An opinionated Downtowner’s guide to having fun and avoiding the amateurs on New Year’s Eve (and New Year’s weekend)

It’s time for my annual “what to do Downtown for New Year’s Eve” post. Now, before we get started, I want to make something clear. This is Paul Ryburn’s Journal, my personal blog that happened to get popular as a source of Downtown news. This is not “The Official Downtown News Blog” where only positive things are said. I say what I feel, positive or negative.

And there’s negative stuff to say about New Year’s Eve. Downtown is invaded by people who don’t know how to party, don’t know how to handle their liquor. People who think paying $20 for parking, standing in line 15 minutes for drinks, yelling “WOOOOOOOOOOOO!” all night and getting in fights is their idea of “partying.” Those people are amateurs. Those people suck. My goal in this post is to tell you how to have fun on New Year’s Eve while avoiding the amateurs, because there’s also plenty of positive, good, fun things going on Downtown that night and that weekend.

More than any other place Beale Street will suck on New Year’s. Thousands of amateurs will crowd the street, most of whom got drunk before they came there because they didn’t want to deal with Beale Street drink prices. Highest possible recommendation to avoid. Partying on Beale (both the street and inside the bars and clubs that line the street) is a great idea, but do it one of the other 364 nights of the year.

If a Downtown bar charges a cover in excess of its usual Saturday night cover, that’s usually a bad sign. I’m going to make a few exceptions to that rule below, but in general it means it’s amateur night inside. I don’t blame the people who run the bars – they know there are enough people who will pay a $10-15 cover to fill the place up, so why should they pass up that revenue stream? But they also know they generally won’t see locals in their bar on New Year’s Eve. Many people who live Downtown refuse to pay triple the cover on the 31st to have a worse time than they’ll have if they go on the 30th or 1st instead.

Downtown bars within two blocks of Beale Street that upcharge their cover on New Year’s Eve should especially be avoided.

Bars that are new, and bars that are farther removed from the tourist district, are generally going to be better and it’s OK to pay the upcharge for cover. These places are less likely to be “discovered” by people from Collierville, Cordova and Germantown who are making their one venture Downtown per year. In particular, two that are charging a cover that I think will be OK: Blind Bear and Brass Door. Blind Bear is a speakeasy that allows smoking; Brass Door is a smoke-free Irish pub. Blind Bear will have a DJ; Brass Door will have John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives.

Also, Paula & Raiford’s Disco usually ups their cover on New Year’s Eve, but I’m giving them a pass too, on the grounds that it’s impossible to have a bad time at Raiford’s.

Then there are the smaller “neighborhood bars” that don’t charge a cover on New Year’s Eve. Max’s Sports Bar and Bardog would be examples. Surprisingly, these are far less likely to draw the amateurs than places that charge big covers. Not bad places to go if you want to be at a bar on New Year’s Eve, but a word of advice: GET THERE EARLY. These places will fill up. If you get to Max’s Sports Bar at 11:55 PM with your ten friends, I hope you enjoy ringing in the New Year beerless on G.E. Patterson Avenue.

Kooky Canuck is another spot not charging a cover. Shawn and Lana throw great parties, so this is a good option. Its proximity to the Peabody may draw in a few amateurs but overall it should be fine.

Rehab Disco is not charging a cover on New Year’s Eve either. If you want to dance to modern DJ music, this would be a good bet. I haven’t been enough times to get a good feel for the crowd, but JJ and his crew create a good vibe in there. They’ll have $15 champagne. The club is on Front, far enough removed from the tourist district that the amateurs won’t find it.

If you want something quieter and more peaceful than a bar or club, look for a restaurant that serves New Year’s Eve dinner – either their regular menu or a special menu or both, without a significant upcharge because of the date. My friends and I have done the Majestic Grille a few times and have never failed to have a wonderful experience there. It’s the regular menu plus a few special items Chef Patrick Reilly is whipping up. South of Beale also has a New Year’s Eve menu, and that seems like it would be a really good choice as well. I saw a tweet by McEwen’s that they’re still taking New Year’s Eve reservations.

Then there’s the Peabody. I last went in 2004 and it was horrible in terms of drink prices, and waits in line for drinks and restrooms. Since then they’ve taken quite a few steps to improve customer service. I’ll go as far as “neutral” on this party but I just can’t move it into the “recommended” column. If you want to go to a huge party with thousands of people at an elegant hotel, it’s worth giving it a try and forming your own opinion.

My best advice of all would be this:

  1. Go out Friday night the 30th to the bar or club of your choice. The amateurs will be resting up for New Year’s Eve, and you’ll have an awesome time.
  2. Arrange a house party with your good friends on New Year’s Eve, Saturday the 31st.
  3. Go out Sunday night the 1st to the bar or club or your choice. It’s effectively a weekend night, since most people have Monday off. The amateurs will need 77 days to recover (they’ll be out again for St. Pat’s) and you’ll have an awesome time.

One more bit of advice if you go to bars or restaurants on the 31st: When your check arrives, examine it closely to see if a gratuity has already been added. Many spots will automatically charge an 18% or 20% gratuity that night, because they know it’s Amateur Night and amateurs don’t tip. If you want to tip in addition to the auto-grat, by all means do, but just be aware you may have already tipped without knowing it.

And finally, there’s the subject of driving drunk to address. Just don’t do it. AAA is offering free tows home, whether you’re a member or not, from 6 PM to 6 AM New Year’s Eve/Day. 800-222-4357 is the number. There’s also this post by Memphis Yellow Cab on the easiest way to get a taxi home.

Hope this post helps some of you plan your evening Downtown. I get emails every year saying “I went to _______ for New Year’s Eve and it sucked,” and I hope this post helps you find a New Year’s celebration for 2012 that doesn’t suck.