For a century, Memphis has nurtured one of the liveliest club scenes in the South, and the heart and soul of that nightlife has always been Beale Street. Whether your interest is blues, rock, opera, ballet, or Broadway musicals, you'll probably find entertainment to your liking on this lively street. However, there is more to Memphis nightlife than just Beale Street. In downtown Memphis, historic South Main Street has emerged as a fledgling arts community, with galleries, boutiques, and a growing number of buzz-worthy restaurants. You'll also find several theater companies performing in Midtown near Overton Square, which has several popular bars, restaurants, and a few clubs. Nightlife is livelier in the gay-friendly Cooper-Young neighborhood, at the intersection of Cooper Street and Young Avenue. Delis, boutiques, and a handful of excellent restaurants keep the young crowds coming.
Other places to check for live music are downtown alleys and the respective rooftops of The Peabody hotel and the Madison Hotel. Each summer, the hotels sponsor sunset cocktail parties that are extremely popular. Sometimes, after-work parties are held in alleyways closed off from traffic.
To find out about what's happening in the entertainment scene while you're in town, check with the Memphis Flyer (www.memphisflyer.com), Memphis's free arts-and-entertainment weekly, which comes out on Thursday. You'll find it in convenience, grocery, and music stores; some restaurants; and nightclubs. You could also check the website of the Commercial Appeal, Memphis's morning daily newspaper. The Friday edition has thorough events listings.
For tickets to sporting events and performances at the FedExForum and other venues, your best bet is to contact Ticketmaster (tel. 800/745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com).
Beale Street & Downtown -- Beale Street is the epicenter of Memphis's nightclub scene. This street, where the blues gained widespread recognition, is now the site of scores of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Relatively tame and family-friendly by day, the neon district gets quite rowdy after dark, when barricades allow for pedestrians only. While blues purists looking for authenticity may be disappointed at the predominance of local cover bands that reign here, others, including curious conventioneers and hard-drinking partiers, seem eager enough to accept the commercialism that has homogenized much of Beale Street. For links to various clubs and other businesses along Beale, click on www.bealestreet.com.
Clustered around Beale Street are many other notable restaurants and bars with after-hours activity. Some, such as Earnestine and Hazel's, are tired-looking, time-worn stalwarts that boast more bar credibility than some of the swank new, citified "juke joints," such as Ground Zero Blues Club. Nevertheless, there's something for just about all entertainment appetites within the span of a few short blocks.
The Performing Arts
With Beale Street forming the heart of the city's nightclub scene, it seems appropriate that Memphis's main performance hall, the Orpheum Theatre, is located here as well. A night out at the theater can also include a visit to a blues club after the show.
Classical Music, Opera & Ballet
Although blues and rock 'n' roll dominate the Memphis music scene, the city also manages to support a symphony, an opera, and a ballet. The symphony performs, and big-name performers and lecturers often appear, at the 2,100-seat Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 N. Main St. (tel. 800/726-0915; www.thecannoncenter.com), adjacent to the downtown center. Another of the city's premier performing-arts venues is the Orpheum Theatre, 203 S. Main St. (tel. 901/525-3000; www.orpheum-memphis.com), which was built in 1928 as a vaudeville hall. The ornate, gilded plasterwork on the walls and ceiling gives this theater the elegance of a classic opera house and makes this the most spectacular performance hall in the city.
In addition to performing at the Cannon Center, the orchestra also occasionally performs at other venues, including the suburban Germantown Performing Arts Center and outdoor concerts at the lovely Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The extremely popular Sunset Symphony, an outdoor extravaganza held on the banks of Tom Lee Park overlooking the Mississippi River each year as part of the Memphis in May International Festival, is always a highlight of the symphony season and one of the city's definitive Memphis experiences. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra (tel. 901/324-3627; www.memphissymphony.org) box office is at 3100 Walnut Grove Rd. (tickets $12-$76).
Opera Memphis (tel. 901/257-3100; www.operamemphis.org) also performs at both the Orpheum and Cannon Center, annually staging three or four operas (tickets $20-$70). The company, which for more than 50 years has been staging the best of classical opera and innovative new works for appreciative Memphis audiences, also has built a reputation for its extensive educational outreach program.
Ballet Memphis (tel. 901/737-7322; www.balletmemphis.org), widely regarded as the city's crown jewel of performing-arts groups, performs at both the Orpheum and Cannon Center (tickets $20-$70). For sentimentalists, the highlight of each season is the annual holiday performance of The Nutcracker, but exciting world premieres and contemporary dance works also rate high priority on the company's mission.
