Music, Drinks and Soulful Cooking Meet in Memphis

The home of Sun Studio and Stax, Memphis also boasts an emerging craft distilling and brewing scene. And, of course, plenty of pit-smoked barbecue.
Photo by Todd Bannot / Alamy

On the banks of the Mississippi River, Memphis brilliantly celebrates its vibrant, diverse culture. Blues, soul and country music spill from every honkytonk and café, while inventive and deeply satisfying Southern cooking fuels the never-ending party on Beale Street.

Shoes and socks at Lansky.
Lansky / Photo by James Wessels / Rock Memphis Live

Shop

Lansky Brothers was Elvis’s favorite shop and still stocks blue suede shoes, while its sister store, Lansky 126, is the place to go for designer denim. Crazy Beautiful finds retro-accented clothing and shoes from indie designers, while Flashback, a self-described “vintage department store,” is crammed with pre-owned and reproduction jewelry, furniture, housewares and clothing.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Lexington, Kentucky Beyond Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ

See

The legendary Sun Studio and Stax Museum of American Soul Music are filled with memorabilia and great music, as well as shrines to the spaces where Johnny Cash, Otis Redding and Albert King recorded their rockabilly, soul and blues classics in the 1950s and ’60s. Gibson guitars were integral to that music, so don’t miss a tour of the factory where its luthiers build beautiful instruments. But don’t overlook a pilgrimage to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, an institution built around the spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

 Old Dominick Distillery.
Old Dominick Distillery / Photo by Nick McGinn

Drink

At cocktail time, Lee, the bartender at 5 Spot, will take you under her wing as she mixes your first Negroni. Head to a show at B.B. King’s Blues Club or Rum Boogie Café, then make your way back to Earnestine and Hazel’s. This funky bar attached to 5 Spot serves cold Red Stripe and local Ghost River Golden Ale alongside its sloppy signature $6 Soul Burger.

Urban craft distilling and brewing are novel in this whiskey-making state, but the new Old Dominick Distillery will pour its first vodkas and a honey-citrus toddy during $12 tours. Natives buzz about Wiseacre Brewing, which offers more than a dozen beers created by Brewmaster Davin Bartosch, who trained in Munich.

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous.
Charlie Vergos Rendezvous / Photo by Justin Fox Burks

Eat

Devouring smoky, slow-cooked pit barbecue is as essential to the Memphis experience as hearing live blues music. Local chefs love Central BBQ’s three locations for its dry-rubbed, hickory- and pecan-wood-smoked ribs and pulled pork. More historic is Charlie Vergos Rendezvous rib joint, located in a basement downtown. Just across the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Arkansas, truckers idle their rigs to pick up Ray’s World Famous BBQ and fluffy, house-baked cakes.

At the other extreme is Flight, a fine-dining restaurant and wine bar that offers trios of Oregon whites, Napa reds or Tennessee whiskeys with small entrées like elk chops glazed with Kahlúa or savory chicken and waffles with mushrooms.

The house at Graceland.
Graceland

4 Hour Getaway 

Elvis’s home at Graceland, on the outskirts of Memphis, is surprisingly understated for someone who, in addition to changing the course of American music, was known for excess. The rest of the 14-acre complex, however, has plenty of glitz. The mansion tour is like a wonderful time travel voyage to the 1960s. Devout fans can linger in the meditation garden or visit the museum-like exhibits of “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” to ogle The King’s platinum records for “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me Tender,” plus his collections of costumes, cars, motorcycles and airplanes. It’s a kitschy and disarmingly nostalgic way to spend half a day.

There’s also new restaurants on the property named for Elvis’s parents—Vernon’s Smokehouse (barbecue and fried catfish) and Gladys’ Diner (grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Combine those with the new 450-room Guest House at Graceland that’s complete with its own bar and restaurants, and you could plan a weekend escape with The King.

Published on November 22, 2017
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Jim Gordon
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from California.

Jim Gordon has been covering the wine industry as an editor and reporter for more than 30 years. In 2006 he became editor of Wines & Vines, the media company for North American winemakers and grape growers. He directs the editorial content of Wines & Vines in the monthly print magazine, digital and social media. Gordon is also a contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and past director of the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley. He was editor in chief for two books by publisher Dorling Kindersley of London: Opus Vino, and 1000 Great Everyday Wines. Gordon was managing editor of Wine Spectator for 12 years, and editor in chief of Wine Country Living magazine for four, during which time he helped create Wine Country Living TV for NBC station KNTV in San Jose. He lives in Napa, California. Email: jgordon@wineenthusiast.net.




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