beale street is one of memphis' most famous tourist destinations. beale street is lined with bars most of which feature blues music. this entertainment district is also known for it's bar-b-que restaurants. a fun and safe place to visit for nightlife in downtown memphis.
beale street was originally an african-american neighborhood dating back to the late 1800's. from the turn of the 20 th century until the 1960's beale street was known for it's african-american nightclubs and bars. in the 1960's and 1970's the area declined and in 1974 a. schwab's store was the only building open on beale street. in the 1980's beale street was redeveloped into the vibrant entertainment venue you see today. see image 2 for a view of beale street in the 1970's. beale street is listed on the national register of historic places.
Beale Street is the heart of Downtown Memphis, and the birthplace of the Blues. Now home to live music venues, wonderful Southern restaurants, bars, souvenier shops, and festivals - there is a lot to see and do here. Walking distance to/from the Peabody Hotel, AutoZone Park (home of the AAA baseball team, the Memphis Redbirds), FedEx Arena (home of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA basketball team), and easily accessible via the Memphis Trolley. If you can, visit on a Friday or Saturday night when the joints are really jumping.
As with any tourist area, there are panhandlers and pick-pockets, so stay aware of your surroundings and you will be fine.
W.C. Handy, known as the Father of the Blues, is memoralized by a bronze statue in the W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park, located in the heart of the Memphis Beale Street Historic District and just across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe. Music festivals and impromptu jam sessions by local talent are held here.
Beale Street has been a center for Memphis music since before 1900, and remains the greatest concentration of blues clubs and bars in the city. Wikipedia has a good article that chronicles the many historic events and lyric references for Beale Street, but three main features of the street stand obvious to visitor--the Orpheum Theater (Front and Beale), Church Park (4th and Beale), and the several blocks of restaurants and bars, most of which claim heritage for one or another legendary blues artist.
Beale Street is the place where Memphis blues was born, and for much of the history of this music, it was simply referred to as "Beale Street Blues". So powerful politically, this street has a special exemption from the Tennessee state law requiring bars and clubs to close by 3AM. On Beale Street clubs may remain open until 5AM, although I haven't personally witnessed exactly what the popularity of music is at this early hour. But, on the Monday evening that we arrived, dozens of blues clubs were busy producing live music.
Except for the Orpheum Theater, which is shiny and new, many of the original brick buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century remain, with a civic effort to at least retain the street facade during their reconstruction as one of my photos shows. The brick paved street is closed to automobile traffic, and so black youth often do acrobatic performances for tourists, hoping to collect a tip. In the past, Beale Street was for adults only, but today it's a good place for whole families to enjoy food and music.
While, downtowns have changed since Beale Streets 'heyday', there is still a long stretch of the street that has the vibrancy of music scene from the 50's and 60's. There are 'clubs' or as I think of them, restaurants along 3 blocks. This part of Beale Street has retained it's original street front image, by maintaining the facades. Even, Silky O'Sullivan's, which is an open plaza has the original building facade still standing with an open courtyard where the building used to stand. For music and east, check out my %l[http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/c8ddd/d51c9/2/}restaurant tips%l for BB Kin's Blues Club, Hard Rock Cafe, Silky O' Sullivan's, and Wet Willy's.
Beale Street is one of America's most historical arteries, ranked perhaps only behind Broadway and Bourbon in fame. This is due in large part because of its importance in the inception and propagation of a style of music which came to be known as the blues. But its history predates that era. None other than Ulysses S. Grant utilized the now famed street as his headquarters during the Civil War and during the 1920s it was noted as much for murder and mayhem as for its music, parlaying a Wild West atmosphere of gambling, prostitution and gun fights into a reputation for unrestrained and dangerous entertainment. Today, it's a much cleaned up scene but live music is on tap in just about every venue and at all hours of the day and night. We were lucky to catch some live music outside in one of the courtyards and the quality was top notch. What else would you expect in the birthplace of the blues. Do check out the Orpheum Theater at the far end of Beale. It's the blues answer to the Grand Old Opry in Nashville., where many a blues legend played.
We used some of our time in the afternoon to see Beale Street. We found parking on the street but the area was not good. We were pestered by street people. There is a large statue to Elvis on Beale Street. We saw and could smell lots of restaurants on the walk to The Peabody.
This is my favorite and the reason why I will always return to Memphis. The "University of the Blues" is a two or 3 block long district of Blues clubs where many of the greats (B.B. King, etc) got to start. It was the music here that also inspired the artists of Sun Studio (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins) and gave birth to Rock music.
Beale St is a must-do to capture the heart and soul of Memphis. This is music central. I will remember the colorful streets, smells of barbeque, sounds of bluesy and soulful sound and the southern Americana feel here. Nightlife is quite vivid and wild but daytime is steady and easy. Catch the cable car while it runs or do by feet.
No trip to Memphis would be complete without visiting Beale Street. "A little taste of the heart, funk, rock, and soul that made Memphis famous". One of America's most famous musical streets! Located in the heart of downtown Memphis with three blocks of more than 30 nightclubs, restaurants and retail shops. Music includes traditional Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz and Rock 'n' Roll. Catch a concert at Handy Park or attend one of the annual festivals or parades.
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