Memphis has a relatively well-developed theater scene with numerous opportunities to attend live stage productions around the city. Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Rd. Extended (tel. 901/682-8323; www.theatrememphis.org), is a commendable community theater that's been around for more than 75 years. Located on the edge of Audubon Park, it has garnered regional and national awards for excellence. There are two stages here -- a 435-seat main theater that does standards, and a 100-seat, black-box theater, known as Next Stage, where less mainstream productions are staged.
Staging productions of a higher artistic caliber are two sister theaters in Midtown: Circuit Playhouse, 1705 Poplar Ave. (tel. 901/726-4656), and Playhouse on the Square, 51 S. Cooper St. (tel. 901/726-4656; www.playhouseonthesquare.org) are the only professional theaters in Memphis, and between them they stage about 25 productions each year. Off-Broadway plays are the rule at the Circuit Playhouse (with the occasional premiere), while at Playhouse on the Square, Broadway-worthy dramas, comedies, and musicals dominate.
Another good option is the Hattiloo Theatre, 656 Marshall (tel. 901/502-3486; www.hattilootheatre.org), Memphis's Black repertory theater. Recent productions included For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and former Memphis resident Tennessee Williams's classic A Streetcar Named Desire.
Since its opening in 2004, the 18,400-seat FedExForum, 191 Beale St. (tel. 901/205-1234; www.fedexforum.com), though primarily the venue for the NBA Memphis Grizzlies team, has booked big-name concert acts such as Justin Timberlake, Elton John, Miley Cyrus, and the Rolling Stones.
From late spring through early fall, Memphians frequently head outdoors for their concerts, and the Mud Island River Park Amphitheatre, 125 N. Front St. (tel. 800/507-6507 or 901/576-7241; www.mudisland.com), is where they head most often. With the downtown Memphis skyline for a backdrop, the 5,000-seat Mud Island Amphitheatre is the city's main outdoor stage. The concert season includes many national acts with the emphasis on rock and country music concerts; recent headliners included Norah Jones and Willie Nelson. Though the monorail usually runs only during the summer months, it runs here year-round on concert evenings.
Gambling on the Mississippi
Move over Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Gamblers craving glitzy surroundings to go with their games of chance have a new option at the north end of the Mississippi Delta. Just south of Memphis, across the Mississippi state line, casinos are sprouting like cotton plants in the spring. In fact, these casinos are being built in the middle of the Delta's cotton fields, rapidly replacing the region's white gold as the biggest business this neck of the Delta has seen since cotton was king.
Back in the heyday of paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi, showboats and gamblers cruised the river, entertaining the masses and providing games of chance for those who felt lucky. Those days have recently returned to the Mississippi River as riverboats, and floating casinos have opened in states bordering Tennessee. You still won't find any blackjack tables in God-fearing Tennessee, but you don't have to drive very far for a bit of Vegas-style action.
The nearest casinos are about 20 miles from downtown Memphis, near the town of Robinsonville, Mississippi, while others are about 35 miles south of Memphis, near Tunica, Mississippi. From Memphis, take either Tenn. 61 or I-55 south. If you take the interstate, get off at either the Miss. 304 exit or the Miss. 4 exit, and head west to the river, watching for signs as you drive.
Twelve miles south of the Mississippi state line, off U.S. 61 near the town of Robinsonville, you'll find Goldstrike, 1010 Casino Center Dr. (tel. 888/24K-PLAY [245-7529] or 866/245-7511), and Sheraton, 1107 Casino Center Dr. (tel. 800/391-3777 or 662/363-4900). Continuing south on U.S. 61 and then west on Miss. 304, you come to Sam's Town, 1477 Casino Strip Blvd. (tel. 800/456-0711 or 662/363-0711); Fitz, 711 Lucky Lane (tel. 800/766-LUCK  or 662/363-5825); Hollywood, 1150 Commerce Landing (tel. 800/871-0711 or 662/357-7700); and Harrah's, 1100 Casino Strip Blvd. (tel. 800/HARRAHS [427-7247] or 662/363-7777). Continuing south on U.S. 61 to Tunica and then heading west on either Mhoon Landing Road or Miss. 4, you'll come to Bally's, 1450 Bally's Blvd. (tel. 800/38-BALLY [382-2559). Besides the casinos, the area also offers outlet-mall shopping, golf, spas, riverboat rides, and other activities. For more information, go to www.tunicamiss.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.