third-floor lobby area of Big Cypress Lounge in
Memphis, Tenn., is a lounge area for guests, with
taxidermy, a player piano and a view into the
expansive Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid below
Tenn. — A truly relaxing getaway is one where you can
check into a hotel and never get behind the wheel again
until it’s time to head home.
to Memphis will find two new resort hotels and one
established classic that offer plenty to keep guests
entertained. And more adventures off-site are just a short
walk or Uber ride away.
may never want to leave your room at these hotels, but you
really should. One-of-a-kind experiences await.
LUXURY: THE GUEST HOUSE AT GRACELAND
of the Guest House at Graceland as an Elvis
Presley-inspired hotel, rather than as an Elvis
Presley-themed hotel. You certainly don’t need to be his
No. 1 fan to stay here — it’s pretty cool on its own.
Guest House opened in October on property adjacent to the
Graceland mansion, where Presley lived from 1957 until his
death in 1977.
suites designed by the rock ‘n’ roll legend’s former
wife, Priscilla Presley, the 450-room resort is
excessively stylish. In the glitzy lobby — where we
spotted a bouffant and thick sideburns waiting in line at
the check-in counter, along with several contenders for
No. 1 fan — high-back chairs evoke the stand-up collars
of Elvis Presley’s jumpsuits. Splashes of color liven up
midcentury-style furnishings. Stylized close-up photos in
guest rooms and common areas highlight details from
Presley’s life: sunglasses, microphones, his iconic TCB
("Taking Care of Business") jewelry.
a grand staircase at one end of the hotel, a replica of
Graceland’s foyer stairs, is a chandelier originally
purchased by Presley for his own mansion.
never threw anything away," explains Anna Hamilton,
the hotel’s night manager. She graduated from Humes High
School 12 years after Presley. "When he discovered
that the chandelier was too big, he went out and bought a
— a veteran of Memphis’ restaurant and hospitality
industry who previously was a manager at the now-shuttered
Heartbreak Hotel across the street — delights in showing
off the Guest House. "I think it’s probably one of
the most beautiful properties I’ve ever been on."
of the well-appointed guest rooms is filled with luscious
textures, silky-soft bedding, mirrored surfaces and basics
such as a refrigerator, Keurig coffee machine and plenty
of places to plug in USB devices. (The Gideons Bible in
the nightstand is gold, naturally.)
suites such as the King’s Suites were inspired by
Presley’s own master bedroom, with canopy beds and TVs
on the ceiling. Living Room Suites use bold combinations
of deep yellow and navy blue. TCB Suites have a living
room and dining area.
furniture, to me, is extraordinary," Hamilton says.
"Every piece is something that Elvis would have
can grab a drink at the lobby bar — we tried the crisp
whiskey-ginger TCB and the tequila-based Blue Suede —
and enjoy it out on the back lawn. That’s where there’s
a pool, hot tub and heart-shaped fire pit, all set against
a serene wooded backdrop.
state-of-the-art fitness center also has great views of
the courtyard — or you can focus on the TVs built into
options at the Guest House include Delta’s Kitchen, a
fine-dining spot named for Presley’s aunt, and the more
casual EP’s Bar & Grill, which serves up comfort
food with a contemporary twist. There’s also a Shake,
Rattle & Go coffee shop serving Starbucks Coffee.
the lively EP’s, we tried the mac-and-cheese bites,
which our server recommended without hesitation. They
arrived within minutes, piping hot and ooey-gooey. Also
delicious was the Memphis Burger, a mess of cheese,
onions, tomatoes both regular and fried green, bacon and
housemade pickles, served with fries in a guitar-shaped
addition to conference and banquet rooms, the Guest House
has a 464-seat theater, which on our visit was hosting a
student jazz competition.
welcoming all aspects of the music world," Hamilton
says. "We want everyone to feel welcome — not just
the Elvis fans."
Elvis Presley Boulevard, the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis
greets visitors as the welcome center for Graceland tours.
The complex opened in March, replacing Graceland Plaza,
and is the attraction’s most significant expansion since
opening in 1982.
can purchase tickets, board shuttles bound for the
mansion, where 600,000 visitors tour annually, and browse
well-designed exhibits of artifacts from Presley’s life
200,000-square-foot space, which still smells like new
construction, allows for double the amount of memorabilia
to be displayed, including, for the first time, Presley’s
boat. A room is also devoted to automobiles, including his
pink Cadillac, and visitors can tour his airplanes
what visitors see is still only about 20 percent of a 1.5
Perry, a public relations coordinator for Elvis Presley
Enterprises, says archivists aren’t finished yet.
