Nashville claims a lot of national buzz, but the city of Memphis has been quietly reshaping itself to be the hottest destination in Tennessee. Over the past decade, its downtown has invested billions in revitalization projects—and now, visitors can begin reaping the benefits.
An upgraded Tom Lee Park will open downtown in 2023, and in time for Memphis in May, a month-long festival celebrating the city’s culture with the famed Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. The $60 million transformation will add new pavilions, meditative paths, riverfront seating, sound gardens, and the Canopy Walk connecting the park to downtown—all a fitting tribute to the park’s heroic namesake, a Black Memphian who, nearly a century ago, rescued passengers from a sinking steamboat on the Mississippi River. Next up: The Walk on Union, said to be the largest new mixed-use development in the Southeast, will play host to retail businesses, green spaces, and two new Hilton hotels as it opens in phases over the next few years.
Memphis is also experiencing a hotel boom, with eight new properties in 2022 and more on the way. Recently opened are the funky The Memphian and Hyatt’s first Caption concept, both of which shine a light on the city’s heritage through design and cuisine, as does the latest crop of Memphis restaurants. Barbecue still reigns, but the city’s trendiest spots are lightening things up: Raw Girls now has two brick-and-mortar smoothie and juice bars, Food Network star chef Tamra Patterson will open a new vegetarian spot in 2023, and craft cocktail bar Cameo, opened this year, serves up sophisticated mocktails. —Kelsey Ogletree
Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood, once the realm for hustling wholesalers who trafficked flowers, hairspray, and handbags along Broadway between Madison Square Park and Macy’s, is taking its feast for the senses to new heights. Its eponymous hotel reopened last summer as London import The Ned, the Soho House spinoff that merges hotel and members club. Here, guests move to the rhythm of live jazz from the central bar, Little Ned, and navigate a maze of chambers lined with commissions from contemporary artists like Marilyn Minter and Mickalene Thomas. But the most discreet way to observe the celebrities occupying the Beaux-Arts landmark’s rooftop bar may be from an even higher perch—across the street at Jose Andres’ Nubeluz lounge on the 50th floor of the newly opened Ritz-Carlton NoMad. And if you see construction workers out the window, they’re likely on their way to complete the restoration of a Gilded Age bank, originally designed by McKim, Mead & White, that will soon house The Fifth Avenue Hotel—or maybe the newest kitchen of chef Freddy Vargas (who is fresh off opening the Aman New York) at Virgin Hotels’ first New York property.
Descend into one of NoMad’s best underground bars at subterranean Apotheke, a candlelit cocktail den hidden behind an unmarked door. One block up and a few steps down, Patent Pending is a speakeasy hidden behind daytime coffee shop Patent Coffee, which is used in signature cocktails like the rye and absinthe Odd Love. And there’s no reason to cross borders for neighboring flavors: You can experience the best of Koreatown at LittleMad, which offers a prix-fixe feast that starts with a smoky steak tartare, and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group has replanted its flag with the reopening of his trattoria Maialino (vicino). If you really need that Shake Shack fix, save it for the flight home from JFK. —Adam Robb
Northern Kentucky & Cincinnati
Ten years ago, Cincinnati bar maven Molly Wellman crossed the Ohio River to open Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington, Kentucky. The move set off a chain reaction of upscale bourbon bar and eclectic distillery openings in recent years, making the region a must-visit for whiskey lovers: The Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta, for one, has a legacy that extends beyond Prohibition; 11th generation distiller Royce Neeley is the first in his family in nearly 300 years to practice his craft with a license. At Second Sight Spirits in Ludlow, a pair of former Cirque du Soleil fabricators constructed a working still (the piece of equipment where the actual distilling process takes place) in the shape of a carnival fortune teller. And Newport’s New Riff Distillery started making their own bourbon in 2014, but true collectors source the team’s former product—O.K.I., a blend of whiskey sourced from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana tristate area—from Brad Bond’s Revival Vintage Bottle Shop in Covington, where dusty bottles are curated from private collections.