Memphis: Blues, BBQ and Elvis
Known for Blues, BBQ and Elvis, Memphis is a city steeped in culture and tradition. There are many things to do and see in Memphis, but one of the largest tourist attractions by far is Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. I was a bit surprised to see that the estate was located in the heart of an urban neighborhood instead of the sprawling countryside, but once you enter the music note adorned gates, you are quickly transported back in time.
Many of the rooms in Graceland still contain the same furnishings and décor as it did when Elvis and his family lived there. Over 600,000 visitors tour Graceland every year, making it one of the most visited homes in the country. The mansion sits on 13.8-acres and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006. The only portion of the mansion that is off limits to guests is the upstairs, as Elvis always wanted to keep that portion of his home private.
Hundreds of gold records and memorabilia can be found throughout the estate. Even the clothes worn by Elvis and Priscilla on their wedding day can be seen behind glass in another building constructed on the property. Visitors can also tour Elvis’s private plane collection. I’m not talking about model planes, these are the real deal. Finally, pay your respect to the King with a visit to the Presley family grave site in the meditation garden.
If all of the touring has made you hungry, head downtown to find some of the best BBQ east of the Mississippi. Hidden in an alley off of 2nd Street is Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous, a Memphis institution featured on Travel Channel’s "Man v. Food Nation." Even though host Adam Richmond suggested trying the ribs, my guest and I both opted for the succulent Pork Shoulder sandwich. At just $7.95, this delicious over-sized sandwich arrives overflowing with pork and accompanied by baked beans and a unique mustard and vinegar-based slaw. It’s the perfect way to begin a culinary journey of Memphis.
After lunch, walk over to the historic Peabody Hotel and catch a glimpse of the world-renowned Peabody Ducks, which have been featured on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Sesame Street, the Oprah Winfrey Show and in People magazine. Over the years, celebrities including Paula Deen, Joan Collins, Kevin Bacon, Emeril Lagasse, Patrick Swayze, and Peter Frampton have received the coveted role of Honorary Duckmaster. The Peabody is a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, so you and your partner will feel welcome staying here.
Spend the early evening walking down Beale Street and listen to any one of dozens of live bands perform, or grab a cocktail at Wet Willie’s. Beale Street comes alive after dark, but if you’re looking to catch a great drag performance, head to Crossroads, one of Memphis’ premier gay bars. The establishment boasts a large stage, outdoor patio and multiple bar areas. However, they don’t serve alcohol but encourage patrons to bring their own.
Other options include Drew’s Place and Pumping Station, but club-goers should head to Spectrum. The 30,000 square-foot complex boasts two dance floors and is the hottest place in town to meet and mingle with the young and fabulous crowd.
Memphis is home to many music-related attractions in addition to Graceland. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located at the original site of Stax Records, pays tribute to all of the artists who recorded there. The museum features an amazing collection of more than 2,000 pieces of memorabilia from soul pioneers including Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson Five, Al Green, Sam Cooke, James Brown and Ray Charles.
A few miles up the road is Sun Studio, a recording studio opened by rock pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950. The building is known for recording what is being called the first rock-and-roll single, Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats’ "Rocket 88". The studio also holds the nickname "The Birthplace of Rock & Roll." Music legends including Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded here at some point in their career.
For dinner, I recommend Local Gastropub on Main Street. Diners should choose to sit outside and watch as street cars and decorated horse-drawn carriages travel up and down the street, which is closed to thru-traffic, giving Local Gastropub a very European vibe. The food at Local is varied and plentiful. For starters, try the Smoked Duck Quesadilla with chipotle aioli or the Crispy Spanish Shrimp with sweet paprika mayo. For a lighter entrée, choose one of Local’s signature salads. The Seared Tuna Tostada contains ahi tuna cooked to perfection over a bed of mixed greens, marinated cucumbers, crisp wontons and toasted sesame seeds with a Thai dressing.
If you have more of an appetite, try the Fish & Chips, a hearty portion of North Atlantic cod deep fried in a Ghost River Golden Ale batter with lemon dill tartar sauce served with hand cut fries. Another great selection is the Shrimp & Grits, served with chaurice sausage broth, tomato jam and fried egg.
Memphis is a great weekend destination and an excellent city for those looking to learn more about music history. Remember, bring your appetite and don’t forget to pack your blue suede shoes!
For more information of Memphis, visit www.MemphisTravel.com
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