Growing up, music filled our home, particularly the Beatles and the King – Elvis Presley. With the imminent release of the King of Rock n Roll’s biopic, I got thinking back to the time I spent three nights in Memphis on Bon Voyage’s Heritage to Honky Tonk itinerary where I immersed myself in all things Elvis.
One of the many things I loved about this itinerary was the fact that with travel by rail, private car, and Mississippi steamer all you have to do is take in the view so when we arrived in Memphis from Nashville via our private sedan transfer, we arrived raring to get stuck and experience Memphis through the eyes of Elvis.
After a swift check-in to our hotel – the historic Peabody we set off to find some food. Where else should we go but the Arcade Restaurant which is not only the oldest diner in Memphis but a firm favourite of Elvis and only a short walk from the hotel. I wasn’t brave enough to try The King’s favourite a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich but instead, I had a Rainmaker Sandwich with an amazing Shake it like the King, spiked shakes. Well worth a visit not only because of the connection to Elvis but because it’s been featured in a whole host of Hollywood movies like The Rainmaker (and every other Grisham), Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line and one of my favourites – Elizabethtown.
Sun Studios Tour
We decided to walk to the Sun Studios for the 5:30 pm tour along Beale Street so we could view the famous Elvis statue. For those of you who don’t know Sun Studio is the birthplace of Rock N’ Roll and discovered BB King to Elvis to Johnny Cash to Jerry Lee Lewis, there are music legends everywhere you look. I got goose pimples standing in the very same spot where Elvis first recorded, and it was like being a child again with all the memorabilia from all the artists my parents had in our front room. The tours leave on the hour and last 45 minutes and are so worth it. If you’ve got the voice, you can book a recording session, I didn’t disgrace the fabled Sun Studios with my singing voice!
We had a few hours of R&R at the hotel before heading out for some BBQ food and then experiencing the famous Peabody Rooftop Parties – the food and entertainment in Memphis will be blogs in themselves so no need to venture off our Elvis path.
Historic Peabody Hotel
We rose on day two with sore heads and missed breakfast as we were checking out we were surprised by a Peabody tradition – the ‘Peabody Duck March’ where the famous ducks come out of the lift and walk down the red carpet to the fountain for a nice swim! It was almost surreal seeing it but we were so glad we did – they do this daily at 11am and 5pm, don’t be like us and nearly miss it!
We headed over to the Beauty Shop Restaurant for brunch. This hip and trendy restaurant is styled on a 50’s beauty salon and what links this to Elvis you may ask – it was formerly Priscilla Presley’s go-to for her curl and dye. A few excellent Bad Boy Bloody Mary’s with some Eggs Benedict gave us the fuel for our next stop, the Holy Grain for all of us Elvis buffs – GRACELAND!
The Guest House at Graceland
Whilst we would have stayed at the Peabody for longer, we wanted to get the full Graceland experience, so it made sense to stay at The Guest House at Graceland, which is located just a few steps away from the Graceland mansion. This AAA Four Diamond Resort (in British, this is a four-star hotel!) was influenced by Elvis himself when archivists unearthed an architectural design done for Elvis while he was alive that included a recording studio and “a place where he wanted his friends to stay.” He called it the guest house. Opened in 2016, the $92m hotel has all of Elvis’ signature swagger with Priscilla herself overseeing all the design aspects (it’s said that Priscilla and Lisa Marie are regular visitors to the guesthouse, but we didn’t see them, unfortunately).
We didn’t stay in either of the two King Suites which are modelled on Elvis’ Las Vegas hotel room and the other the master bedroom at Graceland. We had a ground-floor room which really felt like we were staying in Graceland with the King himself. Check-in was a breeze as a Bon Voyage client, they really love us here and go out of their way to make us feel extra special.
