Iowa State has once again made it to a bowl game and this time around will be playing in a city I used to call home. However, due to an upcoming wedding that needs financing, I won’t be able to make the trek—which is a shame, because of all the places I’ve been, Memphis is one of my favorites.

Here’s what I’m going to do though. Below you’re going to find an insider’s guide of sorts. I’m going to tell you the things that travel guides and even some locals may not tell you. Memphis is full of history, barbecue, and blues—that much is true. But I’m going to tell you the best places to get all three and being that I’ve lived in Iowa 28 years out of my 30 (the other two were spent in Memphis)—you know I’m going to give it to you straight.

Liberty_Bowl_AThe Liberty Bowl
Let’s address one thing here quick that some people may not realize. The Liberty Bowl, the bowl game we are playing in, is played in the Liberty Bowl. So it’s not only the name of the bowl game, but it’s the name of the stadium the bowl game is played in. (Technically it’s referred to as Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium—but that’s a mouthful). If you really want to impress people tell them that it holds 62,000, and is used 8-9 other times a year for all University of Memphis home football games and for the Southern Heritage Classic.

The City
Let’s  get one other thing out of the way right off the bat. Yes, Memphis has crime and has bad parts—just like any other big city. It seems to have invisible boundaries that the crime doesn’t cross though. Never at any point during my two years there did I feel as though I were in danger. Just be aware of your surroundings and if you find yourself downtown, try not to venture too far north of Union Avenue. When I first moved there I was told with the exception of Madison, streets named after presidents were not streets you frequented.

Secondly, barbecue. You should know right now Memphians think there is no other barbecue besides their own. Don’t even think about comparing it to Carolina barbecue, which is nowhere near the same. If you haven’t already, you’re probably going to have people tell you to go to Rendezvous. This place is all about the experience—it’s in an alley (it’s safe, don’t worry) and when you walk in it feels like you’re stepping back in time. It’s good, but in my opinion the best barbecue can be found at two other places. The first being Central BBQ (2249 Central), which luckily for you guys isn’t too far away from the Liberty Bowl. Make sure to get a sausage and cheese plate and the BBQ nachos! The second place, Blues City Café, sits on the corner of Beale Street and S. 2nd St., right across from B.B. Kings. This place wins my vote for best ribs in Memphis (and best chicken strips if ribs aren’t your thing).
*Tip: In Memphis, a pulled pork sandwich will come with coleslaw on top of it. Make sure to ask for it without if coleslaw isn’t your thing!

Beale Street
That takes us to Beale Street, which I’m sure ALL of you have heard of. Stretching about 4 blocks long, it’s reminiscent of a mini Bourbon Street. There will be live music on the street, you may see the Beale Street Flippers who were made even more famous on America’s Got Talent, and there are walk-up windows at some bars. You have some of your chain places like Hard Rock, but besides Blues City Café, there are 4 places on Beale Street you HAVE to visit.


  • B.B. Kings. And contrary to popular belief,  B.B. really does make appearances there. The music is out of this world and it’s not uncommon for famous visitors to jump up and join the band to do songs.
  • Beale Street Tap Room. Being a Memphis transplant by way of a small town in Iowa, this bar became my favorite. It’s small and cozy and doesn’t feel like a big city bar at all. Iowans will feel right at home here.
  • Silky O’Sullivans. Kitty corner from the Tap Room, this is a piano bar made famous by what they call their “Diver Buckets,” which is a pretty decent sized bucket full of…well…no one quite knows—but it’s delicious. You’re going to want to share it though!
  • Dyer’s. On the same side of the street as Silky’s, but about a block east, Dyer’s is a burger joint that’s been around for almost 100 years. It’s appeared on both the Cooking Channel and the Food Network and is known for deep fat frying their burgers. It sounds a little odd, but I promise you it’s one of the best burgers you’ll ever have—just don’t worry about calories that day.
  • A few places to avoid: The Black Diamond is a little scary, but also stays open until about 5am, making it the place the other Beale Street bartenders and the diehards go. Alfred’s and Club 152 are big time clubs–so if you’re not much for that atmosphere don’t waste your time. They charge the most for cover too. graceland_front_3

When people hear ‘Memphis,’ another thing that may come to mind is Elvis and if you’re an Elvis fan, this is definitely your city. However, even if you don’t know much about him, go to Graceland. It’s absolutely worth it. Only do the mansion tour though—unless you’re willing to spend quite a bit more money to tour the cars and the planes. I don’t think seeing those things are worth the extra money—but to a die-hard Elvis fan, it may be. Going along with that, definitely go to Sun Studios. It’s one of the places Elvis recorded and is dubbed the birthplace of rock ‘n roll—there are free shuttles between Graceland and Sun Studios, so definitely take advantage.

