Explore the Neighborhood: Overton Square

Check out the cool restaurants, theaters, shopping and things to do in Overton Square. Photo by Brand USA
Bright lights fill Circuit Playhouse. Photo by Andrea Zucker
Craft beer on tap at Boscos Squared
Craft beer and great food at Boscos in Overton Square. Photo by Justin Fox Burks
Hatiloo Theatre in Overton Square. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks
Hattiloo Theatre is one of few independent Black theatres in America. See a show in Overton Square. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.
Overton Square, Memphis, TN
Crowd gathers outside Sweet Noshings in Overton Square. Photo by Craig Thompson
Overton Square in Midtown Memphis
Overton Square in Midtown Memphis. Photo by Craig Thompson
Cocktails at The Second Line. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks
Handcrafted cocktails and New Orleans style food at The Second Line in Overton Square. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.
Chef Kelly English putting the final touches on a dish; Justin Fox Burks
Kelly English shows what makes him the best chef in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Near my Memphis neighborhood, there’s a place called Overton Square. Talk to Memphians of a certain age and they’ll tell you about buying their first liquor by the drink, catching an unknown Billy Joel in concert, and disco dancing here in the 1960s and ’70s. But when I moved to the city in 2010, the Square was a shadow of its former self. Buildings remained, but the tenants—and verve—had migrated. In 2012, that began to change. Just before Christmas, local artists debuted pop-up shops in the Square’s vacant buildings. Neighbors gathered for a tree-lighting on the Square’s defining corner. By New Year’s Day 2013, the Square was on its way back. 

Fast-forward to the present and the Square is at capacity, covered with people, bathed in punchy murals—one of those quintessential things to do in Midtown Memphis day or night, with or without the family. Just navigate to the corner of South Cooper Street and Madison Avenue and make your way with these tips:

Food (and drink)

There are so many restaurants on the Square today, you might want help simplifying your choices. My strategies:  

  • When the weather’s right, go wherever you can nab a patio seat.
  • Let the time of day decide for you. Some Square restaurants serve dinner only; some serve late-night; others serve weekend brunch.
  • Listen (or ask): Many Square restaurants feature live music, viewing parties, happy hours . . . they can get loud. Maybe that’s your thing; maybe not, so think before you sit.

Want to decide based on your food and drink choices? Consider this: 

It’s possible to eat around the world in one block of Overton Square. Share guacamole—made tableside—at Babalu. Cozy up to a steaming bowl of ramen at Robata. Grab a seat at one of Schweinehaus’ community tables to order a platter piled with sausages and potato pancakes. Savor tandoori at Golden India or a calzone with a local draft at Memphis Pizza Café

About that beer: You’ll find several Memphis craft brews on offer around the Square, but Boscos is the pioneer. (Literally—it was the first brewpub in Tennessee.) The award-winning Midtown Brown ale pairs deliciously with Boscos’ wood-fired pizzas. For a full bar, try Local Gastropub, pouring cocktails like the Velvet Elvis, made with tequila, Prosecco, lavender water, and muddled orange.

Square restaurants are family-friendly, but with our 8-year-old, we love Belly Acres, a cheery, dream-up-your-own-burger joint. The combinations are endless—think black-eyed pea “burgers,” grass-fed beef patties, brioche buns, maple ketchup. For dessert, skip over to Sweet Noshings for homemade ice cream in flavors like whiskey-honey or a scoop from a candy jar filled with gummy frogs or chocolate-covered marshmallows. Afterward, challenge each other to a game of Cornhole in the Square’s Tower Courtyard or make something together at The Art Project, a studio where kids can follow step-by-step craft ideas or use a treasure of supplies and recycled materials toward DIY creations.

Music, festivals, and theater

Remember that earlier bit about Billy Joel? The venue was Lafayette’s Music Room, and it was reincarnated as part of Overton Square’s recent revival. The venue now hosts nightly concerts (daily ones too, on weekends) by local, regional, and national touring musicians. The wrought-iron second-story balcony will charm you, but head inside for the intimate performances Lafayette’s is legendary for. Weekend brunch is perfect for chilling out to Memphis sounds—bluesy Susan Marshall, the funky instrumentals of Joe Restivo . . . These lower-volume shows are particularly family-friendly. (At Boscos’ Sunday Brunch, living-legend Joyce Cobb performs.) Without kids, gather any night around the piano at Zebra Lounge, where local singing pianists show what they’ve got. Too, keep an ear out for music coming from the Square’s Tower Courtyard—including the Midtown Opera Festival in April and free “Bluesday Tuesday” concerts throughout the summer. One more thing—Overton Square forms the heart of Memphis’ theater district, so check the season schedules for Hattiloo Theater and Playhouse on the Square (affiliated with two additional theaters in the neighborhood), or time your visit with the annual Indie Memphis Film Festival in November. 

Shopping

The Square has a strong cluster of small, yet well-curated, boutiques for clothing, shoes, and accessories. Try CrazyBeautiful and The Attic for women; The Attic also carries sharp looks and clever gift ideas for men. For active travelers, Breakaway Running and Delta Groove Yoga’s pocket-sized retail shop are spot-on. 

Nearby

  • Just west of Overton Square at South Florence Street and Madison Avenue, pop into Sew Memphis and Maggie’s Pharm. The former offers sewing classes and lovely notions; the latter offers locally-roasted coffee by the pound, essential oils, cheeky cards, and the like. Keep west on Madison and you’ll encounter several more restaurants and the vinyl haven that is Shangri-La Records.
  • Less than a mile north of Overton Square on Cooper Street, you’ll hit Overton Park, home to the Memphis Zoo, Brooks Museum of Art, Levitt Shell, Rainbow Lake Playground, Old Forest State Natural Area, a dog park, and more.
  • Slightly more than a mile south of Overton Square on Cooper Street, you’ll find yourself in Cooper-Young, another vibrant neighborhood. Thursday through Saturday evenings, “Ride the Roo” for $2 shuttle service between the neighborhoods. (Just look for the bus topped with a kangaroo clutching a martini.)
  • Across Cooper Street from Overton Square, you’ll find more dining options. In fact, they’re some of Memphis’ most acclaimed: elegant Bari Ristorante and Restaurant Iris; casual Second Line.

If You Go: 

Keep an eye out for free street parking along Madison Avenue and in lots that front Madison or Cooper. If you’re in and out by 6 p.m., parking is also free in the garage at 2100 Monroe Ave. After 6 p.m., a flat fee of $3 covers your whole evening, and a mobile-app payment option adds convenience.

Samantha Crespo