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Cooper-Young District

By Katie Cannon ′15

A haven for the most happening and with-it of Memphians young and old, the Cooper-Young neighborhood is a self-proclaimed “hipstoric” district with an artsy appeal that transcends both generation gaps and hopelessly commercialized bourgeois sensibilities (we’re looking at you, Urban Outfitters) (JK, we love you, Urban Outfitters.) (Kind of. Still conflicted. It’s a love/hate relationship). Revitalized in the 1970s after an unfortunate foray into “blight” territory, Cooper-Young now boasts some of the most beloved Memphis eats and entertainments—not to mention a vibrant and progressive community that publishes its own widely read newspaper, the Lamplighter, and is home to the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center.


Cooper-Young hosts tons of awesome events. On the first Thursday of every month, for example, the district keeps its doors open late for a “Night Out,” where one can enjoy discounts and special offerings (live music, book signings, pop-up shops, free dance lessons, etc.) from the businesses. Summertime brings even more fun to the area. For those charmed by fresh homegrown produce and handmade goods, the Community Farmer’s Market sets up shop every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., purveying unique items from Memphis vendors and artisans. The Red Hot Summer Music Series brings local musicians of every genre to the Gazebo each Wednesday night from June til the end of August. But even as summer gives way to autumn, the music doesn’t stop—the annual Cooper Young Festival in September is a day full of music, food, and art sure to please all five senses. 

Eat, Drink, and . . .

After all that exhaustive music-grooving and art-perusing, you’ll need to refuel at one of Cooper-Young’s many fantastic restaurants.  In this eclectic enclave of multicultural cuisine, you can enjoy a bit of everything:  Low-Country style cooking at Sweet Grass (or a heaping plate of chicken and waffles next door at Next Door), sushi at Mulan, swanky date-night seafood at Tsunami, Mexican food at Café Ole, authentic Irish pub fare at Celtic Crossing, fried catfish from Soul Fish, and pastries from its newest spot, a French café, TartYoung Avenue Deli features specialty sandwiches and award-winning fries, along with pool tables and, often, live music—everything from Black Flag to Amy Lavere.  My personal favorite? Alchemy, a sleek addition to the district’s cozy-cool food scene with innovative and unfairly scrumptious, very shareable small-plate options.


Not only does it have several cool galleries/shops like Allie Cat ArtsGallery Fifty-Six, and the Jay Etkin Gallery, Cooper-Young is also a hot spot for book, music, film, art, and clothing retailers that make “second-hand” an apt synonym for chic.  Founded in 1875, Burke’s Books is one of the country’s oldest independent bookstores, full of new, rare, and used books, focused particularly on southern lit. Looking for a novel sort of novel? A must-read that isn’t necessarily on the top of the bestseller list? Burke’s, owned by a prolific local author, is the place to go. For nostalgic film buffs looking to expand their repertoire beyond the realm of Netflix instant-play, Black Lodge Films offers a huge and extremely diverse collection of movies and television (on both DVD and retro VHS) available for rent. From cult classics to blockbusters to foreign films, Black Lodge can satisfy whatever cinematic craving you may have. Goner Records, the foundation of the Memphis punk scene, sells records and CDs of all genres, including a lot of stuff that you’ve probably never heard of. But that’s the source of its appeal, friends! So what are you waiting for? Finally, House of Mews is a furry heaven for ardent ailurophiles. Completely run by volunteers, this shelter/adoption agency for lonely kitties lets its whiskered tenants roam free, allowing you to shop for cat-related merchandise amongst a glorious symphony of purrs and—you guessed it--mews.  


Just on the border of Cooper-Young lies a paradise out of the past: the antique district. In addition to places like Palladio Antiques and Second-Hand Rose, the area has gems like Flashback, a furniture and clothing store dedicated to the vintage and the vintage-inspired. It’s a great place to find a gift for your quirky friend or to transport your décor back to the 1960s.

Whether you’re looking for a daytime romp or a night out on the town, Cooper-Young offers some of the coolest and most distinctive places in Memphis (and, according to the American Planning Association, in the nation) to visit or to make your home.

 Photo courtesy of the Memphis Business Journal.