People ask me what they should do for their birthday in Memphis all the time. I always want to ask back, "well, what you do you like to do?" because I want to be sure I'm giving them good advice. Some people don't feel like it's their birthday unless they're wearing a crown on a light-up dance floor, while others would rather sip some Midtown Brown at a quiet table at Bosco's.
With that in mind, I've come up with a few different itineraries to suit most any birthday-celebrating philosophy. Within each itinerary are a couple of options – various parts of town, a range of price points. I'm not intentionally leaving out the "meet up with some friends at a casual place for some beers" idea, just going for something beyond that.
This post was the topic of the August 2014 I Love Memphis Podcast BONUS Clip. You can listen right here:
1. Go All Out.
If you want to:
– get in some quality dancing/karaoke
– take advantage of every minute of your birthday by staying out all night
Gather your friends for pre-gaming with cocktails at Alchemy in Cooper-Young, margaritas at one of the Swanky's, or fancy martinis at Automatic Slim's downtown. For dinner, go to the lounge-y Blue Fin sushi downtown, take over the upstairs at Local on the Square, or share a bunch of small plates at Hog & Hominy. Call a cab (901-577-7777) as you're finishing up dinner or have your Hummer/limo scheduled to pick you up to take you and your friends downtown. Here you have a few options for leveling up.
If you don't mind a little kitsch, get the party going at Silky's with a diver and a piano sing-along dedicated to the birthday person (ask the pianists for a song and give them a decent tip). If you're looking for dancing, go to Paula Raiford's. Get there about 11 p.m., bring plenty of cash, and watch as the crowd grows to fire code capacity around 1 a.m. Note: If you are going to Raiford's, you can schedule a pickup from the Raiford's limo.
For less neon, you can get moving at Ernestine & Hazel's in South Main. As the night goes on, sometimes people will start dancing in the jukebox area downstairs, and there are Soul Burgers until 3. If singing is more your thing, have your friends serenade you with bad birthday ballads at karaoke at P&H (Friday nights), Blue Monkey downtown (Saturday nights), Dru's Place (Friday – Sunday, also drag shows on Saturday) or Windjammer if you're heading back east (every night). Note: If you have more karoake locations, please leave them in the comments.
Hop back in the cab and finish off your birthday by getting dive-y at Alex's Tavern – they have ribs, burgers, and table shuffleboard. Or if you're done drinking, get a birthday treat at Gibson's and head home as the sun comes up.
2. Stay In
If you want to:
– be low maintenance
– let the party come to you and not leave your house
Have a Memphis-themed house "party". This could be a night in with your significant other, small group of friends, or an old school rager. The only difference will be the amount of the following items you procure.
You can't go wrong with pizza for a crowd of any size, so order pizza (and/or salads and/or sandwiches) from Camy's, Garibaldi's, or if you're downtown, Aldo's. Here are a few more places that deliver. Get a few growlers at The Growler or the Madison Growler Shop, or get a keg or two, depending on your need (Ghost River Golden is a crowd pleaser). For the cake, have a friend pick up something from Frost Bake Shop, Muddy's, or All-American Sweets in Bartlett. For a big crowd, cupcakes are easier to serve but arguably less fun than blowing out candles.
To entertain your crowd/yourself, I have some recommendations that aren't really Memphis-related, but they've worked for me. Games like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity (if your friends have a no-humor-is-too-offensive outlook), or watch and make fun of an old school, cult classic, or so-good-its-bad movie, i.e., Sharknado. If you are going the movie route and need popcorn, get a few different flavors of the gourmet popcorn at Sweet Noshings. Muddy Buddy is my favorite flavor.
For tunes, try this mix of songs featured in the Indie Memphis films in 2013. It's all Memphis artists and you can listen for free. Here's a link.
