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Bar Advice for Memphis and Louisville

Heading out on a road trip with a buddy this weekend and we'll be spending two nights in Memphis and one night in Louisville and I'm hoping some of y'all would be so kind as to steer us in the direction of some decent waterin' holes.

I think we pretty much have all of our meals planned out (although any breakfast recommendations would be helpful), but having been to Memphis only once before and never having been to Louisville, we are hoping to get a pretty good idea of some bars off the beaten path.

Specifically, we are interested in dive bars, hole in the wall, pub-type places.... probably nothing either on Beale Street or 4th Street Live. Nothing hip or trendy or fancy, just somewhere old, grimy, and real, with extra points for cheap pitchers and solid jukeboxes.

I've heard the Highlands in Louisville might have the type of place we're looking for, but I haven't learned of any specific bars there yet. And any help with Memphis will be greatly appreciated as well.

Thanks in advance to all.

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  1. Stay at the Artisan Hotel in midtown Memphis (you can book online for $50), and then just walk around. There are lot's of places for you to enjoy within walking distance- and chances are you will be the only tourist in the place...

    1. Memphis bar suggestions:

      Old Zinnie's
      Wild Bill's
      Ernestine & Hazel's
      Poplar Lounge

      1. The Cove on Broad isn't old, but it has the best mix of dive-bar atmosphere with well-done cocktails drinks. Their food is really good. Pirate decor taken from a Memphis institution--Anderton's Seafood Restaurant after it closed.

        All the places listed below by Michael H are good, with my favorite on that list being the P&H. My only issues with it are the cocktails and beer. They'll have the typical well and calls, but probably won't make a solid Sazerac or Gimlet if that's what you are looking for. Same with beer--typical American beers with larger American quasi-micros like Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. That goes for the Cove too-not a great beer selection. Stay in Midtown, like Clarkafella said, and you won't have to drive much.

        Breakfast in Memphis--#1 is Bryant's on Summer just west of Graham. If you like more of a selection besides a good country breakfast, Brother Juniper's near Highland in the Uof Memphis area has a large list of omelets. It's tasty, but it doesn't match a country ham and egg biscuit from Bryant's.

        Bryant's Bar-B-Q & Breakfast
        3965 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN 38122

        The Cove
        2559 Broad Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38112

        Brother Juniper's College Inn
        3519 Walker Ave, Memphis, TN 38111

        1. Sauces has a good bar scene on Main downtown, especially on Redbirds game nights. Excellent mojitos. As a visitor, you really should have at least one drink at the Peabody's lobby bar and see the ducks in the fountain. The Highpoint Pinch can be a fairly rowdy place on the North End of downtown. As for breakfast, the Arcade is a wonderful vintage cafe in the South Main arts district - don't miss it!

          1. In Memphis, you can't go wrong with Earnestine & Hazel's, a former brothel on Main St. Go to the upstairs bar for a relaxing drink in a 50 year time warp and downstairs to dance to a classic jukebox. This is a late night place. They only serve beer, but Mr. Nate upstairs keeps a stash of whiskey if you request it. Wild Bill's on N. Vollintine is the place to go for blues. It's a blues bar frequented by both old black men and young wealthy college students from Rhodes. Everybody there is having a good time. For breakfast, go to Brother Juniper's or the Barksdale. Downtown, go the Arcade.

            1. The Highlands is definitely the place to go in Louisville. A couple of my favorites (for cheap beer and good jukeboxes) are Outlook Inn and The Back Door, both on Bardstown Road. Stay away from Fourth Street Live if you're not into grind dancing and pricey, weak cocktails. For a list of bars in the Highlands, see the following article:


              Have a nice trip!

              1. Ernestine & Hazel's is a must go! Also, the Green Beatle on Main St. It's open late after everything else closes! I've always said that no one should visit Memphis and miss Raiford's. It really is a classic. It's off Beale, they only serve 40's, and I promise you it's an experience (but don't go until 2:00 a.m)! I'm a fan of the Blue Fin on Main, even though that might be too close to Beale for you, it's a trolley stop close to Beale with good sushi...and they have a patio, which can sometimes be a hard find. Someone mentioned Sauces...they really DO have great mojitos....and the food is really good too.

                The Blue Monkey in Midtown is a local favorite, and if you don't mind a little racey, Backstreet (behind the Blue Monkey) has drag shows every Friday and Saturday night. You can also check out the Cooper/Young area...Cafe Ole, Young Ave. Deli, Celtic Crossing...there are others right there in that area that are nice too...Tsunami and Dish to name a couple. The Bayou used to be one of my favorite places for a beer, patio and spicy cajun, but I hear that it's moved?!?! I don't know how it would be without it's old Overton Square ambiance. Huey's in Midtown is also a great local "divey" bar with some really awesome burgers...

