Museums, Rooftops & Speakeasies of Memphis


To continue our tour of great art displays in Memphis, our Sunday afternoon began at the Brooks Museum of Art located in Overton Park near Midtown. The museum includes displays from antiquities to modern art. As usual, my favorites were beautiful landscapes and cityscapes by the European artists. The museum houses several Canaletto’s of Venice which are very beautiful as well as impressionist paintings by Sisley of the seaside which are gorgeous. However, modern art and antiquities take up a large percentage of the museum and were not to my taste. I probably only really enjoyed about a third of the artwork on display, the rest we went through quickly. I think that is to be expected from a large museum catering to a wide range of visitors.

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The next museum on our list was the Pink Palace Museum which is housed in the old mansion of the founder of Piggly Wiggly. Truth be told, we learned he only completed a small part of the mansion and that the project was in fact not completed because the Piggly Wiggly stores hit a decline and were not making the profit margins necessary to complete his dream house. Since 1930, the state of Tennessee has operated a museum on the grounds and has added annex upon annex to house one of the largest museum complexes in the Southeastern United States.

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First, we walked through fossils and other examples of the “natural history” of the South. I am really not that into dinosaur bones so I was much more interested in the multitude of information presented in the cultural history of the city of Memphis. Although lots of words, captions, and replicas existed, very little in the way of actual artifacts and typical museum exhibits actually exists at the Pink Palace. This makes for a very kid friendly but quite a watered down adult experience. Although you get a decent history lesson while visiting the Pink Palace, I would not recommend it unless you are traveling with your children.

Having worked up an appetite after visiting two very large museums, we headed back to our favorite little area in Midtown on Madison Avenue to visit another new Mexican restaurant called Babalu. The place was obviously popular due to the crowds at all time of day. It was early afternoon so we managed to get seated fairly quickly and order a fresh homemade guac, made tableside. We enjoyed our guac and margaritas and topped off the meal with some uniquely tasty tacos. A fresh concept in Mexican food, Babalu now has 3 locations in Memphis, Jackson, and Birmingham. I would return if in the area!

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For sunset, we headed downtown to Twilight Sky Terrace, a rooftop bar on top of the Madison Hotel. The highlight of the bar was definitely the sweeping views over downtown and out towards the Mississippi River. The downfall of the bar was that there were several loud and obnoxious tourists who had clearly had too much to drink, even on a Sunday. Such behavior really is unfortunate. We enjoyed our time watching the sun go down and sipping on two local Ghost River beers.

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Once the sun was down, we headed back to street level to walk over to Beale Street. We were hoping that Sunday evening on Beale would be much calmer and more fun than the raunchy and rowdy crowds of Saturday night and we were right. We found a spot in a bar to watch an Elvis impersonation show and had a good time soaking up the “only in Memphis” atmosphere which was a given part of a full fledged Elvis impersonation show. After a while, we started to get tired of the fake Evlis’s over the top antics so we wandered down Beale into Alfred’s.

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On Sunday nights, Alfred’s features a full big band called the Memphis Jazz Orchestra  complete with 17 different instruments. Many people were dancing so we decided to order some food and drinks and enjoy the atmosphere. After the band stopped playing around 9pm we headed to the Blind Bear “speakeasy” where we finished off a great night in downtown Memphis. This bar off Main St. does not have a secret entrance, but still has the look and feel of what an old-time “speakeasy” must have looked like including an impressive wooden bar and lounge seating as well as a pool table. With a variety of bars and restaurants in the compact downtown area, all travelers are sure to find a perfect fit!

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