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Best of Memphis 2017: Staff Picks

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Stubby Clapp
  • Stubby Clapp

Best Backflip in Time

A baseball generation ago — in a year of innocence we knew as 2000 — a back-flipping second baseman named Stubby Clapp led the Memphis Redbirds to a Pacific Coast League championship. It was the inaugural season of baseball at AutoZone Park, and the sunshine felt permanent. Clapp played his last game for Memphis in 2002, though, and departed for various jobs as a player and coach over the next 14 years. But he's back now. As a rookie manager in 2017, Clapp guided the Redbirds to a franchise-record 11-game winning streak and the most wins (91) for any Memphis baseball team since 1948. His Redbirds managed the unthinkable record of 13-0 in extra innings and won the franchise's third PCL title in a five-game series over defending champion El Paso. Of course they did.

Frank Murtaugh

Best Place to Hear and Play Jazz

I typically have no truck with organized religion, but, hey: That's why God made Unitarians. The real spiritual experiences, for me, have always been musical. Most often while straining to see over a club crowd. But on the occasions that the Church of the River includes jazz in their Sunday service, what a gift to be able to see a barge snaking along the Mississippi out the wall-sized window while the sounds of reeds and bass and a piano — a real piano, by God — resonate around you. — Alex Greene

Best Reason to Tear Up at Christmas

Nut ReMix by the New Ballet Ensemble, a wholly original pastiche of Tchaikovsky, Duke Ellington, Booker T. and the MGs, and hip-hop. It always gets me right in the gut. Yes, my daughter has been up on the stage in recent years, but it's the inspired re-imagining of Memphis as the backdrop to a magical realist, globe-trotting romance that really gets me, every time the marvelous Memphis Symphony Orchestra fires up a pitch-perfect "Green Onions." — AG

Best Ambassador for Memphis

Cory Branan. Sure, I was playing bass for the guy, with the band backing his new album through 14 states. But every night, he sent us off to drink while he took the stage alone and played songs from his back catalog. And every night it struck me, as the crowd pulled in closer to hear it, that “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis” is a perfect composition — seemingly plucked out of the ether. Perhaps it fell from a balcony on the Tower of Song. It may have a cracked rib, but it had everyone singing along, every night, imagining life here and that feeling of “what if?,” borne of a land where poverty and beauty frequent the same bar. — AG

Best Reason to be Proud of Memphis Politics

Steve Cohen. From keeping tabs on water contamination to filing articles of impeachment, the guy has principles, character, and ideals. Just what the Beltway needs. — AG

Best Newspaper Columnist Not In Print Much

Chris Herrington's "The 901" column goes online at (duh) 9:01 a.m. on The Commercial Appeal website each day, and if you're not reading it, well, you ought to be. The former Flyer music and film editor offers a smart and (mostly) concise look at the city's news and events and music and sports that should be one of every sentient Memphian's "must-reads."

Bruce VanWyngarden

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Best Addition to the Best Thing That Happened Last Year

In 2016, Memphis opened Big River Crossing, which allowed joggers, cyclists, hikers, and just plain ol' strollers to cross the Mississippi River on the Harahan Bridge. Now Arkansas has upped the ante with the addition of the Delta Regional River Park, which offers a six-mile trail along the river through vast low-land fields, with spectacular views of the Memphis skyline. — BV

Best Daily Giggle — and Outrage

Nextdoor.com offers a daily thread of accidental humor, lost puppies, “suspicious” teens, doorbell videos, hummingbirds, curb alerts, broken-into cars, missing newspapers, dog-poop-in-the-yard drama, stolen bikes, found kittens, ill-founded rumors, and every other possible human variant that can be explored in an online forum. — BV

Best Over-Hyped Event of the Year

The great eclipse in Memphis was … meh. Thousands of us got the glasses and waited eagerly to see the most spectacular solar event of our lifetimes. Only to discover that a 94 percent eclipse is more like a kinda, slightly, cloudy day. If we hadn’t sat out there in the heat and stared at the sun, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed it happened. — BV

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Best Missed Opportunity

City officials could've covered up the statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis right after the Charlottesville rally in mid-August. But they didn't. They said they didn't want a short-term solution. I get that. But boarding them up (which attorneys here say is perfectly legal) would have sent a clear message to the community: You hate them. We hate them. We want to do as much as we can to ease this pain as quickly as we can.