"We’ve got tons of receipts, contracts and papers.
They’re still cataloging. It’ll be 40 years in August.
They’re still working."
new archives exhibit shows some of the more mundane yet
oddly fascinating artifacts from the star’s life — a
shot-out TV set from his Palm Springs home, childhood
toys, a TAB soda fountain from his TV room. There’s also
memorabilia from his time in the Army.
Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum is home to a
floor-to-ceiling collection of Presley’s awards,
including gold and platinum records that had been on
display at Graceland’s racquetball court. (It’s now,
once again, a racquetball court.) And a space devoted to
Presley’s influence on the music world includes costumes
worn by other stars including Trisha Yearwood (with an
album cover signed by a young Patricia Yearwood), Justin
Timberlake, Gene Simmons and more. John Lennon’s piano
is also on view.
display Dwayne Johnson’s Elvis-inspired jumpsuit from a
2016 Spike TV special, Perry says, "We had to get a
buff mannequin. It just kind of hung on a normal
opening, she says, other artists have reached out wanting
to be represented. "We’re trying to make space for
everybody," she says.
appears daily on SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio (Channel 19),
which is broadcast from a new studio on the property. She
also co-hosts a "Starring Elvis Presley" podcast,
with commentary on Presley’s 31 feature films — 33
counting two documentaries. "If the podcast is
successful, which it’s been, we’ll watch those,
too," she says.
Graceland and Elvis Presley’s Memphis brings visitors
closer to Presley’s personality, says Perry, who was
born and raised in Memphis.
you’re a fan, you end up leaving an even bigger fan. If
you’re just an appreciator, you wind up leaving a fan.
Whatever level you’re at, Graceland kind of bumps you
For food and drinks after the hotel’s bar and
restaurants close for the night, head about 1 1/2 miles
down Elvis Presley Boulevard to Marlowe’s Ribs &
Restaurant. It’s hard to miss — there’s a big, pink
pig in front — but they’ll even send a pink Cadillac
limo to get you. There’s live music most Fridays and
heavy pours from friendly bartenders. Marlowe’s smokes
its award-winning meats daily for up to 16 hours. We
recommend the ribs, of course; the meat was so tender it
nearly fell off the bone.
ELEGANCE: BIG CYPRESS LODGE
onto the hotel-room balcony and gazing at the wildlife
below, then at the stainless-steel "sky" above,
one thing comes to mind: "Bio-Dome."
Pyramid downtown once was home to the Memphis Grizzlies
and the University of Memphis basketball program. But when
those teams left in 2004 for new arenas, the 322-foot-tall
structure sat empty.
Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, took over.
April 2015, the distinctive structure has been home to
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid and Big Cypress Lodge. The
world’s largest Bass Pro occupies the first floor and a
portion of the second; Big Cypress sprawls over the second
and third floors, with guest rooms overlooking the retail
store, which includes towering trees in a giant cypress
swamp with ponds and ducks, a tank with three real
alligators, 10 aquariums with more than 1,800 fish,
displays of taxidermy (obtained from collectors and
museums) and the world’s tallest freestanding elevator,
which takes visitors to a restaurant and observation deck
at the Pyramid’s pinnacle.
been a really cool experience — I’ve been here since
these rooms were down to the studs," says Anthony
Long, assistant front office manager for Big Cypress.
"I helped put all the mattresses in. A lot of us that
have been here since opening have really had a hand in
putting it all together."
Pro owns and operates another hotel property, Big Cedar
Lodge, near Branson, Mo., but this is the first to be
built with a store attached.
though it is a lively shopping environment in the center,
you really don’t hear a lot of it until you open that
door," he says. "You can hear the shoppers
moving around, you hear the music playing, but at night it’s
almost serene how quiet it is."
At night, after relaxing in rockers "outside,"
it was tempting to sleep with the balcony door open, if
only to enjoy the aroma of fudge and glazed nuts that
wafts throughout the building.
most rooms have interior views, a few suites give views of
downtown and access to a terrace. Other suites, such as
the Governor’s Suite, include living and dining areas.
