Food & Drink

The 11 Most Essential Bars in Memphis

Published On 03/02/2015 Published On 03/02/2015
Alchemy Memphis
Alex's Tavern
Flickr/Lindsey Turner
Flickr/Far Enough
Wiseacre Brewing Company
Flickr/Chris and Laura
Boscos Squared
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1. Alchemy 940 South Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38104

The appropriately-named Alchemy offers the kind of dim, sexy atmosphere and sophisticated cocktails you might associate with Manhattan rather than our Midtown area. From behind the spacious bar, bartenders produce craft cocktails with ingredients that might be new to you, like The Alchemist (Eagle Rare, Antica, Aperol, and Peychaud bitters), and there're bourbon and scotch lists and a small plates menu.

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2. Alex's Tavern 1445 Jackson Ave, Memphis, TN 38107

Alex's Tavern is an unassuming, local watering hole in the Crosstown neighborhood that makes up for its humble-but-charming atmosphere with one of the best burgers (and ribs and wings) in town. Perhaps the burger reigns supreme because of the inclusion of a secret mix of Greek seasonings in the patty, or perhaps because the cast-iron skillet said patty is cooked in has seen the sear of thousands of the patty's kin. Regardless, you'd be remiss to stop in for a beer and leave without the burger.

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3. The Cove Cocktail and Oyster Bar 2559 Broad Ave, Memphis, TN 38112

Sip a Sazerac while sitting at what looks like the gleaming hull of a wooden pirate ship at this nautical themed bar on Broad Ave. The dark, seafaring spot of a bar offers a full lineup of underrated old-school classics like the Gimlet or Salty Dog, plus a sizable beer and wine selection. Live music, oysters, and small plates make it a place where folks seem to end up during their more swashbuckling nights out.

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4. Earnestine & Hazel's 531 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103

Built in the late 19th century, the South Main Street building that houses Earnestine & Hazel's was meant to be a church. It didn't stay that way for long, and in the 1930s, it started its evolution from sundry store to pharmacy to jazz-cafe-and-brothel (the former was downstairs, the latter upstairs), to its current iteration as a dive bar. It's got burgers, beer, and plenty of characters, including the ghosts of Earnestine and Hazel. The sisters who owned the original cafe haunt the dive in the friendliest way possible by playing the piano upstairs, turning on the jukebox, and flickering the lights. The paranormal activity doesn't deter guests, but the Soul Burger most certainly draws them. The burger, in all its simple, heart-stopping glory, is a thin, seasoned beef patty cooked on a well-worn griddle and topped with American cheese, onions, a pickle, and a healthy spreading of Soul Sauce. It's best enjoyed with a beer (or three), and the company of the ghostly souls of Memphis past.

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5. Bar DKDC 964 S Cooper, Memphis, TN 38104

Head to the cozy (read: small) Cooper Young bar for any of the simple cocktails served in Mason jars. Check out the Satsuma Mama with Mississippi Cathead vodka, tangerine juice, and a satsuma peel, or the Blackberry Julep with whiskey, muddled blackberries and mint sugar. Memphis' best local musicians frequently fill half the bar on Thursday and weekend evenings, attracting a standing-room-only crowd that spills out onto the patio or into the tiny old-fashioned photo booth.

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6. Mollie Fontaine Lounge 679 Adams Ave, Memphis, TN 38105

This proper lounge, set off the beaten path in an historic Victorian mansion just east of Downtown, is furnished with jewel-toned divans, provocative art, leather armchairs, and iconic flame-hued paper lanterns. Try the Nouveau Riche cocktail (vodka, ginger, lemon, cranberry and cherry) from the downstairs bar, or mingle with the most fashionable Memphians to the tune of piano lounge singing, house DJs, or the serenades of the ghosts that supposedly populate the stairs and hallways.

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7. Wiseacre Brewing 2783 Broad Ave, Memphis, TN 38112

Wiseacre Brewing is a Binghampton hot spot for craft beer-loving locals. The ten taps pour exclusively Wiseacre brews, but the variety at hand is enough to satisfy any grain/hop/yeast-craving palate. The award-winning Tiny Bomb Pilsner and crisp, hop-heavy Ananda are draft staples (due to popular demand), and the remaining taps rotate through seasonal and one-off labels. Taste your way through Wiseacre's repertoire at communal tables inside or on the patio out back, and maybe treat yourself to a snack from the roster of food trucks while you're at it. On your way out, be sure to fill a growler with your favorite draft of the day, or purchase cans of past favorites, rare selections, or even just your preferred flavor of the week.

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8. Buccaneer Lounge 1368 Monroe Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

Sure, things can go a little awry at the Buc, but the place is quality if you're looking for an unpretentious, well-worn (and well-loved) watering hole. The words "artisan," "craft beer," or "small plates" have never been uttered by a bartender at the Buc, which suits the place just fine. It's a classic dive with a seriously good lineup of local and touring music acts.

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9. Boscos Squared Overton Square, Memphis, TN 38104

The Boscos bar is like a separate neighborhood pub trapped inside a restaurant. During the day and early evening, committed regulars swig Midtown Brown Ales and hope to win the daily Cellarman Contest at 5:30pm. Professionals and friends convene around the bar in the evenings for all kinds of craft beer, like the Bombay IPA, Flaming Stone German steinbier, or Isle of Skye Scottish Ale, and cocktails, too.

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10. P & H Cafe 1532 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

The P&H Cafe is a rite of passage for Memphis artists, filmmakers, musicians, comedians and an assortment of Midtown Bohemians. The Poor and Hungry serves a handful of beers in pitchers only (just go for the PBR like everyone else) and boasts a stage for open-mic comedy and karaoke nights, pool tables, and a cigarette machine. The BYO liquor policy and a tendency for things to get going after midnight make it essential in terms of drinking with Memphians who are making much of the music, art, and movies in the city.

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11. Young Avenue Deli 2119 Young Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

Young Avenue Deli is one of the most popular live music venues in Memphis, not only for its expansive stage and large seating area, but also for its equally extensive food and drink selection. The menu of greasy goodness is divided into “Munchies,” “Specialties,” “’Dillas+Pizza,” and “Dessert,” and its highlights include award-winning French fries, beer battered artichoke hearts, and the Super Veggie sandwich, which comes bursting with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, romaine lettuce, sprouts, feta cheese, and black olives. And with over 100 beer options (30 of which are on tap), you won’t tire of Young Avenue anytime soon.