Memphis trip report

Old Jul 20th, 2008, 06:56 PM
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Memphis trip report

This weekend, I hit the road to Memphis for some fun with a few girlfriends. Thought you guys might appreciate a trip report!

We headed straight to Gus's World Famous Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken, located in downtown Memphis on Front Street. I had never been there before, but I'd heard so many raves that I wanted to try it. Miraculously, it wasn't that busy when we showed up for lunch. We were quickly seated, and our server promptly came over to take our orders. We started with an appetizer order of fried green tomatoes because there were those in our party who had NEVER TRIED them. The tomatoes came out quickly, fresh from the oil. They were delish!!

With that experience checked off our collective lists, we all eagerly anticipated the chicken. And we were not disappointed. Again, served fresh from the pan, the chicken was crispy and piping hot without being greasy. (You know your chicken isn't greasy when it's served on a slice of untoasted white bread, and the bread remains free of grease. Divine.) I found the spice referred to in the establishment's name to be subtle, though there were those in our party who thought it was more pronounced. I inhaled the chicken and seasoned fries, we paid our tab (Cheap, cheap cheap. It was something like $37 for four people.), and we headed in the general direction of Graceland.

We had pre-purchased Platinum Tour tickets, which allowed us access to the mansion, Elvis' car museum, his two planes, and a limited exhibit of his clothing. I thought the tours were really interesting. You could enjoy all of the exhibits at your own pace, and there was alot to see. It took us about 2.5 hours to tour, and we didn't even get to the "Private Presley" exhibit, which focused on Elvis' years in the military.

What was reinforced to me on the tour was what a profound impact Elvis had on the music industry. He shattered records all over the place and continued releasing hits almost until his death. There was also an emphasis on his charity work (he donated to a wide range of causes) and his close relationship with his family.

And if you want to see how a major attraction handles crowd flow and markets well to its visitors, look no further. Tourists are moved through Graceland with the precision of a Swiss clock. I never felt rushed, and I never felt as though any of the exhibits were too crowded to enjoy them. Also, there were attraction representatives scattered throughout the grounds to direct you, answer questions, and make sure your experience at Graceland was a positive one. Can't commend them enough on that.

After Graceland, we checked into the Downtown Marriott. We had beautiful room on the 17th floor, with views of the city and the river. After a few minor mishaps (The elevators were on the fritz when we first arrived; our toilet had a brief malfunction which was quickly repaired, etc.), everything at the hotel went smoothly.

We were initially going to hit Rendevouz for dinner, but when we discovered an hour wait at the establishment, we decided on Blues City Cafe. We were not disappointed. Our party of four was quickly seated, and in no time we were feasting on ribs, beans, slaw, fries, and yummy grilled bread.

After dinner, we waddled, er, walked, down Beale Street to check out the action. We saw some amazing feats of acrobatics by a muscled group of young black guys, who flipped and tumbled their way expertly down the hill that is Beale. It was still a bit early, and though some establishments already had live music playing, I was dismayed to discover that no one was dancing. We were in luck, though. At the very end of the street, a small group of musicians was playing on the curb. There was an older man (who was clearly three sheets to the wind) dancing for the large crowd that had assembled to listen.

Then one of my traveling companions spoke the fatal words. "I dare you to go dance with that old man." Need I continue? I sashayed out to the middle of the group and danced a number or two with him, eventually pulling Stacey and a little girl out of the audience to join us. Fun, fun, FUN!!!

A bit parched, we decided to leg it over to the Peabody Hotel to enjoy a drink or two in their famous lobby. The ducks had long since been moved back up to the roof, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and history of the place while sipping a Pomtini (which I can highly recommend).

Our first day coming to a close, we ambled back to our hotel.
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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 06:59 PM
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Memphis trip report (cont.)

On Saturday morning, some of the members of our party legged it down Main Street a bit in search of brunch. We ended up stopping in the Cafe Napoleon, which I wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone on the basis of its food, but which was locally owned by some super-sweet people. (And I had bacon. No one can screw up bacon. I LOVE bacon.)

