Blues, booze and barbecue, three of life’s greatest pleasures, culminate in Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, Memphis boasts other iconic attractions, Elvis’ Graceland being one of them. But with only 24-hours to spend in the “Home of the Blues,” blues, booze and barbecue were my priorities. And of course the famous ducks, CAN’T forget the Peabody Ducks!
To many, Memphis is synonymous with blues. In the early 1900s, music by blues legends like Frank Stokes, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis and Memphis Minnie filled nightclubs and churches on Beale Street. Fast-forward nearly a hundred years and the influence of those musicians is still felt throughout the city.
-> Photo courtesy of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music <-
To experience the incredible music scene, I spent a day exploring the city’s music roots with a visit to Sun Studio, the “birthplace of rock & roll,” where legends including B.B. King, Elvis & Johnny Cash recorded hits. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, one of the few museums in the world dedicated to soul music, is also a must, as it sits on the site of legendary Stax Records. And the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum offers a comprehensive exhibition about the birth of rock and soul music created by the Smithsonian Institution in partnership with the National Museum of American History. While I did not visit the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, I’ve heard that it’s incredibly well done and certainly worth a visit but it lacks the authenticity of Sun Studio and Stax – probably since it’s solely a museum, and not a spot where legendary musicians created legendary music. Just food for thought.
After a day of culture, head to action central – Beale Street – a bustling street with a portion of it limited to foot traffic. Grab a drink from a bar, which you’re welcome to enjoy as you walk the street, and take in the sights and sounds. Cocktails are strong, live music is everywhere and neon signs are aplenty. (I actually didn’t booze while on Beale Street because I was flying solo. I also visited Beale Street before dinner – and before darkness fell. Safety first! However if I were to return with friends, bar-hopping would be a must!)
Like blues, barbecue has been a fixture on the Memphis dining scene for decades. One of the most popular is Rendezvous, a restaurant located in the basement of a building, where the Vergos family has been serving their famous dry rub ribs for over 60 years. (Note that it’s not easy to find, and for a moment you may feel like you’re in an alleyway. Don’t worry, you’ll see their famous sign before you know it.)
I sat at the bar, ordered a Pork Shoulder Sandwich and enjoyed excellent people-watching. As delicious as the meal was – and that’s coming from a gal who doesn’t eat much meat – the highlight of my time at Rendezvous was chatting with the bartender, who had to have been at least 70 years old, and who schooled me on eating my barbecue incorrectly. “You’re eating it like a Yankee” he said, since I removed the top bun and was eating it with a knife and fork. He told me I had to put the utensils down, eat all the bread and not worry about making a mess. So that’s what I did!
AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE FAMOUS PEABODY DUCKS!
Lastly, a visit to Memphis isn’t complete without viewing the famous Peabody Duck March at The Peabody, a landmark hotel right in downtown Memphis! You’re probably very confused, so here’s a quick explanation of the tradition:
In 1930, the General Manager of the hotel returned from a hunting trip with ducks, and he thought it would be funny to place them in the lobby’s grand fountain. (Guests loved it!)
-> Aren’t they adorable? They just hang out, amusing guests & creating lasting memories for all! <-
In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, who previously worked as an animal trainer in the circus, offered to train the ducks so that they’d march from their Royal Duck Palace to the fountain every morning and back to their palace every night. (Yes, palace. You read that correctly. The ducks live in a $200,000 marble and glass structure on the hotel’s rooftop that even boasts its own bronze fountain and a small house – a replica of the hotel – where the ducks can lounge on the “front lawn.”)
The training was a success, and Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for fifty years. Day after day, he’d march the ducks to and from the fountain, to the delight of visitors of all ages.
So of course the Duck March still draws large crowds daily at 11AM and 5PM! I arrived at about 4:15 and the lobby was already packed – so if you visit, be sure to arrive early to secure a good vantage point. A quirky but legendary tradition, it’s not to be missed!
-> View from the elevator to the fountain – the path the ducks take every morning and night! <-
-> The red carpet and stairs are in place! As soon as the Duckmaster removes the “gate,” the ducks will exit the fountain. <-
-> Ta daa! Photo courtesy of The Peabody. <-
Tip: Try viewing the march from the second floor mezzanine. You’ll have a wonderful bird’s eye view (no pun intended) and you’ll skirt the crowds.
-> View from the second floor mezzanine – a great vantage point! <-
Have you visited Memphis? I’d love to hear what your favorite – or not-so-favorite – spots were!
*As always, all photos are mine, unless otherwise noted.*