                When I lived in Memphis, I ate breakfast at Three Little Pigs every Saturday. It's off Quince in East Memphis, and well worth the drive out there. Also, if you like Thai, definitely go to Bhan Thai. It's off Peabody in an old Midtown house. They also have one of the greatest patios (my opinion) in Memphis.

                Memphis is such a great city...you'll find a lot of local hot spots if you ask around when you get there. Hope this helps!

                1. Two additions to all the good Memphis advice above: for a great dive bar with great burgers, try Alex's Tavern (I believe it's on Jackson) and for a student scene (if that's what you're into) try RP Tracks near the U of Memphis.

                  1. Thanks for all of the advice, it's all been very helpful. Heading out from Austin tonight, will try to post the results when I return. Thanks again.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Max Headroom

                      Here's a strong "I agree" for The Cove and Brother Juniper's. Please go. You won't be disappointed and I love sharing great places with people.

                      1. re: Max Headroom

                        Max, let's have that report. Did you enjoy your visit?

                      2. Hey everybody, sorry it has taken me so long to report back..... but to be honest, things were kinda hectic when I returned home to Austin after my all-to-short road trip and I just completely forgot.

                        First off, I just want to thank everyone who replied to this post with advice..... even though we weren't able to check out all of the recommendations personally, I still really appreciate y'all taking the time to help us out.

                        We tried to squeeze as much as we could into what was essentially an extended weekend - we left Austin in the middle of a Thursday night and got to Memphis late morning/early afternoon on Friday, spent Friday night there and headed out to Louisville in the morning where we spent Saturday night, and went back to Memphis on Sunday afternoon and spent one more night there, returning home on Monday. Our main reason for the road trip was to see My Morning Jacket at their big homecoming show that Saturday night in Louisville, and we turned that into an excuse to spend some time in Memphis. We had both been to Memphis once before back in '06 on our way back from Bonnaroo, and we liked it so much there during that short visit that we vowed to return as soon as possible for a longer visit.

                        When we first got to Memphis, the first place we went to was the Cozy Corner restaurant and got pulled pork sandwiches, which were just as excellent as the atmosphere of the place (I had planned out getting something they were more famous for, the barbequed cornish game hen, not the barbequed bologna, but was just craving some swine at the time) . Went straight from there to the National Civil RIghts Museum/Lorraine Motel and took an extended tour, after which we followed with a trip to Ernestine and Hazel's, or as I like to call it, The Greatest Bar on the Planet.

                        I cannot put into words just how much we liked this place, and it was raining pretty hard when we got there so we didn't feel too guilty about spending so much time there. For starters, the building itself, in all it's old and ragged glory, was just perfect. The staff there was great too.... the bartender, a woman named Karen I think, gave us the history of the place (if even half of what she told us was true, then that's just plenty in my book - used to be a brothel and soul food restaurant, frequented by many musicians back in the day, including Ray Charles, who according to Karen, spent many a night there shooting up and enjoying the ladies........ awesome), and the other gentleman that worked there whose name i cannot recall was from Southeast TX like myself and we chatted about back home for a little while. They were nice enough to let us check out the back bar (where part of Black Snake Moan was filmed) and the upstairs rooms even though they weren't open at the time, and I probably took about 100 pictures. The upstairs was almost like hallowed ground, you could almost see the ghosts from the brothel days in the different rooms, and we spent a lot of time up their finishing off our miller high lifes, as well as downstairs reading all the old soul food menus posted on a counter. There's still a couple of OK bars here in Austin, but none of them are even in the same league as Ernestine and Hazel's.

                        After a couple of hours there, we finally went and checked into our east side hotel and then went to Rendezvous for supper. We had heard so much about their bar b q that we figured we should at least try it out. It turned out OK I suppose..... the ribs, which are supposed to be their calling card were just mediocre, and pretty dry and overcooked. We could have just caught them on a bad night or got a bad batch, but it just wasn't very impressive.... plus the place was a little a little too touristy for me (I know that sounds ridiculous coming from a tourist, but you know what I mean). The building itself was pretty cool, and I'm glad we at least tried it out. We hit up Ernestine and Hazel's yet again for a couple of hours after we ate, then headed back to the hotel to catch at least some sleep for the big day ahead.

