South Main Arts District and Beale Street

Many of the buildings in the South Main historic district in Memphis sprang up between 1910 and 1925 when there was a big boom in traffic from new railway expansions. The railroad transformed what was a small residential area to a busy area employing thousands in warehouses, hotels, and restaurants. The area thrived until the 1950s when railroad traffic began to drastically decline. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in this area in 1968 the area turned downhill even faster, leading to desertion and neglect of many of the buildings.

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Similar to the warehouse district in New Orleans, eventually creative types and artists started buying up property in this district because of the low property prices for large living and working spaces still very close to downtown Memphis. The appearance of the buildings was largely maintained, giving it historic charm. We got a taste of this artistic reawakening of the South Main district when we walked down to check out the art walk on Friday night. Several independent studios were showcasing their best work and the Memphis College of Art opened its doors for a special display as well. It was easy to spend over an hour walking and looking at different artist’s work. South Main has much more of a local feel than where we walked to next, the famous Beale Street.

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As I mentioned, Memphis is totally walkable… So we made the trek from the very end of the South Main district to Beale Street without much trouble. There are sidewalks everywhere along the way. We had actually intended to take the trolley, but the cars were in the shop for repairs and weren’t running, so we walked instead and it was a nice way to see the city and the revival of this growing area!

Beale Street is the Memphis equivalent of Bourbon Street. I made many connections between Memphis and New Orleans while I was there because of the southern history of both towns on the banks of the Mississippi River.

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Beale is much more tame and much smaller than Bourbon, however. As I sipped a spiked lemonade, we checked out the sights and sounds of live music coming from many of the bars. The desire to preserve the historic appearance of the downtown area exists on Beale Street as well, just take a look at this building front which is now entirely held up by support beams!

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Before turning in for the night, we decided to check out Flight, one of the top rated restaurants and wine bars in Memphis. I was interested in the tapas tasting flight and the dessert flight. The tapas flight included sliced salmon on crackers, shrimp with mango salsa, and a delicious melted cheese cracker combo. But the dessert flight it what really made our visit worthwhile, we were served three reasonable portions of a pie, a brownie, and a cake with ice cream which were all amazing! Completely stuffed, we headed back to our rental on Mud Island. Thankfully, I had already booked a walking tour of Midtown for 8am the next morning!

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