When it comes to drinking, I typically don't need things to be made too difficult. I like my bartenders like I like my enemies: close and familiar with my bad habits. But I stepped out of my comfort zone to visit The Lookout, the steampunk/fish tank-themed bar at the top of the Bass Pro Pyramid. I had been only once, when it first opened, and while impressive, I assumed it was a novelty space and not one I would frequent regularly, if at all.
The first obstacle that I don't like standing between a bar and me is a free-standing elevator. The Pyramid itself is 32 stories tall and the elevator covers a solid 28 of them, but I've overcome greater obstacles for whiskey. I visited on a Tuesday right around sunset, where I was surprised to find a pretty good crowd for early in the week. Most were the professional sort. The folks dining at tables looked like the type of people that don't want to pay for the Affordable Care Act but are totally okay with paying $10/person to ride in an elevator while a recorded greeting from Bill Dance plays.
The bartender working that evening, Jay, has been at The Lookout since it opened. He was full of useful information, but that can wait. Let's get to drinking. I had the Blood and Sand, a spin on an Old Fashioned made with Maker's 46. My friend had the Memphis Mule'shine, made with Tito's vodka and Ole Smoky Peach Moonshine. The specialty drinks were strong and ranged in price from $10-$12, so while it's not the cheapest bender you'll go on this week, it gets the job done. Jay said that one of the more popular cocktails is the Uncle Buck, a less-sweet margarita made with tequila and Chartreuse. We tried that next, and it was delicious, although I caution against drinking multiples of it before stepping back on that elevator.
The main draw of The Lookout, of course, is the view. The sides of the restaurant open on both the west and south sides, where visitors can take a selfie on a sprawling observation deck overlooking the river and downtown Memphis. Though the walls may not be completely open every day, the decks are always accessible. I've always wanted to see what it would be like up there for a lightning storm (try the Quiet Storm, $10!). The other draw is the massive fish tank in the middle of the bar. The bar encircles it, assuring you a great view of a 70-pound catfish and its smaller friends. Jay calls the catfish Priscilla, though he said everyone has their own name for her. If fish in captivity aren't your thing, there are TVs to watch Grizzlies games. This isn't a bucket-of-beer type place, though, so prepare to pay $5 a beer for domestics and $6 for specialty beers to cry into during the third quarter.
I've lived here 11 years, so I'm guessing that makes me enough of a Memphian to have the "Let's size this situation up and see what could go wrong" attitude, which is how it came to be that I asked Jay about what we do in case of a fire. I looked for emergency stairs on the ride up and couldn't find any. Jay explained that along the inside of the Pyramid, cleverly disguised and encased, are nearly horizontal "staircases," horizontal enough that they turn a 28-story trek into a 56-story one. Next question? "They have the weight capacity for all staff and guests," Jay said.
That settled, I moved on to the wine. Their extensive wine list featured many by the glass, all $8-$16. They also had a list of regional whiskeys and bourbons, ranging from $10-$25. The Lookout serves a full lunch and dinner menu to help absorb multiple Duck Blind Sunrises, a boozy rum cocktail that is also popular with the clientele. There is also live music a couple of times a week. It might not ever be my go-to neighborhood bar, but a post-work cocktail high above the city? It might as well be at The Lookout with Jay.