                        We departed Memphis as early as humanly possible (not that early) since we had about a 6 hour drive ahead of us with the concert starting at 8:00 and us losing an hour because Louisville is just inside the eastern time zone. However, we had just enough time to make a slight detour through Mason, TN to hit up Gus' Fried Chicken (we had previously eaten at the Memphis location back in '06, and knew we needed to now visit the real deal) and were treated to the best fried chicken we had ever eaten (buy a long shot), at a location and restaurant that we just did not want to leave, boasting the greatest jukebox in an eating establishment ever (Teddy Pendergrass, that's all you need to know). We were really tight on time now, so we drove straight through to Louisville, giving Nashville a wave and a nod as we drove right past it.

                        We made it into Louisville in just enough time to check into our downtown hotel, quickly drink a Lone Star beer or two, then walk over to the show which was at Waterfront Park, right on the Ohio River. I won't get into the concert too in depth since this isn't a music forum, but I gotta at least say this: Waterfront Park is such a beautiful piece of land, the absolute perfect place to have see the greatest live band on the planet with 10,000 other people, on a perfect August night in Kentucky with the river as your backdrop.

                        After the show we took a cab to the Highlands area, starting that the far end of Bardstown/Baxter, and working our way back. Because we had just had our faces and brains melted by My Morning Jacket, along with the fact that the Bushmills Irish Whiskey and pre-made White Russians that we snuck into the show were really hitting bottom at this point, the rest of that night in Louisville is somewhat of a blur. What I do know is that we split a pizza at Bearnos and went in and out of about half a dozen bars in the Highlands, only to walk all the way back downtown at about 3:00 am, which I later found out with the help of Google Maps is fairly long distance to walk, at least in our condition. I really liked this part of Louisville, but felt I really didn't get to enjoy it like I could have due to a lack of sleep and too much alcohol.... but I do plan to visit again soon and will definitely roll through the Highlands again.

                        We got up early enough to drive around a little bit, but we didn't get to check out many of the places that we had wanted to like the record store Ear-X-Tacy. But we did allot just enough time to hit up J. Graham's Cafe at The Brown Hotel for an original "Hot Brown" sandwich..... I'm too tired to fully explain it, but look it up, or better yet, go get one..... it's better than advertised.

                        We cruised back into Memphis and this time had a hotel in the Midtown area, an area that we really, really liked. We had eaten at Jim Neely's Interstate Bar B Q back in '06 and realized that it is one of the better Bar B Q joints, if not THE best, around.... and that's kinda saying a lot with me being a Texas boy and my buddy being a Carolina boy. We drove out there that Sunday evening only to find out it was closed already, and instead ended up back in Midtown at the Cupboard Restaurant, which was pretty darn good and sounds like it was even better back when it was in its original building.

                        That night we went to Old Zinnie's (good bar, but not quite ragged enough), the Lamplighter (great filthy bar), Buccaneer (would have been awesome, but apparently they had just temporarily lost a portion of their liquor license and couldn't sell regular drinks and beer, so we only stayed briefly), Ernestine and Hazel's for a 3rd time for more upstairs drankin', and finally ended the night back at the Lamplighter with some cheap beers.

                        Not to be denied, we had breakfast/lunch at Interstate Bar B Q, and it was just as perfect as I remembered it. The ribs and pulled pork were undoubtedly sent from heaven, and Interstate still ranks as a very close 2nd place to me, just barely behind Patillo's Bar B Q in Beaumont, TX.

                        Well, that's it..... at least all I can muster at such a late hour with a number of beers in me. Thinking back on all these places has only gotten me excited and looking forward to planning another trip to both of these great cities...... maybe even this summer if another concert calls my name. Thanks again too all of you that doled out such great advice, and I apologize if this post proves to be way too long and rambling. Y'all feel free to holler if y'all ever need some TX advice.... take care.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Max Headroom

                          Nothing in the world helps a hangover like a hot brown from tthe Brown Hotel!!!

                          1. re: Max Headroom

                            Sounds like you hit some of the best dive bars in Memphis. Next time try out Alex's Tavern. If you like E&H, Zinnie's and the Lamplighter, then you'll also love Alex's. The great thing about Alex's is that stay open REAL late.

                            My brother is a bartender at the Buc and I'm happy to announce that they have their liquor license back.

                            1. re: Max Headroom

                              Good job on the bars and restaurants..especially for an out-of-towner! If you head back towards midtown, be sure to try the P & H Cafe for the drinks, and The BBQ Shop for my favorite 'cue.

                            2. Well, heading back to Memphis this weekend..... any new suggestions not already mentioned in this thread? Thanks in advance and for all the past help.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Max Headroom

                                Great report from back in january. You'd like the Cove on Broad. Drinks are great, but a little short. Sit at the bar and make the bartender pour you one worth the money. Food's pretty good too.

                                Soul Fish in Cooper Young has better food than the Cupboard, in my opinion, and you can walk down to Goner Records on Young. Also don't miss Shangri-La records for a soul music fix...