"The last two Super Bowl Sundays we’ve had, this
room is gone almost as quick as people realize they can
book," Long says.
of the 104 rustic guest rooms brings the outdoors inside,
with handcrafted furnishings, taxidermy and antler
chandeliers. Some walls are covered with flattened tree
bark, and the spacious bathrooms have lighting that
creates a theatrical sunlight-through-trees effect over
the big Jacuzzi tub.
room also includes an electric fireplace, wooden-beam
ceilings, stained-glass accents, a refrigerator,
coffeemaker and complimentary snacks. (Bonus: cellphone
charging cables and an adapter that allows you to connect
streaming devices to the TV.)
mattresses and pillows are also incredibly comfy. Big
Cypress knows; they’ll give you a list of where you can
buy ‘em for yourself.
though Bass Pro is for the outdoors traveler, you don’t
have to be an outdoors person to come and experience and
have a good time," Long says. "It’s got a
little bit of everything for everyone.
got a lot of people who check in and don’t see the light
of day until they decide to check out again."
a ride in the freestanding elevator and enjoy dinner,
drinks or the view at the Lookout. The centerpiece of the
room is its open kitchen and a 10,000-gallon catfish
aquarium, but the real show is the panoramic view of the
city from two glass observation decks.
Lookout’s menu is concise but satisfying, featuring
Southern fare and seafood. Try the massive pork chop,
served with baby carrots, bacon, asparagus and a
whole-grain mustard beurre blanc, or the blackened
redfish, with red beans and rice and crawfish cream sauce.
From the cocktail menu, which emphasizes regional bourbons
and whiskeys, we enjoyed the classic blood and sand.
downstairs, end the evening at Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl
& Grill, a 13-lane, ocean-themed bowling alley. Its
signature drink, the Fishbowl, is made to share. It’s
boozy; you may feel like you’re underwater after
Buck’s more casual menu includes flatbreads (we enjoyed
the margherita), sandwiches and burgers, and specialties
such as breaded alligator and alligator mac and cheese.
(Just don’t let the gators on display see you eating
Take in more panoramic views of downtown from Big River
Crossing. The beautifully illuminated pedestrian bridge
over the Mississippi River opened in October.
SOPHISTICATION: THE PEABODY
hard to say who has it better: the ducks at Bass Pro Shops
at the Pyramid, who live in an environment resembling the
great outdoors, or the ducks at the swanky Peabody hotel,
who walk a red carpet and are treated like celebrities.
year, 200,000 people watch the Peabody’s famous ducks
march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. The birds spend the day in an
ornate lobby fountain before retiring to their rooftop
palace. Ducks serve for three months, then return to the
farm that’s been supplying them since 1981.
like the Harlem Globetrotters, like the Budweiser
Clydesdales — a fixture," says Jimmy Ogle, the
hotel’s Duckmaster. Edward Pembroke first held that
title for 50 years.
has been on duck patrol for about nine months, but he’s
no stranger to Memphis and Peabody history. He dispenses a
lot of it on his 11:30 a.m. tours of the hotel, a good way
to get an overview of downtown.
put a CD in your car, you’ll have the radio turned on,
you know 400, 500, 600 songs. I’m just singing Memphis
history — that’s my lyrics," he said on our tour.
A lifelong Memphian, he’s also the Shelby County
historian and gives walking tours downtown.
first Peabody hotel was built in 1869, a few blocks north.
The current structure dates to 1923. After closing in
1975, it was sold on the courthouse steps for just over
half a million dollars. It took five years and $25 million
to restore the hotel to its original splendor.
was the catalyst — it was the symbol of the
redevelopment of downtown," Ogle says.
Italian renaissance revival architecture throughout, the
Peabody was the first Memphis hotel on the National
Register of Historic Places. Its grand ballroom was the
site of Elvis Presley’s high school prom, and a piano on
the mezzanine once belonged to Francis Scott Key.
elegant guest room is comfortable and spacious, with a
sitting area, a walk-in closet and a beaded chandelier. A
phone and TV in the bathroom are nice touches. Other
suites include fireplaces, loft bedrooms, dining rooms and
opulent lobby is a great spot for people-watching. Settle
into one of the comfy chairs, and order a well-made
cocktail from the bar (we recommend the Jack’s Bramble,
made with Jack Daniel’s Honey, or the Memphis Mule, with
Pyramid vodka and ginger beer). A server will also bring
you a trio of snacks: wasabi peas, crackers and nuts.
There’s also the Corner Bar and Capriccio Grill, which
serves a Sunday brunch buffet.
souvenirs or light shopping, duck into one of the hotel’s
street-level boutiques such as Lansky at the Peabody,
where you can pick up a beautiful jacket like the one
Elvis wore when he married Priscilla. Bernard Lansky was
"clothier to the King."
Thursday evenings through Aug. 17, the Peabody hosts
rooftop parties with live music, food and drinks.