Toby Sells

Best Unifier/Divider

The Tom Lee Storm. Hurricane Elvis 2. Hurricane Priscilla. The Memorial Day Weekend Storm. Or, as the National Weather Service called it, the Memorial Day Weekend Derecho Wind Event. Wind and rain power-washed Memphis in late May. Trees were down. Power was out. It sucked, but I loved seeing neighbors take care of each other. Rides were given. Provisions were shared. GoFundMe pages were opened. Power cords were run across streets. The only thing that divided Memphians that week was what to call the darn thing. (Except nobody anywhere ever calls it the Memorial Day Weekend Derecho Wind Event.) — TS

Best Low-Hanging Fruit

If a politician ever wanted to be brilliant at the basics, they'd make sure all city payments could be made electronically, at least with a damn debit card. It's 2017, y'all. C'mon. — TS

Best Butthole Buzz

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The only butthole-related scandal that mattered this year was ButtholeGate, of course. This mighty beast of social-media hilarity and hurt feelings rose in July from a Google review (yes, a Google review) of Imagine Vegan Cafe in Cooper-Young. ButtholeGate paralyzed Memphis Facebook and Twitter for nearly two days, and the story finally spread as far as The Washington Post (yes, that Washington Post). Before it was all over, the humor harvest yielded "Butthole McYodelTown," a puckered logo for "Hole Foods Memphis," and #buttholesoutforchelsea.

TS

Best Smoke and Mirrors Show

As a reporter, sometimes you know you’re getting an agreed-upon, rehearsed line, not the unfiltered truth. That’s how it seemed with the quick exit of Terence Patterson from his post as president of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC). DMC leaders and Patterson swore on the record that he wasn’t forced out or cajoled in any way. If not, Patterson must’ve had a career epiphany on par with Noah and the ark. — TS

Best Mixed-Use Development

Back in the early 20th century, the Crosstown building housed a Sears retail establishment and warehouse (among other things). However, by the early 1990s, the 1,000,000-plus-square-foot building was completely abandoned, and for a while it looked like a huge haunted house. Beginning in 2010, community leaders and members started working on the building's redevelopment. One could realistically spend most (if not all) of their days in this building. They could simply rent an apartment, work in one of the office spaces, and do most of their errands and spend their leisure time — like grocery shopping, going out to eat, going to the gym — all in the same building. Sounds like a cool deal to me.

Julia Baker

Best Vibe

It’s the neon lights of Beale Street, the tourists with fanny packs around their waists and cameras hanging from their necks, and business people dressed their best; the live jazz and blues music playing on Beale; and the aroma of Memphis barbecue from places like Central BBQ, Blues City Cafe, and Rendezvous. Then there’s the much more tranquil vibe of Tom Lee Park, with the breeze that flows ever so gently through your hair and the breathtaking views of the river, Hernando de Soto Bridge, and the Pyramid. There’s just no place like downtown Memphis. — Julia Baker

Katori Hall
  • Katori Hall

Best Homecoming

Memphis has an Olivier-winning playwright and Broadway veteran calling the artistic shots for one of its most ambitious theater companies. With plays like Hurt Village and The Mountaintop, Craigmont grad Katori Hall took authentic Memphis in all its gritty, messed-up glory to the world. Now, as the newly installed artistic director of the Hattiloo Theatre, she's bringing a little of the world back home.

Chris Davis

Best Reason to Buy Your Drive-Thru Tops 'Cue by the Pound Instead of by the Sandwich

Leftover barbecue omelettes cure everything from the hongry to the hangry, not to mention hangovers. Go ahead and stir in some spinach if it makes you feel better about yourself. — CD

Best reason not to share an apartment with Andy Wise

No words, just read the screen capture. — CD

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Best Memphis Related Closed Captioning Typo

Sun Records may not have been renewed for a second season, but a captioning error transforming “Hotter than Memphis asphalt” to “Hotter than Memphis ass farm” will live in idiomatic perpetuity. — CD

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Best Additions to Memphis’ Animal Kingdom Hall of Fame

2017 will go down in history as the year that Frayser Bear and the mysterious creature identified by WREG’s senior weird animal correspondent Kelsey Ott as “we believe it’s a young albino raccoon” joined a proud cadre of beasts like Midtown Coyote, the High Point Murder Owl, Al Green’s cows, and Hugh Manatee. — CD