3. Be Romantic
If you want to:
– spend some alone time with your significant other/BFF
– be wined and dined
For this itinerary, dinner will be the main event. Start out with cocktails with a view at one of downtown's rooftop/terrace bars – the Peabody Rooftop, the Twilight Sky Terrace at the Madison, or the Terrace at the River Inn. You can watch the sun go down over the might Mississippi while you work up a little romance and an appetite. If it's way too cold, the Corner Bar at the Peabody still sets the tone for an upscale evening and there's plenty of people watching.
For dinner, choose one of Memphis' many fine dining restaurants. Here's the lowdown on just a few that have that romantic, special atmosphere.
– For French food and white tablecloths: Chez Phillippe
– For lots of meat, good service, and cozy feel: Folks Folly
– For trying lots of different things: Flight Restaurant
– For dining in a private, candlelit wine cellar: Napa Cafe
– For comfort food in a fancy atmosphere: Felicia Suzanne's
– For satisfying an outrageous appetite: Texas de Brazil
– For super foodies: Restaurant Iris
– For stepping outside of your pasta comfort zone: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Most of these restaurants will do something special if they know your dinner is a birthday celebration, so let them know when you call to make the reservation (you'll need a reservation). And by something special, I don't mean "sing to you while forcing you to wear a sombrero" – it's more like decorating your table, personalizing a special dessert, including a candle, or the best seat in the house.
Act Like a Kid
If you want to:
– plan a birthday party for a kid
– act like a kid on your birthday even though you're a grown up
I could probably write an entire post on kids' birthday parties in Memphis (and maybe I will) but for now, let's talk about a few places you can rent out for an afternoon and invite the whole class. For fees ranging from $100 to $400, you can reserve party rooms at the Fire Museum, Children's Museum, The Memphis Zoo, Lichterman Nature Center, Cotton Museum, or the Shelby Farms Visitors Center.
The Memphis Botanic Garden offers birthday parties in My Big Backyard as well as an option of themed craft parties, i.e., a Pirate Adventure where kids make their own pirate hat and go on a treasure hunt.
I went to Putt-Putt on Summer Avenue (the real name is now "Golf & Games") a few weeks ago to play laser tag, and it was a blast (ha). The arcade is a wonderful blast from the past, the go-carts and putt-putt seemed popular, and the laser tag course was populated with a mix of kids and adults. You can rent out the latter for a private party or just show up and join in.
I also went to SkyZone a while back, which is a giant warehouse filled with trampolines. I went for a Skyrobics workout class, but trust me, you don't want to put yourself through that on your birthday. Instead, spring for a fun jump session. You can bounce off the floors, off the walls, or into a foam pit. You can play dodgeball. Adults are totally welcome, but I would not recommend having any birthday drinks before hand. It's way out there (southeast memphis) but it's worth the drive for something different.
Don't forget bowling – Billy Hardwick's offers kids' birthday parties and group rates and reservations.
Finally, I need to tell you about the best Mid-South themed birthday I've ever heard of. When I asked my Twitter followers about their favorite birthday ideas, several people mentioned Katie Midgley's party from last year. I asked her if I could share the majesty, and she said OK.
Her friends and mom planned it all, including a party bus trip to West Memphis to Eagle Lanes (for dinner they enjoyed the crockpot delicacies at the bowling alley), a trip to Graceland Too, and Memphis-celebrity themed decor (pictured below).
In Katie's own words:
@ilovememphis Party bus. 30 folks. West Memphis. Graceland Too. Crafts. Cake featuring local media personality. Beverages. Mom. Winning.
— Katie Midgley (@KatieBugMemphis)
Wharton hair accessories, local celeb cake, and the party bus, complete with pole (Katie the birthday girl is in the middle in green). Thanks to @stephMEM, @KatieBugMemphis, and @InternetKane for sharing the photos.
Whenever your birthday this year, I hope you have a great time celebrating it. If you use any of these ideas, let me know – or tag your photos and Tweet #ilovememphis. If you have other ideas, leave 'em in the comments. Happy Birthday!