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Memphis' Greatest Hits

Cooper-Young District

Courtesy of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Cooper-Young District has great nightlife.

Originally settled along the river bluffs of the muddy Mississippi, 19th-century Memphis was a bustling cotton town. Today, "Bluff City's" original downtown river sea remains a vibrant attraction, showcasing the city's rich history and culture. Check out our favorite spots:

Where to Reminisce: Graceland
Elvis has never left the building when it comes to this city. Visit the perfectly preserved home of the king of rock ‘n’ roll in all its 1970s glory. Take the audio tour, narrated by the buttery-voiced Priscilla Presley, or wander through with an iPod loaded with your favorite Elvis songs. Things really get hopping during Elvis week (each August) when thousands of fans come to pay homage to the legend. Before you leave, make sure to scrawl your name on the stone wall outside the mansion, just to let the King know you stopped by. Continue your Elvis adventure at the place where the King cut his first record in 1954, Sun Studio. Though only a two-room museum, this place packs a lot of history into a small space. Stand at the mic where Elvis crooned or sit at the piano where the photo of the “Million Dollar Quartet,” featuring Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, was shot. You can even cut your own record in the little studio that made music history. Make sure to grab a Moon Pie at the Studio’s cafe while you’re there.

Graceland, 3734 Elvis Presley Blvd., 901-332-3322
Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave., 901-521-0664

Where to Shop: The South Main Arts District
Twenty years ago, the southern edge of downtown Memphis had seen better days. Today, after a full-scale makeover in the mid-‘90s, the revitalized South Main Arts District has become home to upscale art galleries, designer clothing boutiques and trendy gift shops. Muse offers funky women’s fashions by Betsey Johnson, hip menswear by Bugatchi and leather-free handbags by Matt & Nat. A few blocks away, Divine Rags specializes in Hollywood style with a full line of Paris Hilton Jeans and Jessica Simpson Purses. The perfect outfit isn’t complete without a pair of matching shoes, however. Thankfully, shoe boutique Tyiese Scarpa sells styles ranging from dressy heels to casual flats. And don’t forget to stock up on weekend casual wear and hip Odyn jeans at Mode du Jour. Unique souveniers, such as barbeque-flavored Memphis Mary cocktail mix, and artfully arranged floral displays are available at the stylish gift shop Gestures Inc., while Delphinium sells chic handmade jewelry and scented soy candles. South Main boasts and abundance of art galleries, such as Jay Etkin Gallery, which specializes in ethnographic art from the Congo, Peru and the Ivory Coast. Or take home a piece of Memphis with vibrant folk paintings of blues musicians by George Hunt at D’Edge Art & Unique Treasures. On the last Friday of each month, South Main celebrates the Art Trolley Tour with free trolley rides to wine receptions at shops and galleries along the strip.

D’Edge Art & Unique Treasures, S. 550 Main St., 901-521-0054
Delphinium, 107 Ge. Patterson Ave. E., 901-522-8600
Divine Rags, 300 S. Main St., 901-572-7241
Gestures Inc., 523 S. Main St., 901-525-4438
Jay Etkin Gallery, 409 S. Main St., 901-543-0035
Mode du Jour, 509 S. Main. St., 901-527-7970
Muse, 517 S. Main St., 901-526-8737
Tyiese Scarpa, 515 S. Main St., 901-521-4660

Where to Appreciate: Stax Museum
If Memphis has a soul, it lives here at the studio of Stax Records, the original site where Al Green, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers recorded their hits in the 1960s and ’70s. Raw and real, this place is where talent and passion won out over the plushy comforts and big-name producers of other recording studios across the country—with the chart-toppers to prove it. They don’t call it Soulsville, USA, for nothing.

Stax Museum, 926 McLemore Ave. E., 901-946-253

Where to Go Out: Beale Street
What Bourbon Street is to New Orleans, Beale is to Memphis. Day and night, this historic, three-block stretch of downtown is hopping. Clubs line both sides of the street, so it might be hard to hit them all in one evening (though it has been done). Make sure to stop in at Blues City, where you can sample chef Bonnie Mack’s award-winning southern cooking (President Clinton stops here when he’s in town). Head a few doors down to the Rum Boogie where you might be lucky enough to catch a smokin’ set from the James Govan band. Whether you’re looking for dueling pianos, dancing bartenders, or just want a cool drink and some hot music, Beale has a spot for you — and you never know when B.B. King might make a visit to his signature club at the corner of Second and Beale. Check out more nightlife spots here.

Blues City, 138 Beale St., 901-526-3637
Rum Boogie, 182 Beale St., 901-528-0150

Where to Remember: The National Civil Rights Museum
The historic Lorraine Motel, where American icon and civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life, has been transformed from scarred to sacred ground with the creation of the National Civil Rights Museum. Visit the motel room where King spent his last hours or wander through 40 years of the struggle for civil rights in just two hours with the museum’s audio tour.

National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry St., 901-521-9699


This article has been adapted from the original, which was published in October 2008 by MSP Communications.

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