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Memphis, August 2010

Memphis, August 2010

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Destinations: 
Memphis,
North America,
Tennessee,
United States

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ITEMS

Eating

Bar-B-Q Shop, Tennessee

1782 Madison Avenue, Midtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 272 1277
Website: www.dancingpigs.com

This little joint, with its no-frills decor, may just turn out the most perfectly spiced cooked pig that Memphis has to offer—no small feat, given that this city of pork barbecue contains more than 100 restaurants specializing in the Southern delicacy. The award-winning Dancing Pigs sauce, available in mild or hot, has become a mighty successful side business for the owners and imparts all it touches with a sweet, tomatoey zest. Come hungry, and the shop will satiate you with juicy pulled pork shoulder or a slab of tangy, succulent ribs (wet or dry) and all the 'cue fixings: baked beans, fresh coleslaw, and buttery Texas toast. If you're feeling bold, try an appetizer plate of barbecue bologna, sausage, and cheese, followed by spicy, rich barbecue spaghetti. Cholesterol watchers, beware!

Closed Sundays.

Eating

Central Bbq, Tennessee

2249 Central Avenue, Midtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 272 9377
Website: www.cbqmemphis.com

Opened in 2001, Central is just a baby in the barbecue universe, but it's a legend in the making. Quality and variety are the order of the day here: There's sweet, slow-smoked pulled pork, succulent dry-rubbed pork ribs that 'cue aficionados can slather with four tangy sauces (locals pick a tomato-based sauce every time), and, unusual for swine-centric Memphis, pulled chicken. As for fixin's, you'll find better fries at Young Avenue Deli and better beans at the Bar-B-Q Shop. But Central doesn't disappoint with its homemade potato chips, turnip greens, buttery mac and cheese, and creamy slaw flecked with chunks of peppers. Order your food at the counter and carry it to the wooden-beamed, white-tablecloth dining room or—when it's not sweltering—the patio. In November 2006, a 225-seat sister location opened at 4375 Summer Avenue.

See + Do

STAX Museum of American Soul Music, Tennessee

926 E. McLemore Avenue, South Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 942 7685
Website: www.staxmuseum.com

The STAX Museum strives to explicate, to illuminate, and to elucidate the sound this recording studio originated—"sweet soul music." STAX stands as the centerpiece of the inspiring rebirth of "Soulsville, USA," an area of South Memphis once known for its soul-music prolificacy. The museum opened in 2003 on the site of STAX Records, the legendary soul label begun by brother-and-sister team Jim Stewart and Stella Axton, which now stands second only to Motown in its sales and influence. From 1960 to 1975, STAX's various labels released work recorded in their famed Studio A by giants in soul and other genres, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor.

The 17,000-square-foot STAX Museum offers fascinating exhibits and film and music clips detailing the history of soul. Billing itself as the only museum in the world devoted specifically to soul, STAX magnanimously highlights success stories from competing labels as well, such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Memphis's own Reverend Al Green. Adjacent to the museum, explore the state-of-the-art STAX Music Academy, where music educators hope to spawn a new generation of Arethas and Otis Reddings by mentoring inner-city youth.

See + Do

Pink Palace Museum, Tennessee

3050 Central Avenue, East Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 320 6320
Website: www.memphismuseums.org

The headquarters for several Memphis attractions, this cultural and natural history museum adjoins its namesake, a pink, Georgian marble mansion built by Clarence Saunders, "inventor" of the world's first self-serve grocery store, the Piggly Wiggly. The museum's exhibits include a replica of the original store, creepy dioramas detailing the history of the Memphis area, and kid-pleasing animatronic dinosaurs; several rooms of the mansion are open for self-guided tours. The Sharpe Planetarium and an IMAX theater round out the on-site offerings, but you can also pick up information here about other sights in the Pink Palace family of museums, including the Lichterman Nature Center (5992 Quince Rd.; 901-767-7322; closed end of Nov through Feb) and the Coon Creek Science Center, which is open only to groups of 15 to 35 participants (2983 Hardin Graveyard Rd.; 901-320-6320; closed end of Nov through Feb).

