The march of the Peabody ducks to and from the black travertine marble fountain in the grand two-story lobby is one of the more endearing hotel traditions. Grab a seat in the “living room of Memphis” bar if you want a bird’s-eye view. Like most historic hotels, rooms vary in size, but the furnishings—luxurious drapes, a chandelier, carved headboards and a cute little duck-shaped soap in the marble bathrooms—add a European charm. Feathers Spa; the Peabody Athletic Club with heated indoor pool; the Chez Philippe restaurant, a showcase for the building’s Italian Renaissance architecture; and lobby shops, including an outpost of Lansky Bros., where Elvis bought his threads.
The newest restaurant by James Beard best-chef nominees Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman pays homage to the cooking of their Tuscan and Sicilian grandmothers, whose oversize portraits hang on opposite sides of the open kitchen in the cavernous modern dining room. The menu changes often, but expect a salumi board and spuntini selection (perhaps fried cheese, tuna polpette, crudité and chick peas), small plates, homemade pastas (the creamy Cacio e Pepe is spot on), and a handful of fish, fowl and meat entrées. Cannellini beans if they have them. Mixed with black pepper brodo and gremolatta and served warm over pork terrine, it’s a divine dish.
This eclectic restaurant in Cooper-Young is a hometown favorite. Located in the former beauty parlor where Priscilla Presley had her hair done, the Vitrolite facade and original hooded Belvedere hair dryers add a retro-cool vibe. Executive chef and owner Karen Blockman Carrier is an artist, and it shows in her creative cooking, which ranges from Indian (a fragrant Kobe beef and spicy curry stew) to Mediterranean (seared Japanese eggplant with green tahini) to nouvelle Southern (cast iron chicken dusted with coriander fennel and mustard). House-baked monkey bread with dill butter (yum!), grilled romaine salad, cakes and shakes written on the chalkboard, a packed Sunday brunch.
The slow smoked barbecue, moist and delicious, is the reason for the line out the door of this barbecue joint. To avoid a difficult decision, order the rib combo plate, which comes with dry spiced ribs and a choice of two other meats—pork, beef brisket, pulled chicken, smoked turkey breast, sausage and bologna (it’s a Southern thing). The sides—greens, mac and cheese, BBQ beans, green beans, slaw—are each given the attention they deserve and are as flavorful as the meats. There are three locations, including one by the National Civil Rights Museum.
The National Civil Rights Museum underwent an extensive renovation a few years ago, adding more than 40 new films, oral histories, interactive media and a 7,000-pound bronze statue, Movement to Overcome, in the lobby. Check out the Legacy Building across the street. The former boarding house, from which King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, allegedly fired, houses exhibits about the investigation and trial.
Unlike Sun Studio, the original Stax building was torn down, but the exterior has been faithfully recreated. Inside are fun and fascinating videos, interactive exhibits, and memorabilia that describe how that iconic Memphis sound came to be. A highlight is a rotating display of Isaac Hayes’s gold-plated Cadillac, a thing of beauty.
Still a working studio at night (U2 recorded Rattle and Hum here in 1987-88), it hosts a tour of the control room, office and studio that includes a display of the WHBQ Radio broadcast booth, where popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played Elvis’s “That’s All Right” on his “Red, Hot, and Blue” show, propelling the young singer to fame. At the end, you can stand on the black tape where Elvis and others stood and sing into the only original piece of equipment left, the microphone.