What I really loved about staying here was all the subtle ways in which the Guesthouse pays homage to Elvis, it really isn’t big, bold and brash as you’d expect from somewhere like Las Vegas. For example, the staircase is breathtaking but it’s only until you visit Graceland that you see it was modelled on the entrance then the light fitting just looks like well a light fitting but when you do a closer inspection you see they are arranged around E’s and P’s, lobby chairs with pointed backs to resemble Elvis’ upturned collar, subtle but it works. Forgot to mention, that every evening there are complimentary peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Graceland is the most famous rock n’ roll residence in the world? It certainly is for me, and I can’t think of another of its stature. I was expecting it to be huge but it is a lot smaller than say celebrities’ houses of the present day but that doesn’t take anything away from how beautiful it is and the feeling you get walking up the drive and through the front door. The tour is conducted through an audio guide (narrated by Lisa-Marie) on a tablet however since I have wanted to visit Graceland for like forever, I splurged on Ultimate VIP Tour tickets. This got me a tour of Graceland with an expert guide (group of no more than 10 people), a self-guided tour of Elvis’ Custom Jets, entry into the Elvis Presley’s Memphis complex as well as a host of VIP add-ons like meal vouchers, VIP merchandise, photo opportunities etc, I thought it was good value at $196.
I was really overwhelmed walking through Graceland, no two rooms truly are the same and as it is largely untouched, I kept looking out for the King to walk down the stairs – you really do feel like a guest when you visit. One thing for sure is that Elvis truly had a unique style when it came to interior design.
The living room is magnificent, I loved the huge white sofa and the glass windows with bright peacocks painted on them. You’ll notice that there are TVs everywhere, Elvis loved his telly and he made sure that he could see a TV no matter where he was sitting in Graceland.
Throughout the tour you keep passing the staircase to the second floor, we’re not allowed up there because that was exactly how Elvis had it when he was alive, guests had the run of Graceland, but they were not permitted on the second floor.
You see his parents and then his Grandmother Minnie’s bedroom with its purple colouring and poodle wallpaper which was designed by Minnie herself.
The next stop was the dining room, where you can see Elvis’ favourite seat, chosen so he had the best view of the TV. Lisa-Marie says they still eat at the table when she stays at Graceland. The table is laid with the crockery from Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding.
The tour then took us into the kitchen, which Lisa-Marie says was the busiest room in the house, it was amazing to see all the vintage appliances.
We went downstairs down a mirrored stairway into his recreation room, with the TCB lightning bolt on the wall and the monkey ashtray. He had three TVs here because someone told him the President of the USA had three TVs! Lots of animal horns adorn his bar (and all over Graceland), I really wanted to have a game of pool on his table. What is great about this area is how everything is close together yet so differently designed.
Now onto my favourite room of Graceland – the jungle room, which we got to up a staircase that has been green carpet on the floor, walls and ceiling. Bizarre indeed. His jungle room was apparently Elvis’s favourite room in the house, with all the wood, carved animals, and ashtrays. He loved to entertain in this room, and it is said because the autistics are so good, he recorded here, hence the carpet on the ceilings.
We walked through the carport and around the back of Graceland into his father Vernon’s office. This was the hub of Elvis enterprises, and it is pretty cool to see. The next stop was the trophy room which had all kinds of interesting stuff like his birth certificate, the family bible, pay slips, and unique finds like school reports, and his box of crayons from school. The room has their wedding outfits, Lisa-Marie’s crib, and several items taken from upstairs in Graceland. I did tear up a scarf that Elvis gave to Lisa which he wrote a few heartfelt words on, it really showed how much he loved his ‘Yisa’. Elvis loved to shoot, and we get to see his gun collection.
We left the trophy room and passed the pool which is tiny into Elvis’s sports complex which is really a huge racquetball court, bar and pinball machines. I saw a water fountain that still worked, so took a sneaky drink, who else can say they had a drink from Elvis’s water fountain.
The end of the tour is the Mediation Garden but more on this tomorrow.
I think we spent around an hour and a half on the tour and maybe more if we had stayed for longer in the Mediation Garden. We walked out to the gates, where we wrote on the wall with seemingly everyone else who has been to Graceland.
Elvis Presley’s Memphis Complex
Our next stop was across Elvis Presley Boulevard to the Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which opened in 2017 costing a whopping $45m I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. A visit to the Elvis: The Entertainer Museum inside is worth the admission alone, there are hundreds upon hundreds of artefacts from the Graceland archives detailing Elvis’s life from his early days, first recordings into his live performances and films. The Presley Motors automobile museum has over 20 cars and motorcycles that Elvis had owned including a Pink Cadillac, a 1975 Dino Ferrari and a cinema showing his films.
We were famished at this point so took a stop at the Glady’s Diner, named after his mother, we could have dined at Vernon’s smokehouse but since we were having BBQ food that evening, we decided to eat here.