See + Do

South Main Arts District, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee
Website: www.southmainmemphis.org

Between Beale Street and G.E. Patterson Avenue, long-abandoned storefronts are steadily being repopulated with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Art Village Gallery showcases Nigeria-born—now Memphis local—Ephraim Urevbu's colorful Cubist depictions of African-American culture (410 S. Main St.; 901-521-0782; www.artvillagegallery.com; closed Sun and Mon). Zanzibar café is next door—go on the weekend for live jazz (412 S. Main St.; 901-543-9646; www.zanzibarmemphis.com). Flower and gift shop Gestures stocks silver trays, Memphis Mary Bloody Mary mix, and the inevitable Elvis paraphernalia (509 S. Main St.; 800-370-3023 or 901-525-4438; www.gesturesgifts.com; closed Sun), while you can pick up Emily Ray's freshwater pearl-, semiprecious stone–, and Swarovski crystal–studded jewelry and denim by Odyn and Delta Blues Jeans Co. at Mode du Jour (509 S. Main St.; 901-527-7970; www.modesomain.com). The area's culinary star is Spindini. Its industrial-chic decor—exposed pipes and bricks, chocolate-brown walls, and a prominent bar with blown-glass sculptures—doesn't exactly mesh with Judd Grisanti's homey Italian fare, but it's always packed, and the food (thin-crust pizzas cooked in the wood-burning oven, and Tuscan butter, Mascarpone, and goat cheese fondue) is divine (383 S. Main St.; 901-578-2767; www.spindinimemphis.com).

See + Do

Sun Studio, Tennessee

706 Union Avenue, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 521 0664
Website: www.sunstudio.com

"Consistently Better Records for Higher Profits" was the mantra turned understatement of the century on producer Sam Phillips's stationery at Sun Studio, now a national historic landmark. If you are in Memphis on a pilgrimage to music shrines, you are no doubt already aware of Sun Studio's reasonable claim to be the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. It started in 1951 with the recording of Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' "Rocket '88," reputedly the first rock 'n' roll single. In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded "That's Alright Mama," a national radio show out of Memphis picked it up, and the legend of the King had begun (along with the globalization of rock). In those first heady years, these smoky walls recorded the mighty blues sounds of B.B. King, Little Milton, Junior Parker, and Howlin' Wolf, along with the world-changing country and rock sounds of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. Since the studio's heyday, the chance to record in the footsteps of musical gods has continued to draw such talents as Paul Simon, U2, Bonnie Raitt, and Matchbox 20. Forty-five-minute tours showcasing the studio and its historic collection depart every hour from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick

Hotel

Peabody Hotel, Tennessee

149 Union Avenue, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee 38103
Tel: 901 529 4000
Email: pmreservations@peabodymemphis.com
Website: www.peabodymemphis.com

This 14-story Italian Renaissance Revival landmark has been the preeminent Memphis hotel since opening downtown in 1869. Renovations brought the indoor pool and athletic club into the 21st century, and the 464 guest rooms got a refresh in 2006. The menu at tony Chez Philippe is an Asian-inflected version of la cuisine Française. Marble pillars, hand-painted skylights, a charming bar, and a manned grand piano grace the lobby. The slightly stuffy mood lightens daily at the stroke of 11 a.m., when an elevator opens, and five mallard ducks emerge to the strains of Sousa's "King Cotton March." After waddling down a red carpet, they ascend three stairs into the lobby's ornate central fountain to splash around. The spectacle is reversed at 5 p.m., when the celebrated ducks retire. Like many things uniquely Memphian, the Peabody Duck March comes off as endearing, weird, and wholly sincere. You can visit the ducks' rooftop aerie during between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., though you may prefer their posh accommodations to even your own.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
ALT HERE

Hotel

Madison Hotel, Tennessee

79 Madison Avenue, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee 38103
Tel: 901 333 1200, Tel: 866 446 3674
Email: info@madisonhotelmemphis.com
Website: www.madisonhotelmemphis.com

Located near Beale Street's bluesy bustle in the historic Tennessee Trust Bank Building, this boutique hotel playfully attempts to bridge the gap between Belle Époque and the avant-garde. Bold, jewel-tone contemporary furniture and artwork inspired by the city's musical heritage decorate communal spaces. Neo-Deco furniture makes a bold statement in the 110 guest rooms. Management encourages guests to enter the former bank's vault—it's been converted into a fitness center. And on Thursdays between April and November head to the rooftop garden for live music, cocktails, and stunning views of the Mississippi River.

Eating

Automatic Slim's Tonga Club, Tenneesee

83 S. Second Street, Downtown
Memphis, Tenneesee
Tel: 901 525 7948

The Caribbean-Southwestern-Southern fusion menu here is not for traditionalists. But if you have an adventure-seeking palate, the choices (and the portions) can be delightfully overwhelming. If you're game, try an oversized sandwich of smoked ham sautéed with coconut milk and topped with Pickapeppa sauce (lunch only), lamb chops in a sun-dried blueberry-mint-jalapeño sauce, or coconut-mango shrimp, perhaps with a voodoo stew of seafood. The fun, splashy colors used in the eclectic lighting fixtures, decorative tiles, and bar mirror the audaciously tasty food.

