MEMPHIS
Beale Street, Blues, BBQ, Golf & The Peabody

Story & Photos by: Larry Mayran

MEMPHIS--Peter Marshall former host of the long running TV show, Hollywood Squares, once cracked, “The worst three weeks in show business are Christmas, Easter and Memphis.”  Before Hollywood Squares, Marshall had a comedy act with partner Tommy Newnan and apparently played a night club act in Memphis in the ‘70’s. He said the entertainment environment in Memphis was so dismal, and the nite club audiences so sparse,“ they could have arrested the waiters for loitering.”  

Gorgeous lobby of  the Peabody Hotel

But that was way back before this riverfront city on the banks of the Mississippi emerged from the doldrums in the mid-70’s to gradually become Tennessee's centerpiece for entertainment and tourism.

While the night time lure of Beale Street beckons all visitors, during the day, golf enthusiasts have more than 25 choice layouts to choose from in Memphis and across the river in nearby Mississippi including TPC Southwind where the 2015 Fedx St. Jude Classic was played.

David Martinez, concierge at The Peabody Hotel where I stayed, suggested a number of places. I picked Cherokee Valley Golf Club in Olive Branch Mississippi which has a reputation for being well maintained and golf friendly rather than a course that will eat you up. He arranged a 12:30 tee time for the following day.      

The historic Peabody Memphis located in the heart of downtown Memphis is the Grande Dame of the Mid-South. Constructed in 1869, The Peabody was rebuilt at its present location in 1925.  The original hotel sported 75 rooms and cost $3 to $4 a day for room and meals, extra for a lighted fire. Today, The Peabody offers 464 guest rooms and suites that range from around $200 per night to $1,900 for the Presidential Suite. That does not include meals or drinks from the hotels three excellent restaurants and two bars that will freely light a fire under your taste buds.

Hotel guests watch as Duckmaster Anthony Petrina calls the marching ducks twice daily.

Now most fine hotels have Concierges, Maitre D’s and Sommeliers but when was the last time you stayed at a hotel (other than the Peabody’s in Orlando and Little Rock) that also has a Duckmaster. Yep, the Marching Ducks at the Peabody is a time honored tradition that began in 1940 and continues to this day. Promptly at 11am and again at 5pm these special canards, led by gold braided uniformed Duckmaster, Anthony Petrina march down a red carpet in the lobby to the fountain in the Grand Lobby cheered by an appreciative audience of camera toting guests.

I had a chance to chat with Doug Browne, the genial General Manager of the Peabody, an avid golfer, albeit his “somewhere in the 90’s” scores reflect his heavy schedule running a flagship Grand hotel. “We have lot’s of golfers staying with us from all over the world, and you can pretty well be assured we can arrange tee times at any course golf course or club in Memphis or across the river in Mississippi.”

“He also told me that while the hotel actually has 14 stories, the Peabody literally has thousands of stories that have generated millions of memories. Generations of everybody who is anybody have stayed at The Peabody including Robert E. Lee, a host of Presidents from McKinley to Clinton and George Bush Jr. to Hollywood’s Tom Cruise, and visiting royalty along with the usual corps of pretenders to the thrones of Europe.” You can glean a few of these stories yourself by visiting the Memorabilia room on the Mezzanine.

As with any historic property refurbishing and refreshing outdated or tired guest rooms and public spaces is a constant endeavor. Almost all 464 rooms had recently been refurbished including my room, which was attractive and comfortable. The bathroom, although quite small was well appointed with a fine array of thick and thirsty towels and luxury toiletries.

Better put on your chin bib these are serious BBQ ribs.

The Peabody’s fine dining establishment, Chez Philippe with Executive Chef Andreas Kisler at the helm offers classical  French cuisine. Kisler, one of a rare breed of debonair Chefs that exude charm and élan rather than austere kitchen masters, produces a signature delicacy that you must try. It’s a sea scallops with lobster  Try that with a flute of champagne mixed with apple juice and catch an early glimpse of what heaven is all about.  

