Memphis is the second stop in my series of reviews about cities in the U.S. and Canada.* I was there last Saturday. As fortune had, my friend Jon happened to be in Nashville on business, and was able to drive down for the day. I’d been to the city two or three times before, but it was Jon’s first time. I asked him to give me some notes on his experiences, so this review is half-credited to him.
We met at the historic Orpheum. It’s one of those Depression Era grand movie-houses, from a time when people wore fancy evening attire to check out the latest flick. Along the lines of the Paramount Theater in Oakland and the numerous Fox Theaters that are scattered around the country, the Orpheum is now used mainly for concerts. It’s big and ornate; it has a sizeable balcony and respectable restrooms. I agree with Jon’s opinion that it’s too bad every city doesn’t have a place like this.
While I worked, Jon tried out some of the food for which Memphis is so well-known. He chose Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken. After waiting forty-five minutes for a take-out order, he found the food mediocre. When he was done eating, he took a nap at his hotel, the Sleep Inn, which he describes as “surprisingly plush.” I prefer the Peabody Hotel, which is famous for the family of ducks it claims as permanent residents. The cute little fowl live on the roof, but make daily trips to the fountain in the lobby.
At around midnight– after I was done working– Jon and I hit the street. Beale Street, that is; Memphis’ top attraction. We had only an hour before I turned into a pumpkin, so we got to drinking right away. The cool thing about Beale Street is that you can drink in public on it. Many of the bars actually have sidewalk stalls where one can buy such drinks as the “Walkemdown”, the “Hurricane” and the totally-sensible (and probably very acurately measured) “100-oz. Beer”. I was satisfied with a 16-oz. Newcastle.
Beale is a real party on the weekends. They close it off to traffic, and both tourists and locals pour in. Two out of every three businesses is either a bar, a restaurant (with a bar) or a musical venue (with a restaurant and a bar). The establishments allow you to enter with an outside drink, and if you want to leave with the drink you got there, they pour it in a plastic cup for you. Every club has a band (probably blues) playing in it, and each block has at least one band (definitely blues) playing in an empty lot or right on the sidewalk (pedestrians, after all, can walk in the street).
Despite all the big neon signs bearing blues-themed names, and the fact that one block has both a Hard Rock Cafe and a Coyote Ugly on it, Jon and I agree that Beale Street isn’t overdone as a tourist attraction, though it might come close. Authenticity still lingers, giving it a legitimacy than places like San Antonio’s Riverwalk or Monterey’s Cannery Row can’t touch.
When the night was over (at least for me), Jon walked me back to the bus. As we passed a bar that from the looks of the front was named either “Bar” or “Music” or maybe even “Bar Music”, we heard an amplified voice say “Okay, now we’re gonna play a Jerry Reed song.” Even though I was late for bus-call, we stopped in front of the place to watch a so-so rendition of the classic “Eastbound and Down” through the door. A so-so rendition is, of course, better than no “Eastbound and Down” at all.
*Toronto was the subject of the first review.
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