Maggie Squires pays her respects to Elvis and enjoys blues, brews and burgers in the lively Tennessee city
If you’re doing business in Memphis you’ll likely be based around Downtown, but for your first stop, head a short way south to the home of its most famous adopted son. Elvis Presley lived at Graceland from 1957 until he died in 1977, and a tour of the lavish mansion is a staple of any visit to the Tennessee city. It’s about a 15-minute taxi ride from Downtown and is close to the airport, so if you are sightseeing before you fly home, you might want to make it your final stop-off.
Elvis bought the mansion when it became apparent his astronomical fame meant he was going to need more security, and each room is a delightful spectacle. Highlights include the “wild jungle” room, featuring animal prints, overgrown plants and a green carpet intended to resemble grass. At the end you can pay your respects at his grave (and ponder – is he really down there?). Open 9am-5pm (10am-4pm Sun). Tours run every 15 minutes and last about an hour. Tickets cost US$30 and can be booked online in advance. 3,734 Elvis Presley Boulevard; elvis.com/graceland
Take a taxi for ten minutes to Midtown and get out at the intersection of South Cooper Street and Young Avenue, home to Memphis’s young and hip art scene. It’s a great area to kick back and relax for an afternoon, with a wide range of shops, bars and eateries.
Visit Java Cabana at 2,170 Young Avenue for a fantastic cup of coffee and take in the beautiful modern art pieces by local artists that line the walls. Nearly all of it is for sale if you want to pick up something unique, while a retro range of off-the-wall music can be purchased at the till. There’s also a set of Jenga blocks for customers’ use – other patrons will often join in, so it’s a fun way to meet some locals. Open Tues-Thurs 6.30am-10pm, Fri-Sat 9am-12am, Sun 12pm-10pm. Visit javacabanacoffeehouse.com
At 2,160 is one of several vintage stores in the district, Hi-Octane Vintage. The prices are low, and you can shop for clothing, accessories and furnishings. Tel +1 901 272 0917.
If Graceland whetted your appetite for some jungle fun, head next for Memphis Zoo in Overton Park, about 3km north-west of Midtown. Ranked the number one zoo in the US in 2008 by Trip Advisor, it’s home to more than 3,500 animals and 500 species, including majestic lions and lengthy snakes. For a few extra dollars you can also enter the China exhibit to see the endangered giant pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le, gnawing on bamboo. The zoo is one of only four in the US to have giant pandas. Open 9am-4/5pm. Entry is US$15. 2,000 Prentiss Place; memphiszoo.org/visit
Brooks Museum of Art
Still in the park and about five minutes’ walk away is the Brooks Museum of Art, at 1,934 Poplar Avenue. One of the largest galleries in the American South, its collection includes everything from ancient Mediterranean objects to modern American works by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe. The “European to 1900” display includes pieces by Renoir, Canaletto, Van Goyen and Gainsborough. Recent exhibitions have focused on the works of Picasso and Dali, while running until September 26 is the photographic showcase “Who Shot Rock and Roll?”. Guided tours lasting 45 minutes are available. Entry is US$7. Open Wed and Fri 10am-4pm, Thurs 10am-8pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm. Visit brooksmuseum.org
A five-minute walk south on Tucker Street will take you to this classic bar and grill at 1,927 Madison Avenue, right where Madison and Tucker intersect. Huey’s certainly lives up to its “Blues, brews and burgers” slogan, and although there are now several Huey’s restaurants in the Memphis area, this Midtown one is the original, open since 1970.
When you enter, look up and you’ll see a sea of toothpicks stuck in the ceiling. Have a go at shooting your own picks using your straw – it takes a while to get the hang of it, so don’t be afraid to ask your waiter or waitress for more of the little wooden sticks.
Huey’s famous burgers have been voted the best by Memphis Magazine every year since 1984 and are good value, starting from US$5.45. Leave your mark on the city by adding your name to the graffiti on the walls. Live bands play every Sunday night and the bar offers one of the widest beer selections in the city. Open Mon-Thurs 11am-1.30am, Fri-Sat 11am-2.30am, Sun 11.30am-1am. Tel +1 901 726 4372; hueyburger.com
To end your tour, head Downtown to one of the liveliest streets in the US. If Memphis is the home of the blues then Beale Street, which stretches from South Riverside Drive to South Lauderdale Street, represents its true soul. You’ll find numerous gift shops and original Memphis cuisine here, as well as WC Handy, a park where you can enjoy free live blues music day and night.
It’s at night that Beale Street really comes alive, as the crowds pour in for a night on the town. Drinks are sold on the street – try a Big Ass Beer, or a Walk Me Down if you dare – a delightful concoction including vodka, triple sec, rum, gin, tequila and blue curaçao.
Check out the live entertainment and great drink selection at Silky O’Sullivan’s – “where everyday is like St Patrick’s Day” – at number 183 (silkyosullivans.com). And be sure to stop and watch the Beale Street Flippers – young locals who do backflips down the street at night for money. The troupe has been working the crowds for more than 20 years, and recently found its way on to the show America’s Got Talent. If your hotel is located Downtown, there’s a trolley stop on Beale Street that you can take home for US$1. Visit bealestreet.com
- Kemmons Wilson opened his first Holiday Inn on Summer Avenue in Memphis in 1952.
- Martin Luther King was killed at the Lorraine motel in 1968.
- Musicians associated with the city include Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Isaac Hayes, Booker T Jones and Al Green.
Go to memphistravel.com for more information.