Dinner daily. No lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Eating

Cupboard, Tennessee

1400 Union Avenue, Midtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 276 8015

Visions of fried green tomatoes and rightly seasoned turnip greens dancing in your head? You'd better make your way to this Deep South soul-food institution. The veggies alone (22 varieties daily) are cause enough to visit, with the eggplant casserole and the sublime mac 'n' cheese seeming straight from the pages of How to Make the Richest Side Dish at Your Church Potluck. Proprietor Charles Cavallo's meats and desserts also fit the bill nicely, notably the country fried chicken and gooey pecan pie.

Eating

Felicia Suzanne's, Tennessee

80 Monroe Avenue, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 523 0877
Website: www.feliciasuzanne.com

If Felicia Willet's downtown restaurant has a bit more pomp and circumstance than most Memphis establishments, it's because this haute down-home chef-cum-restaurateur spent her formative years in New Orleans, working alongside Emeril Lagasse. Located in what was Lowenstein's department store, the space has dark lilac walls, red velvet chairs and banquettes, and abstract paintings by artists from Jonesboro, Arkansas (Felicia's hometown). Willet prepares her menu of Southern favorites with local ingredients such as Alabama crab, Arkansas White River caviar, and Louisiana oysters. She might fry catfish, give it a spicy tang with Tabasco, and then turn up the heat with jalapeño tartar sauce.

Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Eating

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, Tennessee

310 S. Front Street, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 527 4877

Gus's casual checkered tablecloths and concrete floors hint at this location's humble past as a machine shop, and you might lift an eyebrow at Gus's self-proclaimed "world famous" status, but the poultry haven has indeed cultivated an enviable reputation. The recipe for Gus's success: bone-in chicken coated in a somewhat spicy, special-recipe batter, and then fried in peanut oil to a state of crispy, brown perfection. Once you visit, you'll understand why many visitors skip the side items to save room for more bird. But if you're intent on sides, try the not-too-mushy potato salad or the Cajun fried rice. (Isn't everything better fried?) For dessert, there's chess pie, with a rich filling that resembles a room-temperature custard—but with a tad more sugar and butter. In February 2007, Gus opened a second shop in Collierville, east of the city (215 Center St.; 901-853-6005). A word of caution: Avoid the imposter Gus places around town. As the staff here will tell you, "They just ain't the real deal."

Eating

Rendezvous, Tennessee

52 S. Second Street, Basement, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee 38103
Tel: 901 523 2746
Website: www.hogsfly.com

If you only have time to hit up one Memphis barbecue pit, Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous should be it. You'll find it in the basement of a nondescript building in an alley across from the landmark Peabody Hotel. Red and white checked tablecloths, local memorabilia, and news clippings dating from the '40s serve as décor in this cavernous 750-seat space. The waitstaff is strong-willed—don't dare ask 45-year-veteran server Robert Stewart, Sr., to change your order—and the pork ribs are quintessentially Memphian. There are two barbecue rib camps in town: "wet" (the gooey sort cooked in sauce) and "dry" (marinated in a vinegar-based solution, then cooked with spices). Vergos' technically fall in the later category, but Rendezvous management feels the term "dry ribs" unfairly maligns the chef's well-marinated, lovingly seasoned masterpieces. Other menu items include a simple sausage and cheese plate and a pork shoulder dinner, served with a side of beans and slaw. But hordes of locals and tourists swear by the tender, moderately spicy ribs.

Closed Sundays and Mondays.

See + Do

Outdoors, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee

The Bluff City has a number of lovely parks and outdoor spaces that are an ideal place to work off all that barbecue you've been wolfing down. Tom Lee Park, which runs along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, is a good place for a twilight stroll. Overton Park is home to the Memphis Zoo, where a $23-million Northwest Passage exhibit opened in 2006 and gives visitors an underwater view of sea lions and swimming polar bears (2000 Prentiss Pl.; 901-276-9453; www.memphiszoo.org). The 96-acre Memphis Botanic Garden (750 Cherry Rd.; 901-576-4100; www.memphisbotanicgarden.com) is located across the street from Audubon Park and hosts a hip Live at the Garden summer concert series (901-576-4107; www.liveatthegarden.com). And Shelby Farms, one of the largest urban parks in the country at 3,200 acres, is a good place for canoeing and fishing, though you must bring your own equipment (500 Pine Lake Dr.; 901-382-0235; www.shelbyfarmspark.org).

