Monday, February 25, 2008

A Day and a Night in Memphis

As seen in Today's Man magazine

Our new monthly travel column takes us to the Birthplace of the Blues, to share great ideas for your next trip across the Mississippi. Here are some of the great places to eat, stay, and be entertained during your downtown visit.


The Blue Plate Café on Poplar is a long-time Memphis staple. Now another location has been opened downtown at 113 South Court, just off the Main Street Trolley Line. You’ll still enjoy oversized portions of omelets, pancakes, flat waffles, biscuits, and more for undersized prices. Try the Huervos Rancheros ($7.59) for a new take on the classic -- eggs, cheese, and salsa on a crispy tortilla with black beans and cheese on the side. Comes with biscuits and your choice of pancakes, grits, or hash browns. Opens at 8am every day. Call (901) 523-2050.

Alcenia’s is home to incredible Southern home cooking, with hand-battered fried chicken, excellent pork chops, and tasty fried or baked catfish ($7.25-8.50). The side items are full of spices and flavor -- and you get two with your order. Be sure to get the cornbread rolls -- they’re sweet and hearty. This home cookin’ shop with soul also shares some of the richest desserts you’ll find downtown -- and everything‘s served on colorful plastic ware that matches the bright kitchy décor. Find it at the north end of the Trolley line, at 317 North Main (just north of I-40). Open 11am-5pm Tuesday-Friday and 8am-5pm Saturday. Try the Saturday brunch, with excellent salmon croquettes! (901) 523-0200.

Big Foot Lodge is a new entry to the Memphis eatery scene… but it’s sure to become a big hit. The restaurant’s unusual Canada-meets-Memphis fare is full of savory goodness. Hits include deep fried Cornish game hen, BBQ Egg Rolls, and Corn Brats (a different take on corndogs) -- but it’s best known for the Sasquatch Burger, a mammoth four pounds of meat and three and a half pounds of bread and veggies that you get for free if you eat it in under an hour. Only one person has succeeded… so far. Open 11am to 2:30am, seven days a week. It’s across the block from the Peabody Place Retain and Entertainment Complex at 97 South 2nd Street. (901) 578-9808.

And if you’re searching out martinis and sushi late night, try Swig’sThe eclectic modern addition at 100 Peabody Place boasts of a martini list more than 70 martinis strong, as well as an additional mixed drink and cognac list. The sushi bar’s menu is also extensive, with over 40 offerings. Try the Surf and Turf roll for a delicious late night repast. Live music offered most nights. Open 3pm to late, (901) 522-8515.


Lodging - The Secret
One of the best kept secrets in Memphis, the Talbot Heirs Guesthouse is literally in the middle of everything. This eight suite boutique hotel is across the street from the Peabody, on the same block as the Big Foot Lodge, and two blocks to Beale Street.

Rooms are large and spacious, with living areas and full kitchens and baths. One suite features a grand piano once owned by Bobby Whitlock of Derek and the Dominoes. Gracious hosts Tom and Sandy Franck greet guests at the door and help with luggage.

Kitchens are stocked with water, juice, and breakfast items like yogurt and biscotti. With advance notice, your kitchen can be stocked the way you like (for an additional charge). There’s a loaning library of DVDs and CDs, with stereos and DVD players in each suite.

You can even request a piece of exercise equipment. Free local calls and internet access (both Ethernet and WiFi available). Rooms run $130 to 275 a night. 99 South Second Street, (800) 955-3956.

Lodging - The Traditional
You can still watch the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. The Memphis landmark still offers comfortable accommodations for those traveling through -- along with a selection of fine dining opportunities. Originally opened in 1925, Belz Enterprises renovated the hotel in 1981 and reopened it.
Today, the hotel boasts of 468 guest rooms, lots of places to shop, and two restaurants -- Capriccio’s Grill and the world class Chez Philipe. Rates start at $200 a night. 149 Union Avenue, (901) 529-4000.

