5 of the best Old Fashioneds in Memphis

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.

Fans of Mad Men, the television show set in New York during the 1960s, will recognise the Old Fashioned as Don Draper’s go to cocktail.

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’s my suggestions for five of the city’s best takes on the boozy beverage:

Take your pick from the Downtown Memphis bars on Beale Street.
Thirsty? Take your pick from the Downtown Memphis bars on Beale Street.

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 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.

Beck and Call Rooftop Lounge in the Hyatt Centric hotel on Beale Street is one of best rooftop bars in Memphis
Beck and Call Rooftop Lounge in the Hyatt Centric hotel on Beale Street is one of best rooftop bars in Memphis.

Booking.com

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 people watching and listening to tunes spun by the in-house DJ. 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.

Neon lights at the stylish Eight and Sand bar at the Central Station, which serves one of the best Old Fashioneds in Memphis.
Neon lights at the stylish Eight and Sand bar at the Central Station, which serves one of the best Old Fashioneds in Memphis.

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 stick 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.

Vanilla Chai Old Fashioned served at Porch and Parlor at the Overton Square Entertainment District in Midtown Memphis.
A Vanilla Chai Old Fashioned served at Porch and Parlor at the Overton Square Entertainment District in Midtown Memphis.



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.

The original B.B. King's Blues Club is on Beale Street and Itta Bena is above the famous club.
The original B.B. King’s Blues Club is on Beale Street and Itta Bena is above the famous club.

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 11.00am each day. Their work done, they waddle back towards their rooftop palace at 5.00pm, 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.

Old Fashioned served at the lobby bar of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Old Fashioned served at the lobby bar of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

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.

Crosstown Concourse in Midtown Memphis is the venue of the shabby chic Art Bar.
Crosstown Concourse in Midtown Memphis is the venue of the shabby chic Art Bar.

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.

Art Bar in the Crosstown Concourse in Midtown Memphis
Art Bar in the Crosstown Concourse in Midtown Memphis.

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).

Old Fashioned at the Longshot bar below the Arrive Memphis hotel on South Main Street.
Old Fashioned at the Longshot bar below the Arrive Memphis hotel on South Main Street.

The Old Fashioneds served at 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.

Old Fashioned mixed with Old Dominick's Huling Station bourbon whiskey.
Old Fashioned mixed with Old Dominick’s Huling Station bourbon whiskey.

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.

Statue of one of Memphis's best-known residents at Elvis Presley Plaza on Beale Street.
Statue of one of Memphis’s best-known residents at Elvis Presley Plaza on Beale Street.



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 may be interested in the following books:

Old Fashioned Cocktail: The Tale of the Old But Gold by Randy Woodward looks at variations on the classic drink:

The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes and Lore by Robert Simonson:

 

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:

 

B.B. King Boulevard is named after the Blues legend whose initials stand for 'Blues Boy'.
B.B. King Boulevard in Memphis is named after the Blues legend whose initials stand for ‘Blues Boy’.



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.

The Eight and Sand bar and lounge is in the Central Station Memphis
The Eight and Sand bar and lounge is in the Central Station Memphis.

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.

The trolley running along South Main Street in Downtown Memphis.
The trolley running along South Main Street in Downtown Memphis.



Hotels in Memphis

Memphis offers a good range of accommodation in the Downtown district and beyond.

Search for accommodation in Memphis on Booking.com:



Booking.com

Street art in Memphis depicting an iconic moment of protest during the Civil Rights Movement.
Street art in Memphis depicting an iconic moment of protest during the USA’s civil rights movement.

Further information

Remember to enjoy alcohol responsibly.

See the Visit USA website for travel information relating to the United States of America.

The Memphis Travel website and I Love Memphis blog have idea for things to do in the Tennessee city.

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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