Then, we headed over to the National Civil Rights Museum. This is where things started going downhill. When we arrived, there was a line snaking out the door, in the heat. No one seemed to know if this was the line to get in, the line to purchase tickets, what. And there was no representative of the facility there to direct people.

When we finally did make it inside, a museum rep was shouting (and she had to, really, because the lobby area was so crowded) that we had to check our cameras and camcorders (They said they would set off alarms within the exhibit. Riiiiiight.), which I wasn't crazy about. I mean, if you have a $20 camera, it's no big deal to check it with a stranger. But if your camera costs more like $250? You kinda don't want to hand it over to the unknown person behind the window. (Even at Graceland, we were allowed to keep our cameras. We just had to turn the flashes off.)

So we split up. Some of us went to check everyone's cameras and some of us went to buy museum tickets. After waiting in lines for that, we went to ANOTHER line to wait to be admitted into the actual museum. The lobby was thick with people. And it was HOT. The AC may have been going full blast, but so many bodies crammed into such a small place made it virtually worthless.

Finally, we were ushered into a theatre to watch a brief video about the Civil Rights movement before FINALLY making our way to the actual museum. Again, a museum rep in the theatre shouted at us to move in and leave no seats open due to the crowd. (Though when the video started, there were still plenty of vacant seats in the theatre.)

Anyhoo, the video was informative and well done, and then we were unleashed upon the museum itself. A word about the exhibits - there are alot of printed placards containing information and quotes about various stages of the Civil Rights movement. In fact, there are almost too many. You are basically confronted with wall after wall of printed text, which takes alot of time to get through. (Plus, if you are short - like me - you have to jostle your way up to the front of the assemblage to even SEE what you are looking at.)

The actual artifacts on display were quite powerful, including vignettes of Rosa Parks (You walked through a bus, and there were both audio and text placards to guide you.), lunch counter sit-ins (This was extremely powerful; the video here was amazing.), and a burned-out Freedom Riders bus. I wished that the museum had showcased more of these types of items and fewer "walls o' text" that you had to just read.

The tour ended in a complete bottleneck at the hotel room where Martin Luther King was shot. I peeped in, but by this time, I was mostly hungry, tired, and burning-up hot. We skipped the second part of the museum, across the street, because we were weary and fed-up.

I arrived really wanting to get the most out of this experience, but unfortunately poor museum crowd control (and traffic flow in the design of the facility) made it difficult. I recommend calling ahead and asking museum staff when they experience a "slow time" in order to better absorb what this museum has to offer.

We found refuge at The Majestic, a restaurant on Main Street. Cooling fans, white tablecloths, and great food awaited us. I had the flatbread duck confit appetizer, which was big enough to be a meal in itself. The waitress kept the cold iced tea coming. We slowly began to revive.

After that, well, it was time to head back home! All in all, it was a great trip! I really enjoyed myself!
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Old Jul 20th, 2008, 08:22 PM
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I'm glad you found Blues City Cafe. It is hard place to describe, other than serious soul food.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2008, 06:07 PM
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Thanks for the report. I lived in Memphis for a year and loved it. Sorry about the museum mayhem but glad you liked Graceland. I agree with you, they know how to handle crowds.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 06:35 AM
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Hi Bradshawgirl1. I am planning my first trip to Memphis and find your report to be a delight.

I know nothing about this city and of course came to Fodor's for a start.

You gave me some great ideas and tips. I will explore while my husband attends a conference and I always like to set up activities to enjoy in a new city.

Too bad he usually misses most of them.

Thanks
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 07:58 PM
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Thanks for sharing your Memphis report with us. It sounds like a good trip. I'm sorry that your experience with the Civil Rights Museum wasn't a positive one. When I visited several years ago, it was the highlight of my trip. But, looking back, I think I was there on a weekday morning, so there was really no crowd at all. I can't seem to recall there even being 10 or so people there at the same time. It sounds like weekends are very busy.

Your restaurant tries all sound great! I've been going to Memphis for short trips for nearly 13 or so years and have yet to try Gus'--is that sad or what? I'll put it on my list for the future!
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