See + Do

National Civil Rights Museum, Tennessee

450 Mulberry Street, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 521 9699
Website: www.civilrightsmuseum.org

Through fund-raising efforts, the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation purchased the defunct Lorraine Hotel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, at auction in 1982. Nearly ten years later, the first museum to trace America's civil rights movement opened its doors at the tragically historic site. In 2002, an $11 million expansion added 12,800 square feet of exhibition space, including the exhibit "Exploring the Legacy." The exhibit traces the path American civil rights have taken since King's death and also details other historic civil rights movements worldwide. Each year, the museum honors significant contributors to civil or human rights with three Freedom Awards (national, international, and lifetime). Past recipients include Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Bono.

See + Do

Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Tennessee

Plaza of the FedExForum, 191 Beale Street
Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 205 2533
Website: www.memphisrocknsoul.org

One half-block south of the intersection of Beale Street and Third, you'll find this interactive museum on the plaza outside the NBA Grizzlies' home, the FedExForum. The Smithsonian Institute chose this location to host its first-ever permanent exhibit outside Washington, D.C.: "Rock 'n' Soul: Social Crossroads." The exhibit details how the uniquely earthy sounds of Memphis's alleys, juke joints, choir lofts, and fields coalesced to become American popular music at the hallowed grounds of Beale Street, Sun Studio, and Soulsville, USA. A great place for music-loving tourists to start, the museum's seven galleries tie together Memphis's celebrated music forms—the blues, rock 'n' roll, and soul—through 100 music clips that you can choose from five vintage jukeboxes, as well as cool artifacts like the Reverend Al Green's bible and robe, B.B. King's beloved guitar named "Lucille," and the control board that producer Sam Phillips used to record the first Elvis hit, "That's Alright Mama." In addition to the Smithsonian exhibit, the museum devotes one gallery to new exhibits, which often highlight how Memphis music has influenced modern artists.

See + Do

Graceland Too, Mississippi

200 E. Gholson Avenue
Holly Springs, Mississippi

About 45 miles southeast of Memphis, in Holly Springs, you'll find Paul McLeod's kitschy, obsessive homage to the King. Paul's house bears a striking resemblance to Graceland (intentional) and holds the world's second-largest collection of Elvis memorabilia: Nearly every surface is papered with Elvis posters, records, cards, and photographs; trunks are filled with carpet remnants from Graceland; binders document every mention of Elvis ever broadcast or printed—including every TV Guide cover he appeared on. On the tour, Paul is likely to include as many tidbits about himself (such as that his son, named Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod, is a dead ringer for Elvis, or that his sister is a Priscilla Presley look-alike) as about Elvis (he failed music class in high school—Paul has the report card). Don't be put off by the over-the-top security—Paul's door is always open, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he doesn't answer, just knock harder.

See + Do

Graceland, Tennessee

3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Whitehaven
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 332 3322
Website: www.elvis.com

While a few cynics dismiss rock 'n' roll's Xanadu as a tourist trap, Graceland (designated a national historic landmark in 2006) remains the predominant reason to visit the region for anyone with an interest in Elvis or Memphis's musical heritage. In the spring of 1957, at the age of 22, the King spent $100,000 on this house, part of a 500-acre farm named Graceland. He lived here until his untimely death in 1977 and is buried, along with his closest relatives, by the swimming pool out back. His widow, Priscilla Presley, opened Graceland to tours in 1982, and now millions come to celebrate the majesty of the King. Elvis commissioned a redecoration in 1974, and much of that look remains intact. With a 15-foot couch, avocado- and gold-colored kitchen appliances, a fake waterfall, and the green shag-carpet ceiling of the "jungle room," the home exudes fun, loud 1970s style. Tours of the mansion start at the visitors' plaza across the street, where tickets are sold and souvenir shops and cafés serve the masses. On busier days the staff will assign your tour time, or you can book ahead. The recording that accompanies the one-and-a-half-hour mansion tour includes a narration by Priscilla and sound bites from Elvis himself. If that doesn't entirely satisfy your curiosity, dig deeper into the mystique by viewing additional memorabilia in the "Sincerely Elvis" collection, such as 56 of the King's stage costumes, or touring his too-cool car museum and private, decked-out jet, the Lisa Marie. For a one-of-a-kind experience, join the thousands of visitors to whom Graceland plays host during mid-August's annual Elvis Week (a.k.a. Death Week), which culminates in a candlelight vigil; or check out Paul McLeod's estimable collection of memorabilia at Graceland Too.

