Cozy Vibes, Craft Cocktails and Creative Cuisine Take Center Stage at Memphis Whistle

The popular cocktail delivery service now has a quirky home in Cooper-Young

Shrouded in the purple glow of bungalow bar lights on Young Avenue, mixologist Jef Hicks is hard at work. Behind warm eyes and a wide smile, the soft-spoken Hicks is welcoming his first customer of the night, a neighborhood local eager for a taste of Cooper-Young’s newest nightlife, Memphis Whistle.

Memphis Whistle building - purple home with skull sign out front
Joe Sills

Located on the east side of Young Avenue not far from the Liberty Bowl, Memphis Whistle is an ode to house parties Hicks would host during stints in New Orleans and Austin. Its interior, decorated with velvet, zebra print, antique mirrors, skulls, and at least one framed mortician’s license would fit well in the Bywater or Rainey Street of old.

But make no mistake, Memphis Whistle is 100% Memphian. The globetrotting Hicks got his start in the mid-1980s at the North End pub, while the steel skeleton of the Pyramid was under construction nearby.

masked bartender pour drink with blue lit bar in the background
Joe Sills

After residencies in America’s funkiest cities—including a time in Lee Harvey Oswald’s childhood home in New Orleans—Hicks returned to Memphis, where he became well-known as a master cocktail craftsman at The Cove.

During the pandemic, Hicks co-founded Memphis Whistle as a cocktail delivery service. Two years laters, after six months of hammering away in Cooper-Young, he’s given the joint a brick-and-mortar home alongside creative chef Kyle Gairhan and former North End comrade Winifred Henry.

Three people toasting with drinks in
Joe Sills

“You start with your eyes, then your nose,” Hicks says, artfully adding vodka to a Memphis Whistle Bloody Mary made with house-infused garlic, radishes, green beans, snap peas, okra, horse radish root, tomatillos and seven other peppers. “You follow it up with taste.”

The enormous jar of Bloody Mary mix, perched high on a shelf overlooking Whistle’s homemade bar represents the establishment’s approach. Here, it’s less important to read a cocktail menu and more important to tell Hicks what you like. Give him a few simple suggestions and he’ll do the rest. 

two craft cocktails on an antique table in soft sepia lighting
Joe Sills

“The drinks I enjoy making the most are the ones I make up on the spot,” he says. “I have fun when I get to ask guests three or four questions to get parameters of what they like. What spirit do you like? Do you like sweet or sour? Is there anything you don’t like? You get those answers and go through a mental rolodex of what you know, then you make a new riff.”

What To Eat At Memphis Whistle

Burgers, bar bites and dessert — In no way overshadowed by the encyclopedic bar service, Gairhan’s kitchen cranks out new takes on local favorites like barbecue nachos while serving up something fresh for vegans and meat-lovers alike. Headlined by crispy lion’s mane mushroom bites (available in four flavors, I tried the mojo flavor, a take on lemon pepper), Gairhan’s menu is brimming with dishes featuring regionally-sourced ingredients.

chef holding fried mushroom bites
Joe Sills

Vegan Reubens and blue oyster chili are on the menu, and Gairhan’s burgers are already targeting longtime city standard bearers like Huey’s. “I really want to win best burger,” adds Gairhan, who’s not shy about ratting off a gallery of locally-raised longhorn burgers like The Central Gardens, Summer Avenue and Grizz.

“The Central Gardens Burger uses cabernet-reduced apples and brie, Summer Avenue has a chipotle pimento cheese with fried onions, fried jalapeños and chipotle aioli, and we also do a custom veggie burger with candied mushrooms because everyone else has black bean.”

chef holding burger and bites at bar
Joe Sills

I dug into a pile of barbeque nachos, whose slow cooked pulled pork stands toe-to-toe with many of the city’s iconic smokehouses. In truth, the nachos at Memphis Whistle could surpass many of them thanks to a generous topping of beer cheese on a bed of blue corn tortilla chips that compliment a tangy barbeque sauce.

For the finale, Gairhan serves up an ice cream sandwich made with purple Ube and green Pandan sugar cookies. Straight from the set of Ninja Turtles, this fluorescent after affair contrasts well with the house peanut butter chocolate pie. Served alongside a cherry or orange-topped Beretta, the combo makes for one of the city’s most decadent desserts. 

Check Memphis Whistle's Instagram and Facebook pages for weekly specials and seasonal offerings, like mini king cakes during Carnival season

What to Drink at Memphis Whistle

Take your pick of classic cocktails or brainstorm with Hicks and Henry to unlock a new favorite like the Paper Plane. This blend of bourbon, Aperol and lemon juice was invented in 2008 in New York and in true Whistle fashion is a remix of an old staple, The Last Word.

water dripping into absinthe glass
Joe Sills

Sure, you can grab a standard old fashioned or martini at Memphis Whistle (and they’ll likely be among the best in recent memory) but this bar really shines with a master’s touch. Lean on the staff to make a custom cocktail for your palate or indulge in a visual treat with a curated collection of absinthe ready to light up the room.

After braving a Beretta, I opted to test the house absinthe game. Hicks, who has a special affinity for drinks made with fire, excitedly produced a variety of options before allowing a slow flame to generate a liquorice-flavored, high volume spirit. The presentation is still somewhat of a rarity in Memphis, and the entire experience—set amongst glowing bottles of house-infused liqueurs, mortuary decor and a mysterious monkey chair— compliments the ambience of the bar perfectly. 

drinks on bar with bartender in background
Joe Sills

Even here, crafting a simple drink with few ingredients beyond a cube, fire and water, Hicks’ passion for hospitality shines.

“All of us have a passion for feeding others,” adds Hicks. “Whether it be through food, liquor, talk or spirituality. If you want to come out and have fun, we want you to take your day off of your shoulders. We are here to make you smile.”

liquor carafe in front of blue lit bar
Joe Sills
Go There

Memphis Whistle
2299 Young Avenue



Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight, kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., kitchen closes at 3 p.m.

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