Living through all eras of Memphis, South Main has seen it all. Growing with the railroad, in the early 1920s streets were crowded and packed. Hotels, bars, restaurants, and much more populated the area. If you visit the area, you will still see the original buildings and evidence of the area’s history. As the railroad slowed and MLK’s assassination occurred, South Main Memphis soon became boarded up, abandoned, and desolate. Boosting its comeback in 1982, 11 blocks and 105 buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Soon the South Main Association formed and drove revitalization of the area. Today the area is full of store fronts, restaurants, eclectic museums, and much more. It is definitely one neighborhood to check out in Memphis, and if we were to do it this how:
1. Stay on the tracks. Characterized by several old fashioned trolleys, you’ll want to park the car and catch a lift. It is only $1.00 and a great way to experience Memphis. It will take you up and down Main Street and even on a Riverfront loop. Its riders consist of tourists, locals, young, and old! It’ll be a great time to interact with others!
2. Play at the Arcade. Established in 1919, The Arcade Restaurant is Memphis’ oldest cafe. Shining during Downtown’s vibrant days in the mid 1900s and surviving during its dark days in the 1960s & 70s, The Arcade Restaurant has been through it all. With Elvis’ favorite booth still landmarked, it won’t get more Memphis than here. Stop by and get breakfast as you start your South Main journey. Local favorites include sweet potato pancakes, have it your way omelets, and much more!
3. Get civil. After MLK Jr.’s assassination, Memphis became and icon for civil and social movements. It would only make sense for the National Civil Right Museum to be located in Memphis; and furthermore in MLK’s assassination location, The Lorraine Motel. You can actually stand exactly where he was standing, but it doesn’t stop there. With permanent and temporary exhibits, The NCRM is overflowing with vital information to everyone’s past.
4. Bike it. Don’t let the name fool you! Midtown Bike Company is actually Downtown on South Main Street. Established in 1980, Midtown Bike Company has been serving Memphis with services, sales, expertise, and rentals for over 30 years. To your advantage, you’ll have the opportunity to rent a bike for the day. Take an hour, rent a bike, and explore all of Downtown Memphis!
5. Eat a soul. Okay maybe not a living soul, but a grilled one served at Earnestine and Hazels! Known for its dimly lit atmosphere and eclectic gathering, Earnestine and Hazels is a Memphis favorite. Upon entering you step back into the 1920s era of Memphis, not only for the decor, but the genuine hospitable attitude. You’ll never know when you might find an accordion band, wandering travelers, or old souls of Memphis. Check Earnestine & Hazels, and enjoy one of Memphis’ most prized burgers for lunch.
6. Jam with Art. New to South Main, ARTjamN studio is a collaborative art space, known for its paintertainment! With the choice of guided art or free style, you’ll get the opportunity to create whatever you want! All sessions are guided by music. If you are visiting South Main with a group, you may want to book a session.
7. Go global.
- Located right next door to Bluff City Coffee, is the Russian Cultural Center of Memphis. The center plans to bridge the gap between Memphis and Russia by education, increased understanding, and fostering friendship! With visitors in, film showings, and live demonstrations, you never know what you mind!
- Spotlighting Memphis rail history and the part in played in connecting nationally through the railway, is the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum. It is located in an old freight tunnel beneath the historic Central Station. When visiting, you’ll learn the monitoring system for railways, hear Memphis’ trolley story, and much more!
9. Do South Main with Memphis. Complete this list and do it with the rest of Memphis.
- Monthly South Main hosts a South Main Trolley Night. The Trolley is free! Businesses open doors, offer specials, and serve wine and beer. Bring the dog, the kids, or just a group of friends.
- Open every Saturday, the Memphis Farmer’s Market provides a socially diverse, year-round marketplace that supports local farmers, producers, and artisans. With over 20 vendors of home grown and home made goods, you’re bound to find endless treasures.