Long weekend in Memphis, the City of Blues

13 April 2012

The Blues City is not to be missed. This Tennessee town is a balanced blend of history, grunge and modernity. We stayed on the east side for a few nights, which I don't recommend to travelers. Although downtown can be a bit pricey, it's worth the extra cost for a few nights of your stay.

I found the downtown scene to be fairly minimal. There's Beale Street, the Mississippi, and a few tourist traps in between. Beale street is only about two blocks on both sides of the street. You'll come across B.B. King's among other well-known BBQ hot spots. But like any southern city, there's much more to Memphis than BBQ. If you only have one meal in Memphis, make sure you feed your appetite at Gus' Famous Fried Chicken. Honestly, there's nothing like it. They serve the best fried chicken I've ever eaten, and I've eaten quite a bit since being on the road. Their Yelp activity will convince you alone; even with 365 reviews it continues to climb. It's by far one of my top five places I've eaten across the U.S.

We also drove out to a little place called Earnstine and Hazel's. It's a dark, musty old bar kiddy corner to one of Elvis' favorite lunch joints, which is also a great place for lunch (try the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich). Earnstine and Hazel's only has one option on the menu: the soul burger. For $3.50, you get yourself a burger, chips and soda. But the reason to visit is more than the camaraderie among the locals, it's the history of the restaurant that will draw you in to eat. Above the restaurant is an old, rundown hotel and office area. Among the rooms you can tour is one of Ray Charles' places. And yes, it houses a rather rustic piano of his too.

One of the places we enjoyed most was our own hotel! We stayed at the Peabody for a few nights to really get a taste of the downtown area. It was really enjoyable to watch a tradition as historic as the Peabody Duck Master Ceremony. More importantly, the amenities were unlike any other hotel I've booked. The gym and pool practically belong in a resort.

In addition to some fabulous restaurants and a central hotel, I'd also suggest visits to Sun Studio and Graceland. Sun Studio is attached to an old diner where you can get soda in their old glass bottles while listening to some tunes from their jukebox. We toured the recording studio associated with the Million Dollar Quartet. We even belted a few notes into one of Elvis' original microphones! At $12 it was quite the bargain. Sun Studio also offers a complimentary shuttle among some of the Memphis hot spots. Be sure to ask for a schedule when you arrive.

Graceland was far beyond my expectations. We opted for the VIP tour, with a few additional benefits included at a slightly higher cost. We toured Elvis' mansion, his cars, his airplanes and a few studios packed with awards, memorabilia and incredible pieces you can't find anywhere else. By the end of the tour, I had a bit of a crush on Elvis. He was quite the man.

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