Your Guide to Exploring Memphis’ Cooper-Young Neighborhood
NOW is a good time to be in Memphis.
Districts like Overton Square, Crosstown and Broad Avenue are mid-resurgence. It’s hard not to see the neighboring Cooper-Young Historic District as their role model.
40 years ago, this area at the intersection of Cooper Street and Young Avenue in Midtown Memphis primarily modeled decay. The decades since have filled it with original shops, restaurants, bars and music meccas – each with the right kind of quirk to keep them relevant (even edgy) despite their longevity.
Here’s how to experience it:
1. Go walk around. Duck into landmarks from Memphis Drum Shop to Burke’s Book Store. Thumb through new and used vinyl at Goner, the record store/label at the corner of Cooper and Young. (Punk/garage rock fans: Note Gonerfest 10, Sept. 26-29, which kicks off at the gazebo across from the record store. The festival balances global touring acts with Memphis-bred talents – this year, Mudhoney and Harlan T. Bobo.) Try a new restaurant like Ink – the patio opens to the gazebo/intersection of Cooper and Young, and the Sweet Potato Poutine – smothered in mushrooms, cheese and gravy – tastes as sinful as it sounds. My personal favorite is progressive: Start with rounds of artisan cocktails and small plates at Alchemy (I like the Bourbon Whisky Smash and Southern Antipasti featuring Benton’s country ham and house-made pickles) followed by dessert at The Beauty Shop, where the surrounds are as decadent as the layer cake.
From Young, head north on Cooper to Central Avenue for a flourish of old and new. Toad Hall has long been my go-to for affordable antiques and eye-catching accessories; across Cooper, two new clothing boutiques (trendy Langford Market and Wish) just joined Urban Outfitters. Head a smidge farther north on Cooper and you’re at Otherlands, the neighborhood coffee bar. The baristas are friendly, the vegan treats are divine and there’s occasional live music.
Explore Cooper-Young on your own time or during a First Thursday Night Out, when retailers stay open later than usual.
2. Hit a concert at Young Avenue Deli. Lucky for you, Memphis’ Rock for Love, a concert series that happens annually in venues around town, is coming to the Deli Sept. 6 and 7. Friday the 6th, dance to Hope Clayburn’s funky Soul Scrimmage at 10:30 p.m.; Saturday the 7th, move to the Mighty Souls Brass Brand starting at 10 p.m. (The Memphis Dawls close the show at 11:30 p.m.)
3. Blend in with the locals at the Cooper-Young Festival, Sept. 14, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Expect a pile of artisanal vendors – some-400 of them. But you’ll find plenty of shopping breaks interspersed, and to me, that’s the heart of this 26-year tradition. Locate the kids’ area for inflatables and crafts guided by Memphis College of Art students; snack/sip on whatever looks irresistible; and hang by the entertainment stages. My best bets: demonstrations by globally-recognized New Ballet Ensemble and crowd-friendly Opera Memphis on the main stage; concerts from Memphis stand-outs Ex-Cult, Jack Oblivian, Dead Soldiers and the Motel Mirrors on the Goner Records Stage; any local beer you can find.
What’s your favorite restaurant/bar, shop or festival in Cooper-Young? Tell us in the comments section below.