Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Memphis

Published On 11/23/2015 Published On 11/23/2015
Loflin Yard
Loflin Yard | Justin Fox Burks

After a long day’s work, a proper cocktail hour(s) is wholly appropriate. At these Memphis spots, the atmosphere varies -- from upscale to casual hole-in-the-wall -- yet the common link is the passion for mixology. Whichever you prefer, you’ll have no trouble getting an expertly prepared shaken or stirred boozy beverage; your only difficulty will be choosing which cocktail to order.

Alchemy Memphis

Alchemy

Cooper-Young

The alchemists, err, bartenders at Alchemy craft creative cocktails, recommend the 50 Shades (sun dried fig-infused George Dickel, lemon, Earl Grey tea, and orange liqueur) and the Goldie Likes (vodka, jalapeño-infused agave, passion fruit puree, and lime). But this Midtown bar also turns base metals into noble ones by cranking out classics with a sophisticated spin. Bring a date and pair one of the elixirs with any of the refined small-plate menu items, and you’re bound to feel some real chemistry.

Loflin Yard

Downtown

The indoor bar area -- located inside an old lock and key company -- is quite small with only a handful of tables. Most of the seating is outdoors on Loflin’s massive covered patio, which overlooks a manmade waterfall that runs into the Gayoso Bayou. There’s also a huge green space (hence the name Loflin Yard) for lounging, playing with kids, doing yoga, and a barn out back for concerts and special events. The cocktail menu features barrel-aged drinks that have been carefully crafted from classic recipes. There’s a Tennessee Whiskey Old Fashioned, a Sazerac, and a Bijou to name a few. Of course, the bartenders can whip up whatever you please, but don’t skip out on the hand-crafted, barrel-aged offerings, as they pair beautifully with the meats prepared in Loflin Yard’s on-site smokehouse.

Cove Bar

The Cove Cocktail and Oyster Bar

Binghampton

Become a salty pirate captain at this nautical-themed bar where the absinthe fountain and Sazerac are patron favorites. You can also opt for a standard -- Old Fashioned, sidecar, Salty Dog -- or one that might shiver your timbers, like the Skull & Crossbones (Gosling’s Rum, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a lemon twist). A half-dozen oysters (or a pizza or panini) from the kitchen will do the trick if you find yourself feeling three sheets to the wind.

Blind Bear Speakeasy

Downtown

Imbibing a few cocktails is thankfully legal at this late-night, Prohibition-themed speakeasy. Order a dish from the bar’s late-night hibernation menu or just get the Monopolowa Mary -- a Bloody Mary that’s almost a meal in itself, with slices of sausage as garnish. You won’t need a password to order from the “Giggle Water” drink menu, but you may feel a little like a Roaring '20s gangster as you put back a Bootlegger’s Mule (American Born moonshine, simple syrup, lime, and ginger beer).

Flickr/Memphis CVB

Mollie Fontaine Lounge

Victorian Village

Order a Naughty Apparition (Patron Silver, raspberry, mint, lime, and honey) from the upstairs or downstairs bar in this historic, purportedly haunted, Victorian mansion just east of Downtown. Captivating art adorns the walls, and antique furniture and decor is scattered throughout, making for a one-of-a-kind Memphis drinking experience. Kick back on a comfy leather couch or armchair and toast to ghosts of the past.

The Peabody Lobby Bar

Downtown

Every day, at 11am and 5pm, the Peabody’s Duckmaster marches the historic hotel’s iconic ducks from their home on the roof to a fountain near the Lobby Bar. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s (the hotel was built in 1869), and tourists and locals alike gather at the bar or on lobby couches to watch the free show. It’s best to watch that free show with one of the Lobby Bar’s famous martinis (they’ve garnered multiple awards). And once the ducks have had their swim, stick around in the bar area for prime people-watching. If you’re there in the evening, note that the bar offers a selection of desserts from the Peabody’s pastry shop.

Bar DKDC

Bar DKDC

Cooper-Young

As far as we know, DKDC stands for "Don't Know, Don't Care," though this small Cooper-Young bar certainly knows and cares about cocktail making. In true Southern style, the drinks are served in Mason jars. Have a Violet Velvet (Brandon’s gin, lemon juice, Rothman & Winter CrĂ©me De Violette, Luxardo, and mint) or two, then squeeze into the bar’s in-house, old-fashioned photo booth, and then Instagram a photo of that photo.