Admission is free for hotel guests.
long as you’re at the Peabody, do it up all the way with
a classic French dinner at the acclaimed Chez Philippe,
situated in a former ballroom on the hotel’s first
floor. At $90 per person for four courses (wine pairings
and seven-course option available), it’s a splurge.
our four courses: an English pea cappuccino, a frothy soup
with caramelized onion, garlic, English peas and maple
verjus; a vibrantly colored seared crab cake made with
scallop mousse and egg white; lightly seared Scottish
langoustines with carnaroli rice; and a local roasted
chicken, deboned, stuffed with brioche and wrapped with
pork jowl and served with Parisian gnocchi and pea puree.
It was filling, and dessert — a "trio brulee":
raspberry Chambord, lemon and thyme, and chocolate
mascarpone — had to be boxed up for later. Each decadent
treat was painstakingly garnished.
Philippe — named for Philip Belz, father of Jack Belz,
who renovated and reopened the hotel — is the only
Forbes Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamond restaurant in the
Mid-South. Members of the Belz family are depicted in a
series of Mardi Gras murals on the dining room’s high
walls. Afternoon tea is served here Wednesday-Saturday.
Earnestine & Hazel’s is a hole-in-the-wall bar with
literal holes in the wall. And floor and ceiling. And a
staircase that’s a good 30 degrees off-kilter. "It’s
real old and ratty as hell, but that’s why we love
it," one of the bartenders says. Upstairs, in a tiny,
smoky room at the end of a long hallway, a beloved
bartender pours drinks — he has six liquor bottles, so
keep it simple — and makes conversation. Downstairs,
three employees maneuver effortlessly in the cramped space
behind the bar, serving beers and grilling up their famous
Sure, we can have Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken any
time at its Maplewood outpost, which opened in 2015. But
there’s nothing like a visit to the mother ship in
Memphis, where we happily waited for 20 minutes on the
sidewalk to get a table on a recent Saturday afternoon.
(Our server said it was a slow day.) When our plates
arrived, we devoured the perfectly crispy, juicy fried
chicken — lightly spicy; taste buds or lips were not
damaged — and freed our table for the next hungry party.
If you don’t go to Graceland, you can get an abbreviated
look at music history at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame,
which honors musicians who created the city’s musical
legacy. Some of the artifacts on display: tape machines
from Ardent Studios and Hi Records, Willie Mitchell’s
trumpet, Sun Records checks signed by Sam Phillips,
handwritten lyrics by Johnny Cash, Al Green’s
three-piece suit, Elvis Presley’s portable telephone and
half of Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1983 Cadillac el Ballero (the
other half is nearby at Lewis’ Beale Street honky tonk).
Our first few hours in town, while wandering the streets
and peeking into shop windows, a friendly passer-by said,
"Come with me for two-for-one margaritas." We
did. And they were possibly the best we’ve ever tasted
— and not just because they were two-for-one. At Ave
Maria, the tasty signature Agave Marita uses Altos
Reposado tequila, fresh lemon and lime juice, and orange
juice. Always trust the locals when they steer you to what’s
On nearby Beale Street, stop by B.B. King’s Blues Club
for live music and a bite to eat. We loved the beef
brisket melt, piled high with juicy brisket and served
with a generous pile of fries. A few doors down, A. Schwab
Trading Co. is a good spot to find quirky souvenirs, from
hot sauce and pickled eggs to apparel and old-fashioned
candy. And if you’re thirsty, there’s a plethora of
establishments where you can walk up and get drinks
through a to-go window.
IF YOU GO …
Guest House at Graceland — 3600 Elvis Presley Boulevard,
Memphis, Tenn.; $209 and up, Graceland packages available;
Presley’s Memphis and Graceland — 3717 Elvis Presley
Boulevard, Memphis; $27-$57.50 for both attractions,
$17-$38.75 for Graceland only, VIP packages and discounts
available; 1-800-238-2000; graceland.com
Ribs & Restaurant — 4381 Elvis Presley Boulevard,
Memphis; 1-901-332-4159; marlowesmemphis.com
Cypress Lodge and Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid — 1 Bass
Pro Drive, Memphis; $180 and up; 1-800-225-6343; big-cypress.com
River Crossing — Access from Channel 3 Drive and
Virginia Avenue West, Memphis; Free; bigrivercrossing.com
Peabody — 149 Union Avenue, Memphis; $199 and up;
& Hazel’s — 531 South Main Street, Memphis;
World Famous Fried Chicken — 310 South Front Street,
Memphis; 1-901-527-4877; gusfriedchicken.com
Music Hall of Fame — 126 Beale Street (entrance on
Second Street), Memphis; $6-$8; 1-901-205-2532;
Maria Cantina — 83 Union Avenue, Memphis; 1-901-31-2096;
Street — bealestreet.com
King’s Blues Club — 143 Beale Street, Memphis;
Schwab Trading Co. — 163 Beale Street, Memphis;