Stuart Forster heads to Tennessee and tastes 5 of the best Old Fashioneds in Memphis.
Disclosure: Stuart travelled to Memphis as a guest of Memphis Travel. Some of the links and banners below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Ideal as an aperitif, a post-dinner drink or simply something to sip on a night out, the Old Fashioned is one of the world’s classic whiskey cocktails. The famous cocktail was first mixed in Louisville, Kentucky.
The basic recipe calls for two ounces (60 millilitres) of bourbon or rye whiskey. Add in two teaspoons of simple syrup plus two or three dashes of Angostura bitters and the Old Fashioned is ready. The cocktail is served over ice with an orange peel garnish. The classic version also features a maraschino cherry. Quick to prepare, it’s easy to make at home.
Tennessee is famed for its whiskey production. Thirty-four of the state’s distilleries feature on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and open their doors to visitors. I set out to sample Old Fashioneds in Memphis, including those served at the city’s Old Dominick Distillery – one of the stops along the trail. Based on long hours of research, here are my suggestions for five of the city’s best takes on the boozy beverage:
1 – Beck and Call rooftop bar and lounge
Beck and Call is the stylish rooftop bar and lounge within the Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis Hotel (33 Beale Street). The bars and clubs of Beale Street are five minutes’ walk from Beck and Call, making it an ideal location to start or end a night.
The wraparound rooftop terrace offers views over the Mississippi River and across the city. Firepits provide warmth on chilly evenings.
Indoors you can choose from plush red couches and comfy leather armchairs under large prints of famous Memphians, including Justin Timberlake. Alternatively, take a seat by the lengthy bar.
This hotel bar has an elegant vibe and attracts locals as well as visitors to the city. On Sundays, a jazz band plays.
The Old Fashioneds at Beck and Call are expertly mixed. Each one features a single large ice cube that minimises meltage. Dusted with cinnamon-flavoured Biscoff, they’re outstanding.
2 – Eight and Sand in the Central Station Hotel
Eight and Sand (545 South Main Street) is a stylish lobby bar on the central concourse of Memphis Central Station. Part of the Central Station Hotel, an Old Fashioned here is ideal as an aperitif ahead of dinner at the property’s Bishop restaurant.
The Eight and Sand Old Fashioned features Belle Meade Bourbon and house-made orange bitters. The result is a beverage that’s at once punchy, balanced and refined.
It’s ideal to sip while listening to tunes spun by the in-house DJ and people-watching. A wall of vinyl rises behind the DJ.
Sink into the seats, tap your feet and enjoy the conviviality of a bar whose cocktails are as stylish as the decor.
3 – Porch and Parlor
Porch and Parlor (2125 Madison Avenue) is a fine-dining restaurant known for its steaks. What could be better ahead of one of the restaurant’s signature filets than an Old Fashioned?
The bar prepares a classic version of the cocktail as well as Vanilla Chai Old Fashioned. The latter is mixed with Four Roses bourbon, a drink distilled at Lawrenceburg in Kentucky. Vanilla chai and cinnamon sticks help create an exotic twist on the whiskey cocktail.
If you enjoy eating meat, the Vanilla Chai Old Fashioned is good to sip while sampling the Butcher’s Bacon Rack. Served as an appetiser, the dish features a selection of thick-cut bacon dangling from a rack.
4 – Itta Bena
Itta Bena (145 Beale Street) is a restaurant named after the Mississippi city closest to the birthplace of Riley B. King. The talented musician became famous as B.B. King. This sizable dining venue is above B.B. King’s Blues Club.
With a speakeasy feel, the restaurant is reached by climbing the fire escape at the back of the club. Subtly illuminated, a saxophonist and pianist played while I was at Itta Bena, easing into the Beale Street vibe.
The menu lists dishes inspired by traditional Southern cuisine. Think shrimp and grits, cajun pasta and boneless braised short ribs.
Itta Bena’s Old Fashioned is a wonderful piece of theatre. Served in a glass case swirling with smoke that imparts flavour, it’s worth climbing the steps to experience.
