beale), and the Center for Southern Folklore (Main Street between Gayoso and Peabody Place). Normally I would place a huge recommendation for the Dempseys at Blues City here, but they’ve had to cancel their 12/30 and 12/31 shows due to a death in the family.

Need to check e-mail? Of the places listed above, Silly Goose and Calhoun’s each have a computer that customers can use. Those places also have Wi-Fi if you want to connect via laptop or phone, as do Flying Saucer, Flying Fish and Bluff City Coffee.

Anything I didn’t cover here? Shoot me an e-mail at and I’ll try to answer.