Closed Tuesdays from December to February.

See + Do

Gibson Guitar Factory, Tennessee

145 Lt. George W. Lee Avenue, Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee 38103
Tel: 901 544 7998
Website: www.gibson.com/en-us/Locations/RetailCenters/Memphis/DiscoveriesOfGibson

Memphis music pilgrims should make this detour to find out how one of the world's premier electric-guitar makers crafts each tuneful axe. The 45-minute tours impart 100 years of Gibson lore, along with the artistry behind binding, neck-fitting, painting, buffing, and tuning the instruments. The factory is part of the Gibson Beale Street Showcase, a complex one block from Beale Street that also houses The Lounge, a concert venue for such acts as Wilco, Etta James, and the Indigo Girls. Reservations are required for large groups to take the factory tour. Children under age five are not permitted.

See + Do

Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Tennessee

4339 Park Avenue, East Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee
Tel: 901 761 5250
Website: www.dixon.org

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, formerly a private residence, encompasses 17 acres of grounds and houses an admirable collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and decorative arts. Chagall, Renoir, Rodin, Gauguin, and Degas are represented in the permanent collection, along with a sizable portion of French artist Jean-Louis Forain's work, acquired in a deliberate effort to gather works by lesser-known, accomplished Impressionists. Temporary exhibits change four to five times per year. A stroll through the formal and woodland gardens makes for a tranquil, and sometimes peacefully moving, addition to an afternoon spent sightseeing.

Closed Mondays.

See + Do

Beale Street, Tennessee

Downtown
Memphis, Tennessee
Website: www.bealestreet.com

New Orleans has Bourbon Street; Memphis has club- and bar-lined Beale—"The Home of the Blues." Cornetist and Beale Street resident W.C. Handy published the first Blues song, "Memphis Blues," here in 1912; his house is now the W.C. Handy Home and Museum (352 Beale St.; 901-527-3427; closed Sun and Mon).

Elvis, in his adolescence, revolved through the clubs here, infusing himself with the ingredients he would later use to shape rock 'n' roll at Sun Studio, just a few blocks away. When shopping on Beale, the King patronized an establishment that has become the oldest continually operating shop in Memphis: A. Schwab Dry Goods Store. Opened in 1876, it serves customers with the motto "If you can't find it at A. Schwab's, you're better off without it"—the wares range from penny candy to overalls to souvenirs (163 Beale St.; 901-523-9782; closed Sun).

To experience the bluesy heart of Memphis nightlife, head for Beale on a Saturday night. For about $12, you can grab a wristband in lieu of paying individual cover charges and amble to and from participating clubs (Fridays and Saturdays only). Live music hot spots on Beale include B.B. King's, where the "Queen of Beale Street," Ruby Wilson, reigns many a weekend (143 Beale St.; 901-524-5464; memphis.bbkingclubs.com); Rum Boogie Café, which has the best house band in town, led by soulful James Govan (143 Beale St.; 901-528-0150; www.rumboogie.com); and the New Daisy Theater, a former movie house that now hosts national acts (330 Beale St.; 901-525-8979; www.newdaisy.com). In late spring, the Beale Street Music Festival showcases dozens of renowned musicians, blues and otherwise, at Tom Lee Park, where Beale terminates at the Great Mississip'.

See + Do

Cooper-Young District, Tennessee

Cooper Street at Young Street, Midtown
Memphis, Tennessee

For quirky shopping, eclectic dining, offbeat coffee bars, a swell farmer's market, and several smart galleries, head to Midtown Memphis's hippest neighborhood, centered at the intersection of Cooper and Young streets. Park on the southwest corner, behind Café Olé, and walk to Young Avenue Deli, fish-happy Tsunami (928 S. Cooper; 901-274-2556; www.tsunamimemphis.com; closed Sundays), or Casablanca, a Moroccan/Greek spot where ebullient proprietor Aimer Shtaya playfully regales the dining room with anecdotes (2156 Young Ave.; 901-725-8557; www.casablancamemphis.com). You'll want to drive to most other highlights, such as David Mah Studio (888 S. Cooper; 901-272-8880; www.davidmahstudio.com; by appointment only), Otherlands Coffee Bar & Exotic Gifts (641 S. Cooper; 901-278-4994), and retro store Flashback, Inc. (2304 Central Ave.; 901-272-2304; www.flashbackmemphis.com). In mid-September, the district's businesses host the popular Cooper-Young Festival, a celebration of art, music, crafts, and food.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.