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For most visitors to Memphis, nightlife means one thing: Beale Street. This iconic stretch of pavement has long been home to some of America's best blues joints, and people travel from all over the world to groove to the beat. The main stretch of Beale is pedestrian-only, and the scene gets pretty wild late at night—think Jell-o shots, drunken frat boys, beer smell everywhere. Locals tend to hang out in Midtown, home to several great, laid-back bars and restaurants. Check out the Cooper-Young district, surrounding the junction of Cooper Street and Young Avenue. This is where the hipsters hang out, and there's always good live music playing somewhere. Ask a local what's happening—you'll be sure to get some friendly tips.
You won't find any barbecue sandwiches or neon-pink rum drinks at this slick downtown lounge, a favorite with Memphis young professionals. House cocktails evoke the glamour of the 1920s—try a Gingermain (gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, ginger ale) or a Honeysuckle (Barenjager honey liqueur, St. Germain, soda, rosemary). The short menu includes a handful of pasta dishes and pizza-like flatbreads. Decor is urban-chic, with dark plum walls and a long marble bar. Be aware, this place is considered a bit of a pickup joint during after-work happy hour so keep that in mind if you’re a single female.
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Like its sister (or former sister depending on who you talk to at the club) nightspot, the famed Ground Zero in Clarksdale, Miss., this Beale Street juke joint has a track record of bringing in some of the best names in the blues. Co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, the club's atmosphere is funky and down-home, with low lights and walls covered in show posters and other memorabilia. The Ground Zero's late hours make it a favorite with local musicians and restaurant workers, so it's often a good option when other local bars are shutting their doors for the night. The food is unapologetically low-rent Southern favorites, like fried catfish, chips and Rotel dip, and green tomato BLTs, but it isn’t all that bad.
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Twenty- and 30-something hipsters flock to this Midtown cafe, bar and performance space, something of a local's secret. There's a full menu of tasty international pub munchies—fried pickles, quesadillas, turkey pitas—and a huge beer selection. Live music starts most nights around 10PM, and there's usually of cover of $5-12. If you're looking to get away from the neon and noise of Beale Street, this is a good place to chat with some real live Memphians. The friendly, laid-back vibe is conducive to people-meeting—that guy in the fedora sipping the Abita Amber might just be the banjo player in the mid-South's best new indie-folk band.
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History lies heavy at this atmospherically decrepit downtown bar which was once a brothel. The downstairs space has one of Memphis's best jukeboxes, and a small dance floor that doesn't get crowded until late. In the early evenings, you can sit at the beat-up bar and order a greasy but spirit-nourishing "soul burger" and a warm Bud. Upstairs, the remains of the bar's former life lie right out in the open, complete with claw-footed tubs, old card tables, pieces of brass beds. People say the building's haunted, and it's easy to see why. Crowds are mixed, and can include anyone, from a group of college sorority girls to aging local hipsters. Definitely one of the world's great dive bars.
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One of Beale Street's most-crowded hangouts, this cavernous fake Irish pub is known for three things. First is the house cocktail known as the "Diver"—a mysterious high-proof concoction served in a plastic bucket. Drink one, and suddenly karaoke begins to seem like a very good idea. Second is Barbra Blue, the bar's resident singer. Shout out a request—any request—and she'll sing it right back to you. She's on in the late afternoon or early evening from Wednesday through Sunday. Third are the goats. Yes, the goats. In a pen in the courtyard, the poor beasts suffer the indignity of being ogled by drunks day in and day out. Go say hi, but please, don't try to feed them your beer. The crowd is mixed in age, mostly out-of-towners looking to have a raucous good time.
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