How to Throw a Party in a Totally Unique Spot
It’s time to get off the beaten path. There are tons of great venues in and around Memphis that make it really easy for you to throw an amazing party (or wedding or corporate event). But there’s also a bunch of amazing places that are not operating “venues” that would also be great places to party. With a little planning and the right team in place, you can turn almost any spot into a party.
To this day, the most amazing party I’ve thrown was a six-week pop-up at the Tennessee Brewery. This century-old castle-like building towering above the Mississippi River in Downtown Memphis was slated for demolition when some friends and I decided we’d like to at least send it out with a bang by throwing a party there. We cleaned it up, got the appropriate permits, and opened the gate in the spring of 2015 to hundreds of ecstatic Memphians. We poured local beers and made street tacos for them and they loved it! It’s amazing what a little music and some string lights will do in the right spot. Epilogue: a developer visited and had a beer and walked around and decided this building was too cool to demo; he bought it and turned it into one of the coolest multi-use projects in Memphis!
The three primary considerations for having a party in a nontraditional space are:
Before you do anything else you’ve got to get permission from the owner of the property. If the space is a store or operating business then the best way to start this process is to go there during operating hours and ask for the owner or manager. A face-to-face meeting is preferable because trust on both sides is so important. Ideally you want to get a signed use agreement in place before moving forward with any other steps. A use agreement will spell out the rent, timing, liabilities and other expectations of each side. If the space you want is vacant or not open, and there’s no signage on the door or windows with a phone number of the owner or real estate agent in the case of a listed property, then you can search online for owner. Google the address or go to the Assessor's website. Once you have the owner’s name and address you can send them a letter or usually with another Google search find their phone number. Again, getting a face-to-face meeting on site is usually best. Finally, if the property is municipally owned (such as a public park or pavillion) there’s usually already a process in place by which to reserve it.
If the place where you want to party is outside, you can usually just skip to the next paragraph about providing. If you want to protect yourself in event of harsh weather, I recommend working with a professional tent company like(Mahaffey) McHaffey -- they will take care of set-up, permitting and inspections for you (plus they usually rent everything else you might need for an non traditional party such as tables, chairs, lighting, even cooking equipment). If you are having your party inside of building that does not already have a Certificate of Use and Occupancy, then you’ll need to apply for a temporary use permit from the Shelby County Office of Code Enforcement. Basically what this means is you’ll email the Building Official Mr. Bobby Decker (Bobby.Decker@shelbycountytn.gov) and try to answer all the questions in the Code link above about temporary use permits so he can send out his staff to inspect the building for safety and hopefully issue your permit. If you want to have a parade or need a street closure use this form. Finally, you may need to apply for a beer permit if you want to sell beer. This application process is with the City of Memphis and is detailed in this blog post. Liquor and wine are regulated by the state of Tennessee and it’s a much more cumbersome process to get a permit to sell -- probably best to work with a licensed caterer as detailed below.
Providing food and beverage in non traditional settings is a specialized niche requiring special licenses, insurance and permits. Of course there is the DIY approach, but if you’ve read this far you probably are not into that. For example, our restaurant group owns a permitted mobile food trailer for off-site cooking. We do most of the prep on site in our restaurants, under strict health department-mandated safety rules and regulations. We hold a state of Tennessee-issued catering liquor license and employ certified staff to serve. This is what we do for a living, so a lot of the guesswork and unknowns are taken out of the equation. As mentioned above, working with a tent and party rental company like White Door or Mahaffey for furniture, lighting, shelter and equipment is a great way to make sure you’ve got everything you need.