The South Main Arts District is one neighborhood that consistently offers urban-chic venues in the midst of a neighborhood trimmed with aged architectural elements, charming storefronts and historic sites. As more newcomers and established Memphians move downtown, South Main is growing both as a residential neighborhood and a shopping and dining destination.
As the weather continues to warm up, it’s time to rediscover South Main. While the actual street is the primary hub of activity, the district is basically bordered by Tennessee and Front streets to the west, Pontotoc to the north, Second to the east, and G.E. Patterson to the south.
There’s ample street parking on South Main itself, as well as on the side streets surrounding the district. Or if you don’t want to walk, take a Downtown Trolley, which runs a loop around the district through downtown.
If you’ve never been to South Main before, Trolley Nights are a perfect introduction to the area. Shops and businesses stay open into the evening, rain or shine, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the last Friday of every month. There’s live music and a festive open house atmosphere throughout the area, and you can shop, dine or gallery hop.
The Memphis Farmers Market is open from 7 a.m to 1 p.m. Saturdays, from April through mid-November, at Central Station. Throughout the market season, there are special events on other days, plus a variety of market-day events including live music.
The National Civil Rights Museum is a cornerstone of the community, and its recent top-to-bottom renovation is not only complete, it’s made this incredible museum even more outstanding. If you haven’t experienced the Civil Rights Museum, or if it’s been a while since your last visit, this is a must-do.
A number of shops and businesses have opened along South Main in the last two years, including Downtown Yoga and the cool Stock & Belle and 387 Pantry, Rachel Gray Interior Design, South Main Sushi and Red Velvet Vintage. Try Sache for a cool, handmade in Memphis T-shirt.
There’s so much to discover in South Main, so we’ve picked a few (just a few!) of our favorite spots to help guide you through the neighborhood.
Restaurants in the South Main Arts District
540 S. Main
Hours: Sunday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The oldest cafe in Memphis, The Arcade opened in 1919 and it remains an institution. It’s a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike for a casual meal. Yep, Elvis ate here frequently, and you can sit in “his” booth; kids love to sit at the soda fountain while their parents take a spot nearby in a booth.
South of Beale
361 S. Main
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
South of Beale is a great little spot that serves up a killer brunch on Sundays, as well as an excellent menu of small plates and entrees that truly do make it a gastropub. Rosemary french fries, pimento cheese grits (yum!), and duck fried rice are just a few of the offerings. The menu changes seasonally, and there’s an extensive wine and beer list to peruse.
The 5 Spot
84 G.E. Patterson
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
When you have an infamous dive bar (Earnestine & Hazel’s), what could be better than a yummy, greasy burger on the menu of the little restaurant attached to said dive bar? Chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris fame has taken the 5 Spot and added his signature touch to it, and while there might be more upscale cuisine on the menu than previously found, the Soul Burger is staying put. Can we get an ‘amen’?
Lyfe Kitchen at the Chisca
272 S. Main
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The renovation of the Chisca Hotel is nearly complete, turning it from abandoned landmark to a swanky apartment building. And it will be home to two restaurants, a Ticer-Hudman offering soon to open, and Lyfe Kitchen, a fresh-focused restaurant on the ground floor. Lyfe Kitchen offers brunch on weekends and lunch and dinner during the week with a menu that changes seasonally. The restaurant’s patio is set to open any day. Lyfe sources as many products locally as it can, and there’s no butter, no cream and no frying allowed, so you’re guaranteed a healthier meal.
113 East G.E. Patterson
Hours: Daily, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Huge slices of cheesecake are the norm at the Cheesecake Corner, (about $8 each) and are made for sharing. There’s almost always a line after the dinner hour through closing, as so many folks who come downtown to dine simply skip dessert at other restaurants to extend their evening here.
Galleries in the South Main Arts District
Jack Robinson Gallery
400 S. Front St.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Jack Robinson Gallery honors a vast body of work by Robinson, a Vogue photographer whose portraits of 1960s and ’70s cultural icons, such as The Beatles, James Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy, have timeless appeal. Owner Dan Oppenheimer’s extensive collection of vintage black-and-white Americana photographs from 1920 to 1960 attracts collectors worldwide.
Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Robert Bain of the Joysmith Gallery is an internationally known curator who educates people about artwork and the world in which it was produced. Originally, the gallery was intended as a showroom for his wife Brenda Joysmith’s original pastels and limited- and open-edition prints. After its first year, they adopted an additional goal of featuring ancestral and contemporary art.
Sue Layman Designs
125 East G.E. Patterson, Suite 103
Hours: Open various times throughout the week and by appointment; call 901-409-7870 for times.
Artist Sue Layman Lightman showcases her colorful, contemporary paintings in a light-filled gallery/studio on G.E. Patterson. She’s a self-taught painter, and her work is featured in many corporate and private collections around town.
Memphis College of Art Nesin Graduate School and Hyde Gallery
The Memphis College of Art Nesin Graduate School and Hyde Gallery provides exhibition space to graduate candidates and hosts a wide variety of contemporary exhibitions. MCA’s presence indicates that this area is serious about art!