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Winter 2008 | Gayborhood Watch: Memphis

Winter 2008 | Gayborhood Watch: Memphis

Tourists flock to bar-laden Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., to revel in the birthplace of the blues, but for a big helping of Southern authenticity, follow the locals just south of that well-trafficked enclave to South Main Street.

THE RIVER CITY?S SOUTH MAIN ARTS DISTRICT
Tourists flock to bar-laden Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., to revel in the birthplace of the blues, but for a big helping of Southern authenticity, follow the locals just south of that well-trafficked enclave to South Main Street. The once-thriving district built in the 1910s went into rapid decline after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated here in 1968. But since the early 2000s, boarded-up windows have slowly given way to chic boutiques, lounges, art galleries, and gay residents snatching up luxury historic lofts.

1. THE ARCADE RESTAURANT
540 S. Main St.
Memphis?s oldest caf?, this 1919 diner is on the National Register of Historic Places. Think turquoise booths, ceiling fans, wooden chairs, and walls with photos of old Memphis. It?s been seen in many films shot in Memphis, and celebs like Dennis Quaid, Susan Sarandon, and, of course, Elvis have feasted on dishes like sweet potato pancakes and egg casserole.

2. EARNESTINE & HAZEL?S
531 S. Main St.
This dark, gloriously rough-around-the-edges bar, once a shop fronting for an upstairs brothel, offers a glimpse into the hard-core Memphis of the 1950s. Old-timers, who may have once rubbed elbows with Otis Redding back when he too frequented the place, still saddle up to the smoky grill for a Soul Burger, dropping coins into an old jukebox. Pictures of fans Sean Penn and the White Stripes (who shot a video here) hang on the cracked walls.

3. THE CHEESE CAKE CORNER
113 E. G.E. Patterson Ave.
Kevin Matthews, who opened this upscale bakery in 2002 and added an adjoining quiche and wine bar in 2006, is one of South Main?s true extrovert characters. Original figure art (some of Kevin himself) looms over customers who ingest over 100 kinds of cheesecake (including favorite flavors like pi?a colada and red velvet) or sit down to sample creative quiches inspired by comfort foods like mac and cheese, turkey and dressing, or cheeseburgers.

4. JAY ETKIN GALLERY
409 S. Main St.
You may recognize one of Memphis?s largest art galleries, housed in a former grocery warehouse, from The People vs. Larry Flynt. Rare African statues and masks, as well as paintings by local gay artists, sprawl across 8,000 square feet, showcasing the best of the city?s up-and-coming art scene.

5. THE ORPHEUM THEATRE
203 S. Main St.
Reopened in 1928 (after burning down during a striptease show), this palatial gay-popular theater, once called the grandest outside of New York, enjoyed yet another rebirth with a $5 million renovation in 1984. It now hosts traveling Broadway shows like Wicked and Avenue Q, as well as the Chick Flicks film series and gay standards like Gone With the Wind and The Sound of Music.

6. NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM
450 Mulberry St.
Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on the terrace of the South Main district?s Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, but it wasn?t until 1991 that a world-class museum was founded here. The preserved site includes interactive exhibits like Rosa Parks in an authentic period bus, stirring videos with nods to gay rights, rooms where MLK slept, and a huge wreath where the hero to millions was slain.

Reader?s Tips
?South Main?s proximity to the riverfront Greenbelt Park, its people-watching, its great restaurants (like Circa and Encore), and its proximity to all the live music on Beale Street are very attractive to me. It?s a great place to start your evening.?
--Andy Williams, Memphis

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