I’d also consider visiting the National Civil Rights Museum located at the Lorraine Motel (450 Mulberry) about 5 blocks southwest of Beale Street. Seems funny to have a museum at a motel, but you history buffs should see the significance. Among the things you’ll see at the museum? Room 306. The room Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed in the night before his assassination. The balcony outside that room is the very place he was shot.

Check out the ducks at the Peabody Hotel also–I promise you’ve never seen anything like it. The Peabody (149 Union Avenue) has been at its present locations since 1930, but has been a Memphis staple since the late 1860’s. Back in 1930 the general manager who was a big hunter thought it would be funny to leave some of their live duck decoys in the fountain in the main lobby. Guests loved it and it stuck. Now, every day an official Duckmaster leads ducks from their home atop the Peabody, down to the lobby, and marches them to the fountain. It’s definitely picture worthy.

Helpful Tips
Just a few more things that you may find helpful…

  • The City of Memphis has no snow plows due to the fact that it snows so infrequently. Should it snow while you’re there, give yourself plenty of time to get to where you’re going. Memphians have NO idea how to drive in even a half inch of snow.
  • Hueys_MT_outside_professional_pics_001The Liberty Bowl sits pretty much smack dab in the middle of Memphis, so if you have yet to book a hotel know that if you stay on the west side of Memphis or the east side of Memphis—travel time is going to be about the same.
  • If you’re looking to do some shopping, visit Wolfchase Galleria (2670 N. Germantown Parkway) in Bartlett or Carriage Crossing (4674 Merchants Park Circle) in Collierville (both suburbs of Memphis). Don’t waste your time at the Oak Court Mall which is much closer to the stadium.
  • Midtown Memphis is blocks away from the Liberty Bowl if you’re not interested in doing the whole downtown thing. It doesn’t have quite as much history, but it does have just as many great bars and restaurants. I’d recommend the following:
    • Celtic Crossing (903 S. Cooper)—a great little Irish pub with fantastic food
    • Huey’s (1927 Madison)—great burgers, best steak fries I’ve ever had, and it’s cheap
    • Young Avenue Deli (2119 Young)—not just your normal deli, they also serve beer and have live music
    • Bosco’s (2120 Madison)—a little bit pricier, but a nice sit down place that brews its own beer

As far as I’m concerned, Memphis is one of the best places to have a bowl game—but obviously I’m bias. In fact, pretty much everything I’ve told you in here is just based on my own personal preferences. Know this though. Memphis really is a great city with a rich history, some of the best food you’ll ever eat, and some of the nicest people you’ll ever encounter—treat the city and her people with respect and I promise she won’t let you down.

  1. wmarsau says:

    Love this insiders guide. Makes me really want to go there for the bowl game, but like you, I have to save some money for this wedding thing too. If Iowa State ever ends up there again though, I am there for sure. Great blog!

  2. Anne Moeller says:

    So helpful! Do you know of any brunch spots that have bottomless mimosas or bloody marys?

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks for reading Anne! I’m not sure of anywhere that has bottomless mimosas or bloody marys, but there are several great brunch places that are not only delicious, but inexpensive also. The Blue Plate Cafe has great food–homemade Southern breakfast (2 locations…113 S. Court-downtown, 5469 Poplar-East Memphis). Brother Juniper’s (3519 Walker) is great too–this is a just west of the University of Memphis and is quite a bit closer to the Liberty Bowl.

      If it’s mimosas or bloody marys you’re after though, check out The Majestic Grille (145 S. Main–just north of Beale). Their food is a bit pricier, but they have a Majestic Mimosa for $14 which gets you a bottle of champagne, orange juice, and fresh orange slices. Hope that helps!

  3. SK says:

    Thanks. This is great and really helpful. Just what we needed.

