When you think of Memphis chances are you think about soul. The city has been around for 200 years and is a great place to visit. It has an impressive music and food scene, and the people are pretty amazing. But it’s the soul of Bluff City that has been at the forefront of its artistry, activism and entrepreneurship.
It’s one of the few American destinations with a majority Black population, and its residents are doing what it takes to keep our blackness alive. Luminaries like Ida B. Wells, Morgan Freeman, Aretha Franklin, Issac Hayes, BB King and Leslie Jones have all called Memphis home, and after visiting just once, you’ll understand why. From the communities who tell the truth about the past and the present through inventive artistry to neighborhoods like Orange Mound that breed new generations of leaders, and business owners working towards economic advancement–Memphis has and always will be a place for us.
During your next trip to the souther gem, follow this guide for the ultimate soulful experience.
SEE: Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Music is Memphis and Memphis is music. Plan a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to see how Stax Records artists’ have paved the way for Black musicians. Right in the middle of Soulsville USA and adjacent to the Stax Music Academy, you’ll get an in-depth history of the origins of Memphis soul. The interactive exhibits will help you discover how Memphis musicians like Issac Hayes, Otis Redding, and others played a role in the Civil Rights Movement. You’ll see some of your favorite artist’s performance attire on display and get a chance to take a boomerang in front of Hayes gold trim Cadillac beauty.
EAT: Four Way
Don’t leave Soulsville without some soul food from Four Way. The Four Way had been a black-family run business since 1946. It was also one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite spots to grab a meal whenever he was in town. You’ll eat like a king with all of your favorite soul food items on the menu. You can’t go wrong with catfish, greens and a side of mac & cheese. It’s also a few blocks from the Stax Museum and Aretha Franklin’s childhood home. When you walk in you’ll see a display of their desserts so make sure to leave room for a slice of cake.
STAY: Hu Hotel
Downtown Memphis is the perfect spot for your visit to Bluff City. The Hu Hotel provides gorgeous views of the Mississippi River from the room or rooftop, great hospitality, and accessibility to the Beale Street entertainment district, Memphis Rock’ n’ Soul Museum and a Memphis Central Station. The Hu Hotel keeps wellness and entertainment in mind with yoga classes and sunset parties. The hotel also supports local minority businesses by collaborating with them to offer their products to guests. They are currently offering Black-owned pleasantries like Dr. Bean’s coffee and Phillip Ashley Chocolates.
EXPERIENCE: Hattiloo Theatre
Black artistry is in full effect at the Hattiloo Theatre, the only freestanding Black repertory theatre in five surrounding states. The 75-seat theatre showcases some great plays written by Black playwrights and featuring Black talent. The evolution of its artistic vision and programming, and the success of its business model has made Hattiloo a sought-after resource nationwide.
EAT: The Liquor Store
The perfect way to start your day is with a brunch at The Liquor Store, an adaptive reuse diner and bar. Open seven days a week, the diner’s fun and delicious drinks and all-day breakfast menu are spearheaded by, Chef Jess. You can’t go wrong with the Sweet Potato Hash or a Breakfast Sandwich. What’s also interesting about this diner is that it was funded by a group of women from the Broad Angels Investment Network. After brunch, take a walk on Broad Avenue to check out cool shops like City & State.
Shopping: Cheryl Pesce at Crosstown Arts
Memphis is invested in the arts and one of their most significant projects is the Crosstown Arts, an epicenter of culture and entrepreneurship. The city redeveloped the historic Sears Crosstown building and turned it into an impressive multidisciplinary arts center. Crosstown Arts includes an artists residency, art exhibitions, a theater for music, film and live performances, boutiques, and restaurants. Walk around and you will run into a few artists and witness them working on their projects. Looking for some chic souvenirs from your visit? Among the shops that line the Crosstown Arts concourse is Cheryl Pesce, a jewelry and luxury goods shop. Her Memphis inspired items make great gifts for your friends who couldn’t join you on this trip. After you shop, check out the exhibits, grab lunch, or enjoy a cocktail worthy of an Instagram post at the Art Bar.
EAT: Global Café
Memphis is home to a collection of residents from all over the world. Making a stop at Global Café, an international food hall is a great place to try an affordable mix of cuisines. This social enterprise is run by immigrant/refugee food entrepreneurs cooking and selling an eclectic mix of dishes from their home countries of Syria, Sudan and Venezuela. Global Café aims to be a gathering place to bring together guests from all different walks of life interested in learning more about different cultures and food.
SEE: National Civil Rights Museum
You can’t come to Memphis without visiting the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s truly a rite of passage. Established in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel. You’ll be so engaged with the interactive exhibits and historical collections; you may lose track of time. The museum will have you inspired as well as appalled by the things you discover in the museum. The feelings you have ithe moment when you stand in the room and see the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 is indescribable. For more Memphis Black history, book A Tour of Possibilities driving tour that also stops at the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, Mason Temple and the Historical Beale Street.
DRINK: The Pocket At Tailor’s Union
Pull out your cocktail dress, because this Black-owned bar is an excellent place for drinks and eye-candy. Disguised as a tailor shop called Tailor’s Union, this hidden speakeasy is revealed when a host takes you through a sliding door and into The Pocket lounge. Unlike the small dark speakeasies we are used to, The Pocket is spacious with a brightly-lit upstairs bar and lounge, a dimly-lit downstairs bar, and a cigar bar. You can listen to a Memphis soul band while enjoying The Pocket’s signature crafted cocktails and nibbling on their gastropub inspired menu.
SHOP: Bubble Bistro
If you are a woman about your soaps, oils and body butters, then you must visit the Bubble Bistro. The products are made from natural ingredients and natural colorants with over 125 scents in their collection. Andrea Johnson makes her products in-house and never keeps anything in the store over a week to ensure quality and freshness. Word of mouth has done this business well because the Bubble Bistro has one of the most interactive Facebook pages you’ll see from a small business.
EXPERIENCE: Beale Street
Bar hop on the infamous street of music and entertainment in Memphis. One of the first places you’ll see is the original BB Kings Blues Club. Enjoy Memphis-inspired soul food while taking in some of the best local talent Memphis has to offer. For a quieter experience, make your way to the top floor of BB Kings Blues Club for the hidden gem, Itta Bena. Named after the town where BB King was born, Itta Bena is the perfect spot for a special dinner before a night of debauchery. Try the shrimp & grits, the Atlantic Salmon or braised short-ribs paired with one one of their signature martinis or a glass of wine.