Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Memphis

Published On 01/21/2016 Published On 01/21/2016
Sean Cooley/Thrillist (Edited)

Dive bars are the pillars of any community worth living in. They're nostalgic meeting places with decades of history. They're venues for bands that will probably be famous in two years, and for musicians who were famous 40 years ago. These essential Memphis dives are where you'll go to get a beer for $2.50, play a jukebox, and smoke indoors.

Flickr/lobstar28

Murphy's

Midtown

Murphy's is the perfectly seedy, divey alternative to shiny establishments down the street in Overton Square. This Irish pub-inspired spot is dark, cheap, and often crowded with punk bands and their fans, especially during punk/indie/garage rock blowout Gonerfest. Grab a cold brew and enjoy the descent into debauchery in the light of the flickering neon beer signs.

High Point Pub

High Point Terrace

The High Point Pub is our most brightly lit dive bar, featuring shuffleboard, darts, a jukebox, plenty of TV action, and $1.00 set ups. It’s hyper local, which means most of the folks inside probably all live pretty close and pretty much all know each other. Newbies are more than welcome to join in the fun as it’s a real congenial place. You can smoke in the courtyard and have a pizza delivered from High Point Pizza next door. Doors close at 1am.

Flickr/ILoveMemphis

Lamplighter Lounge

Midtown

Former owner and barkeep Miss Shirley ran a tight ship at this definitive Midtown dive until her passing in 2010. There was no cussin' or fussin' and nothin' but beer to drink in her day, and her dedicated regulars have honored her legacy by keeping the place pretty much the same for years. It feels like an uncle's basement in the Lamplighter: kitschy celebrity portraits, a classic jukebox, and a pool table to keep you busy 'til the wee hours.

Printer's Alley

Midtown

Not to be confused with Nashville's Printer's Alley district, the Memphis dive bar is best known for being open after the after-hours bars have shut down for the night. Even though it's been renovated in recent years to make it, well, cleaner, Printer's Alley still has the dive-bar feel, with a bottled-beer selection, BYO-liquor policy, and secret burger and sandwich menu for those early-morning/post-drinking needs.

Flickr/Sean Davis

Earnestine & Hazel's

South Main

Compiling a list of Memphis dives would be silly if the indomitable Earnestine & Hazel's weren't included. The walls are cracked, the brick's exposed, the place is haunted by the ghosts of "ladies of the night," and the menu includes beer by the bottle and its top-flight Soul Burgers. Don't leave until you get a cold beverage and a helping of life advice from legendary upstairs bartender Nate. 

Dru's Place

Midtown

Dru has a no-frills atmosphere and offers weekly karaoke and drag shows (for Queens, Kings & InBetweens) that puts reality TV shows to shame; these folks are genuinely talented singers and performers. If you don't drink basic domestics, better bring a few bucks and a bottle of liquor, because Dru's Place is beer-only. Go for the shows; stay for the cheap beer and late-night pizza.

The Pumping Station

Midtown

This bar's wink-wink, nudge-nudge name is fair: The Pumping Station is gay-friendly and open 'til 3am, with bathrooms labelled "masters" and "slaves." But don't worry if you forgot to wear your leather -- something else you'll see there from time to time -- because all are welcome in this relaxed dive bar offering cheap drink specials, happy hours, free pool nights, and beer busts.

 

Flickr/Kees Wielemaker

Wild Bill's

Vollintine Evergreen

Pay your cover, get your 40-ouncer and your red cups, and take a seat. It better be after 11pm, because that's when the blues get going at Wild Bill's, which gets its dive-bar status from its 40s-only policy, dimly lit interior, and authentic musicianship. Much less of a late-night frat novelty than it once was, Wild Bill's is now a true-blues dive with plenty of Memphis soul. 

Courtesy of Brantley Ellzey

Bobcat Bar & Grill

East Memphis

The Bobcat is everything you want it to be and more. Be careful, lest you take a dart to the head on your way in, and be sweet, because the young bartender isn’t afraid to call you names. There’s pool, shuffleboard, video poker, and smoking is allowed. They have several beers to choose from, including Bud Light Raz-ber-itas, and a $5 corkage fee for all brown bagged bottles. The Bobcat is a total dude bar, but it’s clean, pretty cheap, and has a jukebox that makes you wanna dance.

The Windjammer

Brookhaven Circle

The Windjammer is the opposite of DKDC. Anyone can wear black tights, 10 girls can sing one karaoke song together, and chances are the bathrooms will be flooded. However, you can smoke, drink hard liquor from the bar, and stay up way past your bedtime singing Patsy Cline songs and slow dancing with strangers. It’s very primal. And who knew they had a full menu featuring clam chowder, hot wings, a grilled steak sandwich, and catfish?

Alex's Tavern - Memphis, Tennessee

Alex's Tavern

Vollintine Evergreen

There's no other place where you can get cheap beer, play shuffleboard, stay until 3am (or later), watch basketball, and have some of the best ribs and best burgers in town. Led by owner and master barbecuer Rocky, this dive is a longtime favorite of neighborhood regulars, Rhodes students, sports fans, and down-to-earth folks from around the world looking to try some off-the-beaten-path Memphis food and hospitality.