    What do you know about tailgating for the Liberty Bowl? We hear about the official pep rally and Tiger Lane. What is it like to do informal tailgating? Do you just park in the main lot? Is there room to set up games if you park a few vehicles next to each other? Or maybe you can get space in the distant parts of the lots? Are there other places than the main lot where you can get enough space to set up games?

    • Stephanie says:

      Glad you found it helpful!

      As far as tailgating, the west side of the stadium is where most of that would take place, and outside of Tiger Lane parking is $10. There is a decent amount of parking because to the west of the Liberty Bowl is the Mid-South Fairgrounds, so they share that parking. The Liberty Bowl doesn’t typically see a lot of tailgating action, because there just aren’t a lot of people that tailgate for University of Memphis games (at least not compared to ISU games!), but there is definitely enough room to set up tailgating games. I would try to park in those lots adjacent to Tiger Lane though as I suspect that will be where the bulk of people are. I’ve put a link to a parking map down below just in case you haven’t seen it. Have fun!

      • SK says:

        Thanks. The thing that concerned me was the statement I read somewhere that you have to keep the area behind your vehicle clear for others to get by. Essentially, I think they have the same rule at Jack Trice, but for some reason, it sounded more restrictive at the Liberty Bowl. For $10, it is probably best for a few of us simply to park next to each other. We may just wait and come around 9am, see where the diehards have set up, and join them. We probably aren’t going to be all that serious about tailgating because of the 11:30-1:30 pep rally.

        We really appreciate the insider’s perspective.

      • Stephanie says:

        Happy to help! If you have any other questions feel free.

        I did notice that the bad parts of Memphis has popped up a few places. There are other places to avoid, but the streets named after presidents were the ones I thought of the most because of their proximity to Beale Street. I wouldn’t venture more than probably a mile south of the stadium at night, but I didn’t figure many people would be doing that anyway. I wouldn’t start wandering south of Beale at night either. I don’t want to incite fear, because again–I never felt threatened while I was there, but it is definitely a much different city than any found in Iowa–not different bad by any means, but it is much larger and sometimes the unknown can be scary to some people. Again, just be aware of your surroundings and refrain from doing anything silly and you’ll be fine.

      • SK says:

        It probably is good for Iowa folks to have some orientation to the city. Here is what I posted on Cyclone Fanatic where most of the conversation about the bowl is taking place:

        The issue has more to do with being naive than being safe. I’ve been everywhere in Chicago (and I mean everywhere because I even drove CTA buses for two summers). Frankly, if you are terrified of “bad neighborhoods,” then you probably aren’t really all that safe in “good neighborhoods.”

        Seriously, the same sorts of things that get you into trouble in bad neighborhoods will get you in trouble on Beale Street. Keep your wallet in your front pocket (or don’t bring it). Don’t carry a purse, especially one with a long strap. Don’t flash a wad of cash when you make a purchase. Don’t walk alone. Be alert to the classic pick-pocket tricks, like somebody bumping you into another person so that the other person can take your wallet. Have a designated driver who can pick you up at the bar rather than stumbling around trying to find the car. Stay in well lit areas. Don’t go down dark alleys. If you find yourself driving in a “bad neighborhood,” always keep enough room ahead of you to make an emergency exit (even, gasp by Iowa drivers, if you have to cross the yellow line).

        These things become second nature to you after you spend some time living in a city. And most of us who have done so have had very little trouble.

        Memphis will have plenty of cops around, including lots that you can’t see because they are watching through one-way windows or via cameras. They care a lot about their premier events, like the combo Liberty Bowl/New Years Eve. They will keep Beale Street as safe as could be reasonably expected. You mostly need to be concerned about yourself. Don’t do anything stupid and you will be fine.

  4. SK says:

    What is the basic parking fee? I’ve been surprised by a few hidden costs so far, like the $30 surcharge per transaction for tickets.

  5. Jill Ford says:

    Great Blog Steph! Great info for those taking the trip to Memphis! Love ya..jill

  6. gary says:

    I passed your blog onto cyclone illustrated. Many people are very appreciative of your in sight. Thank you so much and go clones

    • Stephanie says:

      Thank YOU Gary! I figure if just one person. can have as much fun in Memphis as I did when I lived there–writing this blog was well worth it!

      • SK says:

        Just a correction to note that I found the link on the Cyclone Fanatic site, not Cyclone Illustrated (don’t even know what that is). I’m sure many more will benefit from your insight as the game approaches.

