Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River in southwestern Tennessee, Memphis is one of the state's biggest and most famous cities. The city, which is located in Shelby county, has a lot of history behind it, tragically being the fateful site of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in the late 1960s, but is perhaps best-known for its musical associations. Tennessee has always been one of the most musical states in America, with Nashville being the capital of country music and Bristol playing a major role in the genre too, and Memphis is another of the state's biggest players in the music scene.
The heart of the Memphis music scene is undoubtedly Beale Street. Located in Downtown Memphis and running for a little under two miles in total from the Mississippi River up to East Street, Beale Street is one of, if not the most important and iconic street in all of Memphis. There's several lifetimes' worth of musical history to be found along this stretch of road and it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city too.
The History of Beale Street
Beale Street was first formed in 1841 and named after a military hero. It was originally called Beale Avenue and was a popular trade spot for the city due to its proximity to the Mississippi River. It didn't take long, however, for Beale Street to start earning its musical reputation. As early as the 1860s, street musicians began to play here. There was a large African-American population in the area, which would later be a major factor in the development of the blues on Beale Street. As time passed, bars and clubs began to open, as well as the Orpheum Theatre.
In the early years of the 20th century, the musical story of Beale Street really began to take off as W.C. Handy wrote the song 'Mr Crump' as a political theme, but it later turned into 'The Memphis Blues'. Another song named 'Beale Street Blues' was also written by Handy, and as the years went by, the blues scene grew and grew with the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Louis Armstrong all writing and playing in the area. Beale Street fell on hard times later on in the 20th century, but the area has seen a real resurgence in recent years and is home to many popular bars and clubs, as well as historic locations that have proven popular with tourists like the W.C. Handy historic home and Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum.
Visiting Beale Street
Nowadays, Beale Street is known as 'America's Most Iconic Street' and 'The Official Home of the Blues', as well as being one of the top rated tourist attractions in all of Tennessee. The street is a lively, vibrant place that never goes to sleep. There's always something happening on Beale Street, with various special events and a whole lot of live music being organized all through the year. A long list of bars and restaurants can be found on this street, as well as various shops and special locations like museums and historic buildings.
It's a must-visit place for anyone with even the slightest interest in music, and you can download a Beale Street app right onto your mobile device for a handy map of the area and guide to the various bars, restaurants, shops, and more. Historic tours run in the area, and many tourists can be seen here at all times of year, snapping photos of the different locations and having a lot of fun in places like Coyote Ugly, the Hard Rock Cafe, Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe, and Silky O'Sullivan's.
Bars and Clubs on Beale Street
Beale Street is known for its many bars and clubs. There's a long list of locations to check out here and it would take a long time to list them all and a lifetime to appreciate each one. If you're looking to check out some of the best bars on Beale Street and some of the most famous joints in the area, read on for some brief overviews and contact info.
- B. B. King's Blues Club - 143 Beale St, Phone: 901-524-5464
Named after the iconic musician of the same name, the Beale Street location of this popular chain was the first one to be opened in the entire United States. Guests can enjoy some really high quality, southern-style food here, with some very highly-rated cocktails being served as well. All sorts of live music shows are held here on a daily basis too, so there's always something going on at B. B. King's.
- Alfred's on Beale - 197 Beale St, Phone: 901-525-3711
One of the most beloved bars in the area, Alfred's is very popular with the locals so you can always expect a friendly welcome and a noisy crowd in this place. All kinds of music can be enjoyed here from folk and soul to rock and jazz, and there's some terrific food options too. Karaoke events are held here often and there's a big space for dancing, as well as outdoor areas for parties.
- New Daisy Theatre - 330 Beale St, Phone: 901-525-8979
The great thing about the New Daisy Theatre is the variety of its acts. They'll host all kinds of talent, from globally-known stars to local up-and-comers, so you never know quite what you're going to get here, but you're guaranteed a good time whenever you step through the doors. The theatre enjoyed some big renovations recently and is better than ever.
- Coyote Ugly - 326 Beale St, Phone: 901-888-8459
Most people will think of the 2000 movie of the same name when they hear the name 'Coyote Ugly'. That movie was set in New York City, but the overall theme and style of the film can be seen in this location too. There are various Coyote Ugly locations around the country and this is one of the liveliest, offering excellent drinks and a lot of dancing.
- Silky O'Sullivan's - 183 Beale St, Phone: 901-522-9596
For a little Irish flair, check out Silky O'Sullivan's. Very popular with both tourists and locals alike, this is a lively, happy place with a lot of great live music and some awesome drinks. An excellent place to come with friends or even on a date if you're looking for fun and excitement, Silky O'Sullivan's is one of Beale Street's best bars.
- Hard Rock Cafe - 126 Beale St, Phone: 901-529-0007
A world-famous chain, the Hard Rock Cafe has a location on Beale Street and it's one of the best. With iconic musical memorabilia decorating the walls, constant music coming through the speakers, and a menu filled with delicious dishes, you really can't go wrong with the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street.