5 – Peabody Hotel Lobby Bar
Sit at the lobby bar in the Peabody Hotel (149 Union Avenue) on an afternoon and you’ll be able to observe ducks in the property’s marble fountain. They step out of the elevator, onto a red carpet, and climb into the fountain at 11.00 am each day. Their work done, they waddle back towards their rooftop palace at 5.00 pm, during the day’s second instalment of the Peabody duck march.
Sipping an Old Fashioned here allows you to savour the space where Elvis Presley signed his recording contract with RCA. That took place on 21 November 1955. A compact museum on the hotel’s mezzanine level conveys other key events in the history of the long-established luxury hotel.
The Peabody Old Fashioned is mixed with specially selected Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey. Fresh orange and cherry also feature.
In the mood for another drink? The bar’s Ducky Sunshine is also made with Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel.
Other Old Fashioned recommendations
Inevitably, a week in Memphis simply wasn’t long enough to sample Old Fashioneds right across the city. If you’d like to recommend other bars serving outstanding versions of the cocktail, please leave a comment below.
The cocktails served at the Art Bar, inside of Memphis’s Crosstown Concourse, came highly recommended. Unfortunately I visited early in the day, well before my palate was ready for an Old Fashioned or any other whiskey cocktail.
While sipping a very good Old Fashioned at Longshot (447 South Main Street), I chatted with a Memphian who also appreciated my drink of choice. They suggested trying one at Hu. Roof, the rooftop bar of the Hu Hotel Memphis (79 Madison Avenue).
The Old Fashioneds served at the bar of the Old Dominick Distillery (305 South Front Street) are well worth trying. It’s a lovely place to visit. They are mixed with the distillery’s Huling Station bourbon whiskey. Made with a high-rye mash, Huling Station packs 50 per cent alcohol by volume. It is used as an ingredient in cocktails in several Memphis bars.
Tiger and Peacock (21 South Cooper Street) serves a rum-based version of the Old Fashioned. The popular rooftop bar is inside the Memphian Hotel in the heart of the Overton Square Entertainment District. It’s consequently well placed for a post-theatre drink.
As well as the views, check out the Zodiac ceiling above the bar at Tiger and Peacock.
Map of bars in Memphis, Tennessee
The map below highlights locations mentioned in this post and includes a handful of other bars in Memphis:
Google Map showing some of the best bars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Don’t forget there are numerous other bars in the city and I’d welcome comments with further recommendations.
Books about cocktails and Memphis
Interested in cocktails or planning a trip to Memphis, Tennessee? You can buy the following books via Amazon by clicking on the links or cover photos:
Old Fashioned Cocktail: The Tale of the Old But Gold by Randy Woodward looks at variations on the classic drink:
Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle:
Memphis Mayhem: A Story of the Music That Shook Up the World by David A. Less:
Secret Memphis: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Holly Whitfield:
Travel to Memphis, Tennessee
The Memphis International Airport website lists airports with direct flights to the city. For European travellers, Chicago, Newark and Houston number among the hubs via which Memphis can be reached.
Memphis has Amtrack rail services direct to New Orleans and Chicago.
Uber proves an effective way of getting about in Memphis.
Memphis Area Transit Authority’s Main Street Trolley operates between the city’s Central Station and the close to the William Hudson Transit Center on Shadyac Avenue.
See the UK Government website for up-to-date travel advice relating to the United States of America.
The USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website displays information relating to COVID-19 requirements for travellers.
Hotels in Memphis
Memphis offers a good range of accommodation in the Downtown district and beyond.
Search for accommodation in Memphis on Booking.com:
Remember to enjoy alcohol responsibly.
See the Visit USA website for travel information relating to the United States of America.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post suggesting 5 of the best Old Fashioneds in Memphis, Tennessee. Enjoy all things American? Here’s a look at Super Bowl Sunday in the USA.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is a travel writer based in North East England. He is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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