  7. Stephanie says:

    It was brought to my attention by a friend of mine in Memphis that I left out one very important place. The Flying Saucer is a bar with well over 200 beer selections–some bottled, some on tap. Some of the beers are a bit pricy, but it’s a great place for beer connoisseurs or for people just looking to try something new. I’d recommend any of the Abita beers, but especially the Amber and the Purple Haze. Brewed in Abita Springs, Louisiana the beer only has to make about a 5 hour trip to get to Memphis. It’s located just west of Beale Street at 130 Peabody Place.

  8. Penny says:

    Loved your description! Won’t have enough time to experience it all, but will take in a few of the “hot spots”. Thanks!!

  9. Janice says:

    We are staying at the Crowne Plaza and others at the Sleep Inn. Is is safe to walk to and from Beale Street at night – especially New Years Eve? If not, do they have cabs available?

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Janice! Thanks for reading. The Crowne Plaza is a pretty good walk from Beale and far enough north that I probably would not walk it. The Sleep Inn is a little bit closer and I’m more comfortable with that route (I’d walk west on Union and then go up Front St). There are definitely cabs available. They will be all around Beale Street. On New Year’s Eve they may actually line up, but check the west end of Beale for the best luck. Have a great time!

      • SK says:

        What about the Econolodge that is a few blocks north of Beale Street? Any concerns there?

      • Stephanie says:

        Nope! You should be good there. I’d walk straight down S. 3rd St. You’ll actually walk right by AutoZone Park which is where the Memphis Redbirds play (the AAA affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals). One of the best minor league stadiums in the country.

  10. MK says:

    We’re curious how Beale Street is for New Year’s Eve. Will most people have reservations at the various bars/restaurants or is bar hopping more the norm? Will dress codes be enforced and will most places have cover charges to get in? Thanks for the tips!

    • Stephanie says:

      Most of the places on Beale Street don’t take reservations, so no worries there. In fact, even Rendezvous, which is a world-renowned restaurant NEVER takes reservations. There will be more people on Beale Street than normal, and there will be several bars that charge cover. I would expect Silky’s too, along with BB Kings, Alfred’s, and Club 152 (the last two almost always charge cover). Dress codes shouldn’t be enforced, assuming you mean that you need to dressed up. Dress codes banning backwards hats, baggy pants, ripped jeans, etc. are generally always in effect. Hope that helps!

      • SK says:

        We had an awesome time in Memphis . . . right up until the 2nd Quarter of the actual game. Seriously, it was an incredible turnout by Iowa State fans. And we really enjoyed Memphis. Even some of the “seedier” parts of town were great (I’m a bit of an urban adventurer). Hope the Big 12 negotiates a tie-in with the Liberty Bowl so that we can come again. Thanks for your help to Iowans who headed south.

  11. Craig says:

    Thanks Stephanie! This blog is a big help to naive Cyclones fans like us. We are staying at the Hampton in Bartlett by the Galleria. When we go check out Beale Street is there safe parking anywhere?

    • Stephanie says:

      Glad to share the info Craig. I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re staying at that same Hampton Inn so you should be in good company!

      As far as parking by Beale Street, there are two pretty large parking ramps. Neither of which I ever had a problem in. One of those is located at 51 Peabody Place, directly beside a bar called the Flying Saucer. They charge a $10 flat rate if you enter after 4pm and leave by 4am. Beale Street is just 2 blocks SE of there (you’d end up on the west end of Beale by Blues City and BB Kings).

      The other is at 114 3rd Street. They charge $5, but for special events they charge $10. I would assume NYE would classify as a special event. Beale Street is 2 blocks straight south of this ramp and you’d end up entering Beale pretty much in the middle by the Rum Boogie Cafe and Silky O’Sullivans.

      Hope that helps! Have fun!

      • tg says:

        mostly there for the game so we decided to stay out east. coming in on sunday. have booked at the four points sheraton off of 385 south of germantown. any issues with this area or should i rebook in g-town

      • Stephanie says:

        You should be just fine. Have fun!

      • SK says:

        Germantown and these other suburban areas sound “fine,” but I’m really glad we stayed downtown. Walking back and forth to Beale Street whenever we wanted was definitely the way to go for us.

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