Best John Daly-related Twitter Search

“John Daly,” Renaissance painting. You get stuff like …

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Best Reason to Close a Street

If you're going to close down a good portion of a busy downtown street, you might as well paint basketball courts and a skating rink on it, add some cool lights and plants, make it free, and call it RiverPlay. That's what happened on Riverside this summer thanks to the national Reimagining Civic Commons initiative. It was colorful, different, and fun. — Maya Smith

Best Worst Mass Hysteria

The Great Z-Bo MLGW Panic of 2017: After much-beloved Grizzly Zach Randolph was signed by the Sacramento Kings, many wondered whether he would keep up his philanthropic efforts around town (such as the Zach Randolph Community Assistance Fund). In July of 2017, a mass hysteria caused by a software glitch on MLGW payment kiosks made many Memphians believe Randolph had paid their utility bills, despite insistences from MLGW and from the Grizzlies that it wasn't the case.

It was funny for a little bit, but also a reflection of how even though Memphis' utilities are relatively affordable, that bill is still a huge burden to many of our poorest fellow Memphians, and an indictment of how easy it is to spread false information on Facebook when the information seems too good to be true. Randolph is gone, though his Community Assistance Fund remains, but it seems unlikely that he's going to pay 90 percent of the utility bill of thousands of Memphians any time soon. 

Kevin Lipe

Best Retired (and Almost Forgotten) Politicians

Two, both of whom hug the stripe down the middle of the road, are Bill Morris, the former longtime Shelby County Mayor and gubernatorial candidate; and Dick Hackett, the '80s-early '90s Memphis chief executive best remembered in history as the white Mayor Willie Herenton beat in the epochal 1991 election to become the city's first African-American Mayor. Morris was influential first as the young Sheriff who made sure MLK-slayer James Earl Ray was properly incarcerated and safeguarded for trial and then as the County Mayor who did more than anybody else to see that Shelby County got home rule and for racing everywhere imaginable by plane, train, and automobile along with Hackett to recruit industry and new business to these parts. Hackett gets kudos for that last feat as well and for the grace he showed in conceding his ultra-narrow defeat by Herenton without a call for a recount or a divisive court challenge.

Jackson Baker

Best Retired (and Still Well-Remembered) Politicians II

There are three. (1) You have to give Willie Herenton his props for his pathfinding skill in first becoming Memphis’ first black school superintendent and then, after negotiating himself out of a crisis situation there, creating a united front around himself as the pathfinding consensus African-American candidate and winner of the 1991 mayoral race. And, for all the highs and lows of his 17 years in office, he had one indisputably heroic moment — his Horatio at the Gate resistance to the 1997 “toy towns” bill that got it reversed in court and paved the way for sensible legislation on cities’ expansion rights. (2) Harold Ford Sr., who, as state legislator and longtime Congressman, created the most enduring local political organization after the fall of the Crump machine — focused on his family, to be sure, but including numerous other public figures, white as well as black. (3) A C Wharton, whose shucksiness and good nature as Mayor were indispensable in re-stabilizing good will across political and racial lines in the jangled aught years of the current century. — Jackson Baker

Best Place to Pay Attention

It was brief as it was brutal. Yes, we're speaking of the reign of terror of one rather small but vicious median at Overton Square. Reports had it that it took out 12 cars in one night. The city tried to tame it with reflectors and orange markers, and yet its neon crosswalk sign still tumbled. Then zip pffft quiet. But make no mistake, you drivers of Memphis, the median is still out there ... waiting.

Susan Ellis

Best Place to Catch Up on Your Reading

Remember that episode of Weeds where Nancy was stuck at the Mexican border and had to pee into a cup in the car? Do we need to be ready with a pee cup, do we need to bring a book or something to while away the hours-seeming wait at the light at Cooper and Poplar? Whhhhyyyyyy is it so long? — SE

Best Underreported Story

Janis Fullilove's cat pillow. — SE

Best Tease

Why does Trader Joe's have to do us like this? After years of yearning, they finally paid attention to us, only to draw back and say they're not willing to fully commit quite yet. Whatever. We've got Sprouts now. (Over shoulder, mouthing, "Call us when you're ready, TJ.") — SE

Best Words

This one’s a tie between Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s gloriously frustrated (that pen slam!), “Take that for data” and the to-the-point hashtag “#Takeemdown901,” the battle cry to remove the Confederate statues. — SE


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