It may have been 1909 when W.C. Handy wrote the first blues song on Beale Street, but every weekend tourists and locals alike pay homage to the spirit of his music by turning out in droves to one of the most famous streets in the world.
Memphis, Tennessee is a city not content to merely thrive and flourish; the people here know how to live, and living life to its fullest involves the ability to dance and sing into the early morning hours to the tunes of B.B. King and Muddy Waters. Ask anyone and the answer will be the same: Beale Street is where you’ll find the party.
Rum Boogie Cafe
This world-famous street is lined with clubs and cafes that serve up the best that Memphis has to offer. The Rum Boogie Cafe is perhaps the most frequented club on Beale Street. Whether you wish to partake in the festivities on the dance floor or opt to remain a spectator, the live music and engaging atmosphere at Rum Boogie will keep you smiling until the early morning hours.
B.B. King’s Blues Club
Also worth checking out is B.B. King’s Blues Club where the maestro himself may surprise you with performance. Live Blues is played almost every night and authentic memorabilia of Memphis Blues greats lines the walls. Looking for a taste of Hollywood? Check out the Blues City Cafe where Tom Cruise and the F.B.I. held a meeting in “The Firm.” At the corner of Beale and South Main Street is the Orpheum Theater. Once a vaudeville theatre, it now hosts ballets, opera, Broadway shows, and classic films.
There is plenty of lodging available in Memphis, but if you’re looking for a hotel with history and ambiance, there is no better place to visit than The Peabody. Known as the South’s Grand Hotel, this 14-story 468-room hotel – located on Union Avenue – was built in 1869 and may best be known for the Duck March (a tradition since 1930). The world-famous ducks live in “Duck Palace” on the Plantation Roof of the hotel, and every day at 11 a.m. they are led down the elevator to the Italian Travertine marble fountain in the Grand Lobby. They then march on the red carpet to the tunes of John Philip Sousa. The ceremony is repeated at 5 p.m. when the ducks retire to the rooftop. Even if you don’t stay at the Peabody it’s worth a trip to the Grand Lobby to check out this event in addition to the rich architecture of the building.
Are you thirsting for a unique beer? Just around the corner at 130 Peabody Place at Second Street is The Flying Saucer, a bar known for its extensive beer and cigar list as well as the “wurst” food in town – smoked or grilled bratwurst. Are you eager to try Kingfisher Lager from Bangalore, India or Moretti from Udine, Italy? Whether you’re looking for something smooth or something stout, this bar offers a plethora of lagers, pales, ambers, browns, porters, stouts, darks, and bottled beer from around the world.
The Pyramid & Mud Island
If your timing is right you may get lucky enough to check out a concert or performance at the Pyramid or at Mud Island. Mud Island is a 52-acre recreational and historic park that features the Mississippi River Museum, where you can board historic riverboats and view a World War II-B17 plane, the Memphis Belle. Two more museums worth visiting are the National Civil Rights Museum, which pays tribute to Martin Luther King and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, a premier art museum that houses the South’s most comprehensive collection of Western art.
No trip to Memphis is complete without a taste of BBQ ribs and down-home Southern cooking. The Rendezvous at 52 South Second Street is the perfect place to sample a plate of tender ribs, and The Yellow Rose Cafe in the downtown area will remind you why this great Southern cooking is emulated in the finest restaurants around the world.
It’s very easy to get around Memphis, especially if you stay downtown where most restaurants and clubs are within walking distance. If, however, you want a lift to your destination, try the trolley or a horse-drawn carriage ride where the drivers introduce you to both their horses and the affable dogs that ride alongside them.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, don’t hesitate to head out to the Mid-South Fairgrounds and Libertyland, where you’ll find North America’s oldest wooden roller coaster and Elvis Presley’s favorite ride, ‘The Zippin’ Pippin.’ Speaking of Elvis, no trip to Memphis is complete without a tour of Graceland. For only $10, this 60- to 90-minute tour takes you through the mansion, the trophy and awards building, through the backyard where Lisa Marie’s swing set still stands, past the pool and into the Meditation Garden where Elvis and members of his family have been laid to rest. For only $19.95 you can purchase the Platinum Tour, which includes tours of the mansion, the “Lisa Marie” and “Hound Dog” jets, the Sincerely Elvis Museum, and the Automobile Museum.
Memphis in May
Perhaps the best time to visit this city is in May when the Memphis-In-May International Festival coincides with the Beale Street Music Festival. Both celebrate the music and culture of the city through a series of festivals, parades, and concerts. The Elvis International Tribute Week takes place August 8-16, marking the anniversary of the King’s death.
Whether you come for the parties or the history of this rich city, Memphis offers an array or entertainment for people of all ages, and wherever your individual agenda leads you, the spirit of Memphis is sure to stay with you long after you’ve left.