On the banks of the Mississippi River, Memphis brilliantly celebrates its vibrant, diverse culture. Blues, soul and country music spill from every honkytonk and café, while inventive and deeply satisfying Southern cooking fuels the never-ending party on Beale Street.
Lansky Brothers was Elvis’s favorite shop and still stocks blue suede shoes, while its sister store, Lansky 126, is the place to go for designer denim. Crazy Beautiful finds retro-accented clothing and shoes from indie designers, while Flashback, a self-described “vintage department store,” is crammed with pre-owned and reproduction jewelry, furniture, housewares and clothing.
The legendary Sun Studio and Stax Museum of American Soul Music are filled with memorabilia and great music, as well as shrines to the spaces where Johnny Cash, Otis Redding and Albert King recorded their rockabilly, soul and blues classics in the 1950s and ’60s. Gibson guitars were integral to that music, so don’t miss a tour of the factory where its luthiers build beautiful instruments. But don’t overlook a pilgrimage to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, an institution built around the spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
At cocktail time, Lee, the bartender at 5 Spot, will take you under her wing as she mixes your first Negroni. Head to a show at B.B. King’s Blues Club or Rum Boogie Café, then make your way back to Earnestine and Hazel’s. This funky bar attached to 5 Spot serves cold Red Stripe and local Ghost River Golden Ale alongside its sloppy signature $6 Soul Burger.
Urban craft distilling and brewing are novel in this whiskey-making state, but the new Old Dominick Distillery will pour its first vodkas and a honey-citrus toddy during $12 tours. Natives buzz about Wiseacre Brewing, which offers more than a dozen beers created by Brewmaster Davin Bartosch, who trained in Munich.
Devouring smoky, slow-cooked pit barbecue is as essential to the Memphis experience as hearing live blues music. Local chefs love Central BBQ’s three locations for its dry-rubbed, hickory- and pecan-wood-smoked ribs and pulled pork. More historic is Charlie Vergos Rendezvous rib joint, located in a basement downtown. Just across the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Arkansas, truckers idle their rigs to pick up Ray’s World Famous BBQ and fluffy, house-baked cakes.
At the other extreme is Flight, a fine-dining restaurant and wine bar that offers trios of Oregon whites, Napa reds or Tennessee whiskeys with small entrées like elk chops glazed with Kahlúa or savory chicken and waffles with mushrooms.
4 Hour Getaway
Elvis’s home at Graceland, on the outskirts of Memphis, is surprisingly understated for someone who, in addition to changing the course of American music, was known for excess. The rest of the 14-acre complex, however, has plenty of glitz. The mansion tour is like a wonderful time travel voyage to the 1960s. Devout fans can linger in the meditation garden or visit the museum-like exhibits of “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” to ogle The King’s platinum records for “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me Tender,” plus his collections of costumes, cars, motorcycles and airplanes. It’s a kitschy and disarmingly nostalgic way to spend half a day.
There’s also new restaurants on the property named for Elvis’s parents—Vernon’s Smokehouse (barbecue and fried catfish) and Gladys’ Diner (grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Combine those with the new 450-room Guest House at Graceland that’s complete with its own bar and restaurants, and you could plan a weekend escape with The King.