P & H Cafe

Midtown

If you want to experience one of Memphis' most famous dives, pay your respects to the late owner and influential Memphian Wanda Wilson with the other artists, filmmakers, comedians, and neighborhood regulars at the Poor and Hungry Cafe on Madison Ave. Get a pitcher of PBR and some burgers for just a few bucks, or BYO liquor and settle into a booth to ponder the murals, graffiti, and memorabilia on the tables, walls, and ceilings. This dĂ©cor combined with the smoking that's definitely allowed and the "interesting" bathrooms makes for the quintessential dive experience. 

Flickr/Sean Davis

Buccaneer Lounge

Midtown

Somehow managing to be on every possible list of Memphis bars, this pirate-themed dive has become all things to all drinkers. It's dark. It's smoky. Beer and liquor are cheap. There's weird nautical-themed stuff on the walls and the bathrooms are sketchy. There's a big round booth where you can chain-smoke and chat with musicians who are gonna "go on in a few hours." What more could you ask for?

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Stacey Greenberg lives in Cooper-Young with her two sons. She never met a dive bar she didn't like. She's the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Murphy's 1589 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Murphy's is the perfectly seedy, divey alternative to shiny establishments down the street in Overton Square. This Irish pub-inspired spot is dark, cheap, and often crowded with punk bands and their fans, especially during punk/indie/garage rock blowout Gonerfest. Grab a cold brew and enjoy the descent into debauchery in the light of the flickering neon beer signs.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. High Point Pub 477 High Point Ter, Memphis, TN 38122 (High Point)

Touting itself the only true neighborhood pub in Memphis, the High Point is everything you'd want a Southern dive bar to be: they've got cheap beers, football, and the atmosphere is congenial and low-key.

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3. Lamplighter Lounge 1702 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Former owner and barkeep Miss Shirley ran a tight ship at this definitive Midtown dive until her passing in 2010. There was no cussin' or fussin' and nothin' but beer to drink in her day, and her dedicated regulars have honored her legacy by keeping the place pretty much the same for years. It feels like an uncle's basement, with kitschy celebrity portraits, a classic jukebox, and a pool table.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Printer's Alley 322 S Cleveland St, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Not to be confused with Nashville's Printer's Alley district, the Memphis dive bar is best known for being open after the after-hours bars have shut down for the night. Even though it's been renovated in recent years to make it, well, cleaner, Printer's Alley still has the dive-bar feel, with a bottled-beer selection, BYO-liquor policy, and secret burger and sandwich menu.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. The Pumping Station 1382 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

This bar's wink-wink, nudge-nudge name is fair: The Pumping Station is gay-friendly and open 'til 3am, with bathrooms labelled "masters" and "slaves." But don't worry if you forgot to wear your leather -- something else you'll see there from time to time -- because all are welcome in this relaxed dive bar offering cheap drink specials, happy hours, free pool nights, and beer busts.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Earnestine & Hazel's 531 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

Earnestine & Hazel's is a former brothel now known for its jukebox, beer-loving crowd and mind-blowing late-night burgers, like the deceptively simple Soul Burger made from thin, seasoned beef patties cooked on a well-worn griddle, doused with the secret, tangy "Soul Sauce," swathed in American cheese, and topped with pickles and onions on a plain bun.

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7. Dru's Place 1474 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Dru has a no-frills atmosphere and offers weekly karaoke and drag shows (for Queens, Kings & InBetweens) that puts reality TV shows to shame; these folks are genuinely talented singers and performers. If you don't drink basic domestics, better bring a few bucks and a bottle of liquor, because Dru's Place is beer-only. Go for the shows; stay for the cheap beer and late-night pizza.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Wild Bill's 1580 Vollintine Ave, Memphis, TN 38107 (Vollintine Evergreen)

Pay your cover, get your 40-ouncer and your red cups, and take a seat. It better be after 11pm, because that's when the blues get going at Wild Bill's, which gets its dive-bar status from its 40s-only policy, dimly lit interior, and authentic musicianship. Much less of a late-night frat novelty than it once was, Wild Bill's is now a true-blues dive with plenty of Memphis soul.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. The Bobcat 4730 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38117 (East Memphis)

This Tennessee proud bar and grill serves up $2 beers on game day alongside delicious, crazy cheap pizzas that are perfect for chowing down with your team.

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10. Wind Jammer 786 E Brookhaven Cir, Memphis, TN 38117 (Memphis)

Belt out the hits at this charmingly low-key karaoke bar and dive that's a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Post 'oke, indulge in some bar snacks like fried cheese curds and nachos supreme.

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11. Alex's Tavern 1445 Jackson Ave, Memphis, TN 38107 (Vollintine Evergreen)

This unassuming tavern makes up for the humble (but charming) atmosphere with one of the best burgers (and ribs and wings) in town. Is it the secret mix of Greek seasonings? The cast iron skillet it's cooked in that has seen the sear of a thousand late-night burgers? The patty's slightly crisp outside and hot, juicy inside? Whatever it is, it's perfect.

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12. P & H Cafe 1532 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

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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13. Buccaneer Lounge 1368 Monroe Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

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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