Itinerant Fan



When you think of Memphis, chances are you think of two things: the blues and barbecue. Sports might be a distant third (if that) among visitors to the city, but there are many reasons to check out the city’s lone professional sports team, the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, at FedExForum.

One of those reasons is that they play in a beautiful facility which is just steps from the famed Beale Street and many other attractions in the downtown area. FedExForum is also home to the University of Memphis’ basketball team, a local favorite in its own right.

In large part because they’re Memphis’ only entry in the pro sports scene, the Grizzlies are beloved locally and their familiar two-tone blue color scheme can be found in many, many spots throughout town.

On game nights, folks downtown are heading to one of two areas — the music clubs on Beale or the game at FedExForum, so just follow along to get a taste of the Grizzlies experience.

The approach: Getting to FedExForum

Just about everything a tourist would want to see and do in Memphis is located downtown (well, with the notable exception of Graceland), which makes FedExForum mighty convenient.

If you’re staying downtown, the arena is within reasonable walking distance (within a mile, that is) of just about every major hotel in the downtown area. And it’s easy to spot, not far from the hustle and bustle and neon lights of the blues clubs, bars and eateries of Beale Street. (Note: even though the arena lists its address as 191 Beale Street, it’s actually separated from Beale Street by a row of restaurants and bars and a small alley.)

If you’re not staying downtown and are driving in, there’s lots of parking around — most of the major lots are just south of the arena, including a five-story parking garage that’s attached to the building. The farther south you get from the arena, the shadier the area looks, but stick with the crowds of fans and it shouldn’t be an issue.

Oh, and downtown Memphis is quite easy to access via Interstate 40 to the north or I-55 to the south. Pay attention when the downtown exit on either route is approaching, though, lest you wind up across the Mississippi River and in Arkansas, where you’ll have to find a spot to exit and turn around.

For my part, I was staying downtown, about a seven-or-eight block walk from the arena. It was a rainy Monday night so there weren’t as many folks out on the sidewalks as you might expect, but as I got closer to the arena I noticed an increase in pedestrians, particularly those wearing Grizzlies gear.

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The build-up: Things to do around FedExForum

Well, it’s hard NOT to find a place to hang out and eat, drink and/or people-watch before the game, what with so many different night spots around. The three blocks of Beale Street just west of the arena, toward the Mississippi River, are the most active for nightlife — chances are if you’ve read a tourbook or watched a TV show about visiting Memphis, the images you’ve seen include shots of this district.

Yes, Memphis is the home of the blues, and live music abounds at many of them, but you’d be surprised how many establishments also cater to a more mainstream crowd. (Honestly, I heard as much Katy Perry and Taylor Swift being blared on loudspeakers as traditional blues guitar licks as I walked down the street.)

If you’re interested in checking out a quick taste of the city’s music culture, the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum is attached to the arena in a building just to the side of the main entrance on the west side, facing B.B. King Boulevard. Also not far away (across the street, in fact) is the Gibson Guitar factory and museum, where you can witness the production of instruments used by some of the world’s most renowned musicians.

Memphis has just as solid a food scene as it does a music scene, so by all means sample some of the local fare if you have an opportunity to do so before the game. Some well-known restaurants within a nice stroll of FedExForum worth trying out include: Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous (touristy but famous for its ribs); Dyer’s Burgers (100-year-old local institution that deep-fries its burgers), Gus’s Fried Chicken (which routinely makes lists of best fried chicken restaurants in the country) and the Kooky Canuck (known for giant hamburgers). I’m proud to say that during a 24-hour stay in Memphis I managed to hit two of these spots, Dyer’s and Gus’s, and both were well worth the visit.

FedExForum entrance

The ambiance: Watching a game at FedExForum

FedExForum looks like most other arenas on the outside so, to me anyway, it wound up feeling surprisingly big within the seating bowl. There’s a lot of room to roam about on the concourses, and the seating bowl stretches pretty high up across three levels.

So if you’re sitting in the upper deck, the basketball court might seem a little far away. Considering that basketball games (Grizzlies and Tigers) are the primary type of event the facility is used for, it’s worth taking into consideration when you’re buying a ticket for an event here. My seat for this game was about eight rows up in the upper deck, and it already felt high.

If you walk around, though, you can get a nice feel for the music theme that they’re going for here. You’ll see notes, old album posters and the like decorating the walls — yes, you will see Elvis images in a few spots.

Interestingly enough, there’s also an entire section of the concourse devoted to FedEx, the arena’s naming sponsor, complete with a career recruitment desk (come for the basketball, stay to get a new job!). You’ll also find concession stands for the aforementioned Rendezvous, soul food and state fair food — fried Twinkies are on the menu at the latter spot!

Be sure to go in through the main entrance plaza, which features a marquee advertising the night’s event the way a good concert hall would. And if you look to the right, you’ll get a glimpse at the team’s practice court through a very large window.

The fans here do get into their Grizzlies, who have rewarded them in recent years with several playoff runs, including a trip to the conference finals in 2013. 

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    The Particulars

    Home Teams
    Memphis Grizzlies
    Memphis Tigers

    191 Beale Street
    Memphis, TN 38103

    Year Opened


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