Itta Bena

Beale St

For a completely different Beale St experience, ditch the Diver bucket and duck into Itta Bena. Discreetly positioned upstairs from B.B. King’s Blues Club and named after the bluesman’s hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi, this upscale restaurant offers a fine dining experience, with a Delta-inspired menu and a variety of classy cocktails. The Blues Berry Martini (blueberry and vanilla vodkas, Chambord, simple syrup, and cream) is sure to cure even the bluest of blues.

Twilight Sky Terrace

Twilight Sky Terrace

Downtown

The Twilight Sky Terrace on the roof of Downtown’s Madison Hotel, open at 4pm daily, offers sunset views like you’ve never seen. Ask for a Space Kitty (Cathead Honeysuckle vodka, rosemary-grapefruit syrup, lemon juice, and prosecco), and sip it as the sun goes down on the Mississippi River.

South of Beale

Downtown

This South Main-area gastropub offers a sophisticated spin on pub grub and an extensive list of inspired cocktails. But unlike some high-end cocktail bars, S.O.B., as it’s affectionately called, has more of a welcoming, low-key ambiance. Sangria (prepared with whatever fruit is in season) is always on offer, or try something more inventive, such as the Cucumber Gin Fizz (gin, egg whites, rosewater, powdered sugar, and muddled cucumber and lemon). Balance your booze intake with grub from the daily snack board (fried deviled eggs, seasonal hummus, cheeses, house jam, candied pecans, and crispy flatbread).

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Sarah Williams is a freelance writer for Thrillist who’s never met a cocktail she didn’t like.

Katie Smith is a writer for Thrillist, who after one too many Loflin Yard Sazeracs, has considered wading under the waterfall (not advised).

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1. Alchemy 940 South Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38104 (Cooper Young)

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. Loflin Yard 7 W Carolina Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

Modeled after Bacchanal Wine in New Orleans, Loflin is essentially a park with a lovely bar and restaurant on its grounds. The indoor/outdoor venue is split into a few areas: the Coach House, a building that was originally home to Downtown Memphis' carriage fleet and is now used as Loflin's event space; the Safe House, which features the main dining room and an outdoor deck overlooking the yard's waterfalls; the Front Yard, an outdoor community space with plenty of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs; and the Back Yard, a private green space that's available to book alongside the Coach House. The Loflin's food menu sticks to a family-style Southern format featuring dishes like beef brisket and trout with sides (collard greens, house-made slaw, sweet potato salad), and specialities like house-made sausages and po' boys.

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4. Blind Bear Speakeasy 119 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103 (Memphis)

The '20s are alive and well at the Blind Bear Speakeasy. You won’t need a password to order from the “Giggle Water” drink menu, but you may feel a little like a Roaring '20s gangster as you put back a Bootlegger’s Mule (American Born moonshine, simple syrup, lime, and ginger beer). It's a good thing there's "Hung Over Like a Bear" brunch every weekend.

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5. Mollie Fontaine Lounge 679 Adams Ave, Memphis, TN 38105 (Victorian Village)

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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6. Peabody Lobby Bar 149 Union Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

Situated in the iconic Peabody Hotel off Beale Street, this hotel lobby bar has class and swank in spades. Nicknamed "the living room of Memphis," make yourself comfortable and order up from a tome-like menu of classic cocktails, spirits, house-made libations, and a list of award-winning martinis (the South's Grand made with Tito's, peach syrup, and lime juice is our personal favorite).

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7. Bar DKDC 964 S Cooper, Memphis, TN 38104 (Cooper Young)

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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8. Twilight Sky Terrace 79 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

The Twilight Sky Terrace on the roof of Downtown’s Madison Hotel, open at 4pm daily, offers sunset views like you’ve never seen. Ask for a Space Kitty (Cathead Honeysuckle vodka, rosemary-grapefruit syrup, lemon juice, and prosecco), and sip it as the sun goes down on the Mississippi River.

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9. Itta Bena 145 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103 (Beale Street)

For a drinking experience outside what you'd typically find on Beale Street, be sure to duck into this secret cocktail lounge tucked away inside B.B. King's Blues Club. Named after the bluesman’s hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi, this upscale restaurant offers a fine dining experience, with a Delta-inspired menu and a variety of classy cocktails.

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10. South of Beale 361 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103 (South Main)

South of Beale gastropub scores with its daily happy hour offering cheap beer, liquor drinks, and wines, plus $6 bar bites when hunger strikes. You can taste the South with the fried chicken & waffle sliders, and the South tastes good. If you feel like supporting your home team through alcohol consumption, you can also snag a blue-hued Grizz shot for just 3 bucks, anytime. The gastropub also features local artists and charities, so you can drink charitably.

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