The city of Memphis is most known for Graceland and other historical haunts like Beale Street. But a recent rise in its millennial population (4th fastest rate in the country, according to TIME) has sparked a revitalization of its arts and culture scene.
Memphis has a rich history, and as new establishments look to diversify the local entertainment, food, and arts options, they pay homage to the city’s past as a hub for tasty cuisine, good whiskey, and Black excellence.
LGBTQ-friendly businesses, a gallery that highlights Black art, and a cafe that offers cheap global eats are a few of the places making Memphis an inclusive travel destination.
'Head distiller' was an exclusively male job in Tennessee before Old Dominick's opened © Old Dominick Distillery
If you want to know how whiskey is made…take a tour of Old Dominick Distillery.
At Old Dominick’s, a woman runs the show – head distiller Alex Castle is the first woman in the state of Tennessee to hold such a title. If you’ve ever wondered how whiskey or bourbon is made, you can get the inside scoop as you walk through the distillery, which features a sprawling indoor bar, retail space, and an unobstructed view of the facility’s brewing tanks.
A tour includes both a tasting of their signature vodkas, whiskeys, and gin, and a lesson in how each is made. You’ll start with their lightest tasting vodkas, including their Honeybell Vodka, whose citrus scent hits you before you even take your first sip. Next you’ll taste your way through gins, whiskeys of various ages, and finish off with a “Memphis Toddy,” a bourbon cordial that marries notes of citrus and honey.
After being warmed up at the tasting, you’re lead through the the brewing process, which includes a viewing of the copper and silver pipes and vats where the Tennessee whiskey magic is made.
Yes, Memphis has good BBQ, but for more international options, check out Global Cafe © Andrea Fenise
If you want to sample cuisine from around the globe...grab a plate at Global Cafe.
Located in Memphis’ Crosstown neighborhood, Global Cafe is an international food hall housed inside of Crosstown Concourse, a vertical urban village where the former Sears building once operated that now contains residences, a community school, and arts spaces as well as retail shops.
The food hall has a contemporary cafeteria feel, with it’s bright orange seating and communal tables located in the center of the space. Walk past the full service bar, pick up a tray and work your way down a smorgasbord of food options like rich and earthy Turkish coffee or fluffy Nepalese momo dumplings. Global Cafe’s three chefs – Fahya, Ibti, and Indra, who hail from Syria, Sudan, and Nepal, respectively – bring firsthand experience whipping up traditional cuisine from their homelands.
More cost-effective than a flight overseas, you can get a full meal of international cuisine for under $20.
Hattiloo Theatre players have been taking the stage for 13 seasons © Justin Fox Burks / Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you want to see a play...check out a show at Hattiloo Theatre.
Hattiloo Theatre has made a name for itself in Memphis as the only freestanding Black repertory theatre located within the five surrounding states. Founded in 2006 by Ekundayo Bandele, the theatre offers free programming and performances throughout the city. And as of 2017, the theatre also owns and operates HattiHouse – a residential space for guest artists and interns.
In 2018, the theater entered it’s 13th season, and its plays have included productions of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and Aladdin and The Wonderful Lamp.
If you’re an art lover…take a tour of the CMPLX.
The CMPLX is the brainchild of Victoria Jones, the founder of The Collective (CLTV), an arts organization that provides a platform and resources for Black artists in the Memphis area.
Opened in January 2019, the CMPLX includes two art galleries, a workspace, and an open studio space that artists can use, free of charge.
Both galleries are filled exclusively with artwork by Black artists, as well as a small retail space where visitors can buy handmade jewelry, t-shirts, and skincare items made by local artisans.
The space feels open and welcoming, and the colorful and moving photographs, paintings, and mixed-media works that line the walls are an homage to the beauty of Black art.
Sample some good-and-good-for-you treats at Raw Girls © Tiffany Lashai Curtis / Lonely Planet
If you need a healthy pick-me-up…try a juice from Raw Girls Juice Bar.
Raw Girls Juice Bar serves up freshly made cold-pressed juices, smoothies, organic soups and salads from their brightly adorned food trucks at two locations – one in Midtown and one in East Memphis. The trucks with their rainbow-colored logo splashed across the front are hard to miss.
Owned by couple Amy (a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef) and Hannah Pickle, Raw Girls serves up juices with names like “Hydrate” and “Green Love Bomb,” the former tasting of a blend of prickly pear cactus, cucumber, Granny Smith apple, lemon, and ginger.
Memphis area residents can take advantage of Raw Girls’ home-delivery service, but visitors to their regular locations can sample shots of their healthy and tasty options.
Bonus: Raw Girls opens up shop rain or shine.
If you need a place to workout...go for a bike ride at Spincult.
Located in downtown Memphis, Spincult is owned by Victoria Young, a third-year law student, event organizer, and millennial who wanted her community to have a place where spin classes felt approachable and welcoming, no special gear or prior spinning experience necessary. Once a month, Young also offers a “community ride,” in which Memphis locals and visitors can attend a class free of charge.
If traditional gym workouts feel intimidating for you, then Spincult is a great alternative. Its classes are free of fussy equipment and feel like judgement-free zones. And because it is an independently-owned studio, class sizes are smaller than at some other spinning studios and workouts feel intimate, with other exercise-goers greeting you by name. Original artwork by a local artist adorns the walls of the spinning studio, and in each class visitors are taken through an energizing workout with a hip-hop soundtrack blasting around you.
Between the pulsing music that will get you motivated to break a sweat, and Young’s upbeat personality as a fitness instructor, you’ll walk away from a class feeling energized – plus you’ll leave with a little more room to accommodate the Memphis dining scene.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter. Make the most of your travel with sightseeing tours and activities from our trusted partners.