The museum has the "Express Yourself" dance floor with videos from "Soul Train," an authentic Mississippi Delta AME chapel that was disassembled and rebuilt in the museum, and a wealth of memorabilia: stage costumes; equipment trunks; Isaac Hayes' tricked-out Cadillac; the tape machine on which Otis Redding recorded; the piano used for "Green Onions."
Now it's Friday night, and I'm out with a group looking for music. The pedestrian-only section of Beale Street is crowded with people drinking from plastic takeout cups, wandering through music and souvenir stores, and watching the Beale Street Flippers, athletic young men who perform a sort of combination cartwheel/ somersault across the cobblestones for tips. The scene hasn't reached frat-party status, but on some nights, it does.
A block away is the Brass Note Walk of Fame, which celebrates more than 100 people who contributed to Memphis's musical history with brass notes embedded in the sidewalk in the style of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame.
Finally, there is Graceland, the 14-acre farm that Presley bought in 1957 at the age of 22 and has become the focus of Elvis fans everywhere. This month, Graceland is marking the 35th anniversary of his death.
Graceland's importance to Memphis can't be overstated. Graceland opened for tours on June 7, 1982, five years after Elvis's death. It wasn't until after those tours starting drawing in music lovers that Sun Studio and Stax Records followed suit, the Smithsonian opened the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, or that Beale Street began its comeback.
Tours of Graceland are self-guided, so visitors proceed at their own pace, but most stop longest at the Jungle Room, with its waterfall, shag-carpeted walls and jungle motif; the billiard room, in which the walls and ceiling are covered with elaborately pleated print fabric; the displays of gold records and glitzy jumpsuits; and the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents and other family members are buried.
IF YOU GO:
WHERE TO STAY:
Madison Hotel, 79 Madison Ave.; 901-333-1200; http://madisonhotelmemphis.com. 110-room boutique hotel in the former Tennessee Trust Building has a gym in the former bank vault; indoor pool; martini bar; eighty3, a well-reviewed restaurant; rooftop garden (with parties on some summer evenings); and blues-and jazz-themed decor. Advance-purchase rooms from $193.
River Inn of Harbor Town, 50 Harbor Town Square; 901-260-3333; http://www.riverinnmemphis.com. Luxury small hotel on Mud Island near downtown; most of the 28 rooms and suites have Mississippi River views; elegant decor; two restaurants. Rooms from $245, including full breakfast.
Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Ave.; 800-PEABODY or 901-529-4000; http://www.peabodymemphis.com. The oldest, grandest hotel in the city, where the ducks march in at 11 a.m. and spend the day in the lobby fountain. Four restaurants. Rooms from $209.
Heartbreak Hotel, 3677 Elvis Presley Blvd.; 877-777-0606 or 901-332-1000; http://www.elvis.com/heartbreak(underscore)hotel.aspx. Next door to Graceland. Rooms from $115; themed Elvis suites from $555.
WHERE TO EAT:
Blues City Cafe, 138 Beale St., 901-526-3637, http://www.bluescitycafe.com. Eat while listening to live performances. Serves barbecue ribs, steaks and tamales; from $4.75 for three tamales to porterhouse steak at $15.25 a pound, minimum 2 1 / 2pounds.
Charles Vergos' Rendezvous, in the alley behind 52 S. Second St.; 901-523-2746; http://www.hogsfly.com. The late Charles Vergos started grilling in 1948, now his kids run the place known for its ribs. Entrees $8.95 to $19.75.
The Pig on Beale, 167 Beale St.; 901-529-1544; http://pigonbeale.com. "Pig with an attitude," hickory-smoked on the premises. Entrees $9-$35.
Cockadoos, 85 S. Second St.; 901-590-0610; http://www.cockadoos.com. Some people say Cockadoos has the best breakfast in town: catfish and grits ($8.99), French toast with peanut butter and bananas ($7.99), and an omelet made with pulled pork ($7.99); lunch served as well.
WHAT TO DO:
Graceland, 3765 Elvis Presley Blvd.; 901-332-3322 or 800-238-2000; http://www.elvis.com/graceland. Open daily; basic tour $32; tour plus access to Presley's airplanes and auto museum $36. Elvis Week, Aug. 10-18, commemorates the 35th anniversary of Presley's death. Panel discussions, art exhibitions, concerts, sporting events and a music festival are scheduled, as well as the usual candlelight vigils at Graceland. A highlight this year is three new exhibits with some artifacts that have never been publicly displayed: "Icon: The Influence of Elvis Presley," which celebrates his status as a musical pioneer; "Elvis .Through His Daughter's Eyes," which explores Lisa Marie's childhood at Graceland and her relationship with her father; and "Elvis on Tour," featuring the documentary of the same name about his tour in April 1972.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McClemore Ave.; 888-942-7685; http://www.staxmuseum.com. Open daily. Admission: $12 for adults; $8 for children 9-12; under 9 with adult, free.
Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave.; 901-521-0664 or 800-441-6249; http://www.sunstudio.com. Open daily; studio tour is $12.
Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, 191 Beale St.; 901-205-2533; http://memphisrocknsoul.org/. Admission: adults $11; youth 5-17 $8.
Gibson Guitar Factory, 145 Lt. George Lee Ave.; 901-544-7998, ext. 4075; http://www.gibson.com. Tours daily; $10.
INFORMATION: Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, 901-543-5300; http://www.memphistravel.com.
Marjie Lambert: lambert@MiamiHerald.com
Birthplace of rock 'n' roll? Memphis has plenty of evidence in its favor
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