Lodging - The Bargain
If you’re more concerned with location than frills, check out the Sleep Inn at Court Square. This budget minded option is located right on the Main Street Trolley Line, just six blocks from the Beale Street Entertainment District, four blocks from Autozone Park, and steps away from the Blue Plate Café. Though the rooms are small, they come well equipped for business travelers, and the staff is courteous and generous. Rates run around $110 a night, but are sometimes cheaper during low-traffic days. 40 North Front Street, (901) 522-9700 or www.sleepinn.com.

Entertainment:
There’s no such thing as being too old to have fun. Jillian’s at Peabody Place caters to those folks who don’t want to grow up. Three stories are packed with every sort of game you might want to play -- whether it’s Skee-Ball and video games, pool, virtual racing, basketball, or bowling.

The ultra-hip bowling alley in the basement features oodles of video screens, a rainbow-hued martini bar, and neon colored bowling balls -- a cool scene for hep cats any night of the week. You'll find this playground for
adults inside the Peabody Place Retail and Entertainment Complex.

Speaking of the Peabody Place Retail and Entertainment Complex, it’s also home to lots of shops, Dan McGuinness Pub (which was built in Ireland and shipped over to be reassembled in Memphis), and the Muvico Theater, a 14 theater complex that features a 550 seat, 60 foot tall large-screen theater. 150 Peabody Place.

The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum celebrates the music born in Memphis and the South, tracing its roots from cotton fields and rural farmhouses into the city and through the years. Here you will find costumes, musical instruments, and personal effects of such stars as Minnie Pearl, Carl Perkins, and Isaac Hayes. Be sure to check out the large selection of jukeboxes through the years. The address for the museum is 191 Beale Street -- but the facility is actually located right by the FedEx Forum, about a half block off. $12 admission. (901) 205-2533 or www.memphisrocknsoul.org.


The best souvenirs:

Need something? Whether it’s soap or underwear, unusual souvenirs or incense, washtubs or flip-flops, you’ll find it at A. Schwab’s Dry Goods Store on Beale Street. This throwback has been in business since 1876. The family has been running it all this time. In the back, on the landing
between the first and
second floors, you’ll find a virtual museum of antique cash registers, clothing, and newspaper articles from more than 130 years of business. Whether it’s a hat for Sunday meetin’, an Elvis necktie or a novelty hat, you’ll find that perfect gift for the one you love here. 163 Beale Street. (901) 523-9782.

Looking for something a little more unique? You can’t go wrong at the Center for Southern Folklore. The gift shop on the Main Street Mall features works from local and regional artists in all sorts of fashion, from hand-thrown pottery to original paintings to quilts and pillows made from Crown Royal
bottles. Local musicians often come play on the small stage in the shop. Further back in the building, there’s a separate café and performance stage, colorful and bright and rentable for your next business conference or gathering. And it’s the one place in Memphis where you can enjoy
great music, a cyber café, and a Moon Pie Sundae, all in the same place. (901)525-3655.

Things you should know
Trolley fare is $1 a trip, but you can purchase an all-day pass for $3.50. The Main Street Trolley runs within three blocks of most of the major hotels in downtown Memphis. Trolleys run every 11 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and every 25 minutes between 6 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.

There is an active campaign underway to curtail panhandling downtown. Old parking meters have been set up in various locations for change donation that is distributed to area charities.

There are few places to park for free downtown. However, the restaurants and attractions mentioned in A Day And A Night In Memphis are all located within easy walking distance of most hotels. Parking ranges from 20 cents for 25 minutes to $10 for some parking decks.

Signs that read “Be Nice Or Leave” can be found all over downtown Memphis. They are the brainchild of New Orleans resident Dr. Bob, who was relocated to Memphis after Hurricane Katrina. His artwork and signs are available for sale at the Center for Southern Folklore.

For downtown visitors who need quick groceries or toiletry items, a Walgreens store is located on the Main Street Trolley Line at #2 North Main Street.

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