As it does from time to time, my job called me away on Friday to visit one of our jobsites, this time to Memphis to spend some time with the staff who call Memphis home. Even though we have had some work there for many years, I had never made the trip over (I blame the incredibly boring 4 hour drive that sits between Memphis and Huntsville). Because of the timing of visiting on a Friday, Rob tagged along so we could enjoy a short trip away together and both visit a city we’ve never spent any time in. It was a fun 24 hours in The River City, and I’ll detail some of our more exciting sights and eats below.
We left very early in the morning and made the slowish drive through absolutely-nothing-Mississippi. Arriving at around 9:30 in the morning, the day was bright and sunny with a chilly breeze. Our first stop was the Turner jobsite there in downtown, as we are working to build the newest addition to the Methodist University Hospital project. I spent a few hours on site with my co-workers, walked the job, visited our downtown main office location, and found other ways to make myself look busy enough to justify the trip 🙂 As soon as the clock hit early afternoon, we scooted out of there in search of some grub.
There is NO shortage of places to eat in Memphis. Around every corner are dive bars and BBQ joints. We settled on “Huey’s” since it was a Memphis staple and surprisingly crowded for an early Friday afternoon. It is an all American bluesy burger joint that had been there since 1970 boasting of a world-famous burger. We ordered a beer and a burger of course 🙂
It was a great lunch! Properly fueled, we hit the streets again in search of other fun spots. I should mention that we stayed at the Peabody Hotel, which is an awesome location in downtown and provides a really convenient way to walk everywhere you might want to go. We parked in our parking garage and just walked everywhere from there. We had previously bought tickets online to visit the Gibson guitar factory and our guided tour began at 3pm, so that’s where we went next.
Rob, of course, loves guitars and music and has a Gibson Les Paul in his own collection. So naturally he was very interested in touring the factory there in Memphis where all of the semi-hollow bodied guitars are hand-made. It was about an hour long and was 10 bucks a person- definitely recommend for any musician. It really was evident how well made these guitars are and just how special the entire process is. For instance, every guitar out of this place is hand painted by a guy named Tony. And he hand blends all of the bursts. Just cool facts like that 🙂 We couldn’t take any pictures during the tour itself, but I snagged a few in the lobby and in the gift shop. Rob (thankfully) didn’t purchase any guitars.
An hour long tour makes you thirsty, so we walked a few steps to the Flying Saucer and had some tasty beverages. After a flight of beer, we set off to walk Beale Street! This vibe reminds me of Broadway in Nashville, or like River Street in Savannah. It gets shut down to only foot traffic and there is music coming from every direction, lots of interesting bars and shops and of course, just about any adult beverage you could want. We very happily found our old friend, Wet Willies, and even though it was a very windy 45 degrees, we still got a frozen beverage and walked back to the hotel with it! The Peadbody is really an incredible hotel and a beautiful piece of Memphis history. It’s rich in architectural beauty and fun tradition that have made this a must-visit place since its rebirth in the early 1980s after its renovation. We checked in just in time to watch the ducks march out of the fountain in the center lobby where they spend their day, down their red carpet and into the elevator to go back up to the roof for the night. The place was PACKED just with people waiting to see the ducks march. From where we were, I couldn’t get the greatest picture, but I tried anyway. The official duck-master is the man in the red coat. After the spectacle ended, we decided to hang out in the lobby and order coffee service. This place has a swanky old money feel that makes you want to stay and be part of it. Their coffee is lovely and so pleasing to the eye too! We spent some time in our room (which was beautiful, though I didn’t even think to snap a picture). It had this really soft lavender color paint on the walls which now has me wanting to completely re-do our bedroom at home. Rob is annoyed by this. After some relaxation (I’ve been reading 1984 the last few weeks) we decided to emerge from the hotel in search of some famous Memphis BBQ. And we didn’t have to go very far…
Literally right across the street, in a dark alley, you’ll find Rendezvous. Opened in 1948, this place has the city when it comes to dry rub ribs. Follow your nose down the steps into this basement of a restaurant and just enjoy! We sat at the bar and had the best time, drinking some great local beer and watching everyone lick their fingers. The staff there wear black bow ties even though its a smokey, loud and colorful BBQ pit that sings with good times of the past and present. Hoards of folks were strolling in, making this a lively place to be. The food definitely didn’t disappoint either! I had the half chicken and Rob got the Ribs and Brisket combo. Everything comes with baked beans and their mustard vinegar slaw.
Saturday morning and afternoon was a bit of a bust to be honest. We had a disappointing breakfast at the hotel and then checked out, having decided to visit the home of Elvis, “Graceland”. I know it’s a must see in Memphis, and I was a little eager to see it; accordingly to wikipedia, it’s the second most visited home in the US after the White House, but I think to attempt this on a Saturday was our first mistake. I’ll walk you through the gag real.
We drove there and discovered that they actually built a HUGE sprawling complex across the street from the actual mansion to serve as the jumping off point of the tour but you don’t see this right off. So you follow the signs and pull in and immediately have to pay to park (10 bucks). Okay, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, “but where is the house?” I kept asking Rob. Did they build this complex AROUND the house to preserve it? Is it behind it? I don’t understand. Rob says nothing, but grumbles to himself of badly parked cars and finds a spot seemingly out of the way. So we get out and follow the hundreds and hundreds of people filing into this huge building that says ticket office. “I still don’t see the house” I kept saying. So we go in, and are met with the marquee and we have to decide what level of tour we want to purchase. None of them offer JUST the mansion tour. It’s a tour of the mansion PLUS a list of other things and attractions like his planes, his cars, a movie, etc. Like, if you want to allocate a full 8 hour day to touring Graceland, there is a tour package for you and likely financing to help you buy it. The cheapest tour we could get was 45/person and would require 2+ hours and also involved planes that I didn’t care about seeing. Already I was annoyed at how grossly commercialized this entire experience felt and we hadn’t even started. Something about the whole thing felt off, and to make matters even more creepy, the gift shops there had pictures of Elvis on literally anything you could possibly imagine which didn’t help make it feel any less weird. We walked back outside and gawked at the line of people that were waiting to board a tour bus (“Oh, so a bus takes you to the house?”) and we just sort of looked at each other. Back to the car we went.
So, after paying ten bucks to park somewhere for 10 minutes, we drove out of the parking and down the street. “Oh, THERE’S the house!” And sure enough, it was across the street, perched on top of this small hill, tucked beautifully back from the road. We actually parked on the street in front, got out, and walked up to the property line to take a better look. And that was good enough for us. Millions probably, have come to the wall in front of Graceland and paid their respects to the musician who changed music forever, and I’m thankful that, in our own small way, we did too.