As Memphis in May festivities continue along Front Street, we’re offering an updated guide to this booming corridor’s history and a roundup of highlights not to miss!
After more than a decade of growth and reinvestment along downtown Memphis’s Front Street, the empty lots and abandoned structures of the area once known as Warehouse Row have been rejuvenated by new residential buildings, reimagined public spaces, and thriving businesses. Take a walk down Front Street today, and you’ll find something fascinating around every corner.
On the south end, you’ll find the colossal $55 million renovation of the historic Central Station train depot, leading to a mixed-use development that houses updated Amtrak facilities as well as The Central Station hotel, a movie theater, and the Memphis Farmers’ Market. The market has been using the station’s promenade as its home base since 2016 and is still open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. through October for all your local food and floral needs.
As you head north out of the station past the topography of new residences that have filled in the nearby acreage, stop in at The Blue Monkey. This local mainstay rose from the ashes after a 2005 fire and remains a favorite for its laid-back vibe — from lunch to late night. If you’d rather grab a bottle of wine for your market-fresh meal, The Corkscrew next door has you covered.
The street becomes more residential as you pass under the train tracks at Nettleton Avenue, but city-dwellers aren’t the only ones repurposing the once-utilitarian spaces. Brickwood Hall opened its doors in 2017 to host events in what was formerly a cotton-sorting warehouse. The new venue faces South Front Antiques, a long-standing haven for designers and DIYers looking to score vintage architectural elements and other local curiosities.
Music lovers shouldn’t miss a chance to stop into Saint Blues Guitar Workshop. All of their guitars are painstakingly crafted by hand!
Continuing south, you’ll run into another Front Street landmark — the Old Dominick Distillery. With daily tours, bar hours, and frequent rooftop events, the reactivated distillery offers plenty of opportunities to get a taste of “pure Memphis.”
After your tour, head to nearby Gus’s Fried Chicken. The oldest remaining location of the spicy local favorite (and now national chain) stays busy throughout the day. Famed chef and regional food expert Alton Brown called Gus’s the best fried chicken in the country, and with all due respect to our friends throughout the South, we think he was onto something.
Another culinary “must” on Front Street is BarWare, a woman-owned bar and restaurant just a few paces from Old Dominick and Gus’s Fried Chicken. BarWare specializes in elevated cuisine and cocktails, perfect for a date night or dinner with friends.
Continuing up Front Street across from Beale, you’ll find the local AutoZone hub. The Memphis company houses its headquarters on Front and is expanding in the area, continuing a trend of major local corporations building their presence downtown (and bringing a boom of welcome foot traffic to the area’s eateries).
Traveling further north takes you into the center of Memphis’s agricultural history, marked by the Cotton Exchange building, which now houses the Cotton Museum. The Mississippi River peeks through each side street as the bluffs undulate beside Riverside Drive, just one block away. If it’s a pleasant day, the garage doors will be open at the headquarters of the Memphis Fire Department, and you can see the vintage fire engine parked beside their modern equipment.
Passing the grand former post office and customs house now serving as the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, you’ll see that downtown’s branch of the Memphis Public Libraries has geography as disparate as its architecture. The mid-century building housing the Cossitt Branch’s collection is accessed by taking a stairway down from street level. As the bluff rises behind it, however, you see a portion of the 1920s addition to the 19th Century Romanesque original. The library hosts frequent activities, from concerts to cookouts on both sides of the building, drawing from each one’s unique character.
Activating the library’s community engagement and gorgeous riverfront is part of Reimagining the Civic Commons, a public-private collaboration to improve connectivity within the city. The Cossitt Library’s neighbor, the Fourth Bluff, is also part of this effort. The historic park offers views of the river shared by Memphis citizens as they watched the naval Battle of Memphis unfold in 1862 and is central to the riverfront’s future.
The remaining portion of Front Street in downtown’s core is anchored by the entry points to Mud Island River Park and the Bass Pro Shop established in the Pyramid’s former arena space. These two attractions — featuring a scale model of the southern Mississippi River and aquariums highlighting its residents, respectively — are a great introduction to the area’s natural features and provide plenty of hands-on learning for guests of all ages. A visit to the Pyramid’s observation deck at sunset is a perfect way to end a day exploring this historic and revitalized corridor of Memphis.
Happy exploring, Memphis!
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