On our last full day in Memphis, we got an early start due to our lengthy to-do list for the day. We started at Otherlands Coffee Bar, in Midtown. I had a latte and their “Best Cinnamon Toast in the South”. The sun-filled coffee bar was the perfect place to get caffeinated and make a plan for the day. The coffee and toast were great, and the atmosphere was even better. They had unique artwork on the walls, mismatched tables and chairs and board games on the shelves. It was my kind of place.
After breakfast, we drove to Graceland, which we both had mixed feelings about. We paid $10.00 to park and went in to
check out the ticket situation. The cheapest tour was $36 a person and the prices went up to $72 a person for the VIP tour. I read somewhere online that you could go up to the gate and peak at the mansion for free, but they shot that idea down real quick. The woman at the guest relations counter told us that we were only allowed to do that from 7:30am to 8:30am. So we didn’t see the house. But! We did look around the overpriced gift shops for a bit. The area was starting to get crowded with tourists, so we bypassed the additional Elvis Museums and themed diners and moved on.
Our next stop was The Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Admission was $13 and the tour started with a 20 minute film on the history of the recording studio.
The museum itself was filled with artifacts from soul music superstars like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Booker T and The MGs, Carla Thomas, and many more. The old recording equipment was preserved and in the same studio they used to record the greats. The number of artists and albums associated with Stax Records is staggering, and you can feel the full affect of it as you walk through the hall lined with all such records. You exit through the gift shop, I’m a sucker for a good gift shop, and this one’s filled with unique gifts, records and miscellaneous music memorabilia. The museum is definitely a must-see in Memphis.
We went to back to Midtown to The Beauty Shop for lunch. The hip restaurant used to be a beauty parlor (pretty obvious) and held onto the dryer chairs which they recycled into seats at the dining tables. The food was out-of-control good. We had the lemon zest olives to start and then I had the BLTA and Mike had the Salmon Gravalax sandwich, both of which came with homemade chips. We both completely devoured our lunches. The staff were wonderful, and happy to suggest any of their many delicious offerings if you’re having trouble deciding.
Afterwards, we drove to the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel. The museum is set at the motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and occupies the building across the street as well.
The entry fee is $15.00. It was a very emotional experience, being there, as well as being very educational. It is a lot of information to take in, so be sure to set aside enough time to fully appreciate it. Each exhibit is beautifully made and mostly interactive.
We walked down Main Street afterwards, and stopped into Bluff City Coffee. We took the well-made beverages to go so we could wander around a bit more. We popped into Red Velvet, a great shop filled with vintage and vintage inspired clothing and accessories. The woman manning the store was amazing and gave us a ton of great suggestions on bars and shops to check out. Across the street, we went into a thrift store called The Broken Arrow that was very cool.
It had an eclectic collection of goods ranging from teacups to CCR albums to cowboy boots. We checked into our new hotel, The Sheraton (thank you, Mike!) and decided to go jump into the pool. We had it to ourselves, so we swam around for a while before going back to the room to get ready for our last night out on the town. Our first stop was The Peabody Hotel to have a Jack Daniels cocktail in their Corner Bar.
I had the Presbyterian, which was basically a whiskey ginger, but with delicious single barrel Jack. The Peabody is regal inside and reminded me of The Drake back in Chicago.
We went to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous for dinner, which was just across the street and down an alley from The Peabody. We got seated right away in their main dining room. We started with the sausage and cheese plate, which seemed to be a staple on menus in Memphis. It was served with a heap of saltine crackers and it was AMAZING.
For our entrees, I had the beef brisket and Mike had the pork ribs, both served with beans and cole slaw. We sat in silence as we ate, attacking everything on our plates and sneaking bites of each other’s food without asking. The meal was so good, we had to sit there for a minute after to get ourselves out of the food coma.
After dinner, we went to the Absinthe Room above King’s Palace Café. While Mike partook in the namesake drink, I ordered a gin and tonic. Just the smell of the absinthe (black licorice) made me feel sick to my stomach. It was more of a dive bar, with three pool tables, each in their own little room. There was a jukebox in the bar that the patrons kept playing The Eagles on, and a couple at the bar that paid for their drinks all in quarters. It was an interesting and lively crowd that we enjoyed being a part of, even if it was only for the one drink.
When we finished our drinks, we went to Wet Willie’s to sample their boozy slushies. The slushies were just alright, but the two man band that was performing while we drank them was fantastic. We had planned to take our mediocre slushies and walk, but changed our minds when they started playing. From there we went to BB King’s to pay tribute to the blues legend with a beer. They had a soul cover band playing and everybody danced.
From that point on, things became a little hazy. I know we had a few more drinks, and I know we made a stop into a couple of souvenir shops and bought a few things that we didn’t really need (I’m looking at you, Elvis clock!).
And then the inevitable happened. We heard karaoke singing coming out of Flynn’s Restaurant and wandered in. Somehow I wound up onstage singing Sam Cooke (“Another Saturday Night ”) and doing the twist. After the song ended, I promptly tripped and fell off the stage and onto the floor. Mike rushed to scoop me up, he’s used to my clumsiness, and we were about to make a quick exit, when his name was called to sing. He did his best Elvis impression as he sang “Hound Dog” and I hid in our booth hoping everyone was too busy ignoring my bad singing to see me fall. We called it a night after that, and stumbled back to the hotel.
Before we left the next day, we stopped at Blues City Café for lunch. I had some scrumptious chicken fingers and Mike had the catfish. It was a good last meal in Memphis where we had so many other great meals, listened to some amazing music and were lucky enough to get a glimpse into the rich history of this musically- inclined city.
Thanks for having us, Memphis!