We took in the many exhibits that change throughout the year, I really enjoyed the King of Karate and Elvis in the army exhibits.
The last stop on our tour was a self-guided tour of Elvis’ Custom Jets, there is the Lisa Marie and a small Lockheed Jet Star, it was amazing to see them both especially given that Elvis spent $800,000 renovating the Lisa Marie and adding a living room, conference room and private bedrooms.
I think including a bite to eat we spent nearly three hours in the complex so all in all maybe five hours at Graceland, I was knackered at the end, to say the least!
I had intended to visit Beale Street again but instead chose to have a nap and some food at The Guest House and then was pleasantly surprised to find live music on at the Graceland Soundstage, so I whiled away the evening with some good food, good music and a few good cocktails before having an early night.
The reason for the early night was because each morning between 7:30-8:30 am the gates to Elvis’ Meditation Garden are opened early and I wanted to pay my respects to Elvis and his family before the hustle and bustle of the day starts.
The garden is in a beautiful peaceful setting, with flowers and a central fountain. Elvis is buried here with his mother, father, grandmother and stillborn twin brother.
There were only around 15 of us there and we were all in deep, reflective moods, paying our respects to the King, a person who had touched so many for so long.
It was back to The Guesthouse for breakfast ready to start my third and final day in Memphis.
Tigerman Karate Dojo and Museum
I really wanted to visit Beale Street on my final night, especially B.B. King’s Blues Club so decided my final day was going to be at a more leisurely pace and where possible I was going to walk around Memphis to see the sights.
A short 25-minute stroll gets you to Tigerman Karate Dojo and Museum to see where Elvis first practised karate. The building has been restored to the original appearance of the early 1970’s so it really is like walking in just like Elvis. The museum celebrates all things karate and Elvis with one-of-a-kind pieces of memorabilia that you won’t see anywhere else.
For those of you that practise karate, this is a working dojo, and you can pre-book classes so you can say you’ve trained where Elvis has!
Stax – Museum of American Soul
I had intended to walk everywhere but checking google maps I saw it was a near five-mile walk to Stax – Museum of American Soul so I cheated and took an uber!
The museum is on the site of the original Stax Records recording studios where Elvis recorded some of his best work in 1973. The museum pays homage to Elvis but more importantly to all the great soul singers that have passed through its doors such as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Marvin Gaye and many others.
Normally museums are quiet places but not here with lots of music blasting out and dancing down the exhibits is actively encouraged! Well worth a visit.
Coletta’s Italian Restaurant
I was getting hungry and saw that Coletta’s Italian Restaurant was around the corner. This time capsule/restaurant claims to have created barbecue pizza, a favourite of Elvis’. I dined in the Elvis Room among pictures and memorabilia commemorating the times when Elvis and his entourage would take over a private dining room at the restaurant. I left suitably stuffed.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame
I cheated and got an uber to Beale Street so I could tick off the next two stops in my Elvis trail. I didn’t know until I arrived that Elvis has been inducted into five halls of fame with the Memphis music hall of fame being the fifth.
The MMHoF has been inducting members since 2012 with the museum opening in 2015. Elvis was one of the first inductees. The museum itself is quite small but what they lack in space they more than make up for with inventive ways to display their exhibits such as suspended guitars and a grand piano repurposed as a light fitting.
The museum has exhibits and memorabilia from all Memphis’ famous singers, from Elvis’ jumpsuits to Johnny Cash’s famous black suit and handwritten lyrics from Al Green, there is something for everyone here and it’s great for discovering bands you’ve forgotten and links between famous artists.
A liked the conciseness of the museum and the fact I was in and out within an hour.
Lansky Brothers Clothes Shop
Since I was already on Beale Street and knowing I needed to buy some gifts I popped along to the Lansky Brothers Clothes Shop where the King himself used to purchase his clothes. I spent way too much time and money in the store and came away with more for myself than others, but it was so worth it to get some retro 50’s shirts and Elvis-inspired wear like a beautiful belt.
Since the shop is located inside the Hard Rock Café I partook in some ice-cold beers and some hot wings whilst listening to some live music.
On to New Orleans
After a hard day wandering the streets of Memphis I went back to the Guesthouse for a nap before heading back to Beale Street for some authentic BBQ food then onto B.B. Kings Blues Club to dance the night away.
Tomorrow, I check out and head to New Orleans but since I’m catching the train I can overindulge.
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