 While Duck L’Orange, Roast Duckling and Duck Pate may be considered a delicacy by gourmands, The Peabody ownership has had a decades long, unassailable edict, which protects the marching ducks daytime job from turning into a night time dinner. “There will be no dead ducks served in this hotel.”

Just a one block walk from The Peabody, I found a wonderful new restaurant named Lolo’s at 128 Monroe Street. Featuring low country (Tuscan, French and Spanish) European foods, co-owners Lee Holiday and Eric Bush, opened this cozy, beguiling place with the sandy, rust colored look of old Tuscany. The dishes are beautifully prepared and attractively served by a friendly staff. A couple of my friends waxed joyously over the grilled leg of spring lamb with pesto/lemon run and raspberry zinfandel sauce. I devoured with gusto the coquilles a la nage, (plump sea scallops which were first quickly seared, then caramelized with herb capellini in a tomato-saffron broth).  Lolo’s is open every day except Sunday for lunch and dinner.

Undulating fairways and greens at the Cherokee Golf Club 6,751 yard, par 72 layout.

A 40 minute drive across the Mississippi, just south of Memphis brought me to the Cherokee Golf Club. Golf architect Don Cottle, Jr. laid out the 6751 Yards yard, par 72 course in a kind and gentle manner so that golfers of all skill levels would enjoy it. The forward tees at Cherokee Valley are set at 4,422 yards.

“Make no mistake, even though the fairways are wide and invite you to swing away” said Director of Golf, Danny Vick , “there’s lots of water, forests of trees and 78 bunkers throughout the course to capture your ball. In fact, we average 30,000 balls  fished annually from the 11 lakes and creeks at Cherokee.”

While touring the course Adam pointed out the majority of the trees lining the course and the water hazards are on the left side of the fairways. If you’re a lefty who tends to slice your shots you’ll have plenty of opportunity to get up close and personal with the finest examples of Mother Nature’s leafy giants of oak, hickory, sycamore, redbud and cedar and abundant, aquatic resources. Righties have the advantage –unless you snap hook a shot—and you’ll score well.

One aspect of the course I really liked is the way your ball sits up on the Zoyzia grass fairways instead of sinking down among the blades of the usual Bermuda. The well manicured greens are massive (some 40 yards long) and the Zoyzia allows you to put some extra spin on your ball when aiming for the pin.

Golf greens fees are surprisingly modest with weekdays going for $39.99 and weekends $49.99. In case you don’t feel like traveling with your own golf clubs, a set of rental clubs will set you back around $35.

Anyone for more BBQ?

No visit to Memphis would be complete without exploring the myriad restaurants and bars on Beale Street where blues, jazz, rock & roll and country music explode in a cacophony of sounds. Beale Street is blocked off from all motor traffic and well patrolled by local police. Crowds of locals, tourists and street characters jam the streets, jumping from one place to another. The bartenders pursue their craft at mach speed attempting to keep up with the multiple beverage concoctions ordered by the funseekers. Take your pick, enjoy ‘em all. B.B. King’s City Club, Pat O’Brien’s, Tater Red’s, Pig on Beale, Charles Vergos Rendezvous, Club 152, Blues City Café and more--each has their own special theme and flavor.

You can easily traverse from B.B. King, to Elvis Presley, King of Rock & Roll at his Graceland estate in about 20 minutes. Memphis is knee deep and minutia driven in all things Presley. Elvis sightings are frequent and on any given day you’ll see at least a two dozen people walking around wearing Presley’s famous big gold rim sun glasses. “Thank you, thank yuh very much.”

My baptism into barbeque began in Dallas, Texas where I lived for 10 years and Texas style ‘cue has always remained my favorite throughout my sojourns to Los Angeles and Atlanta. But Memphis managed to cut a deep niche into my barbeque psyche with it’s own regional brand of cooking and sauces. In particular Jim Neely’s International Bar-B-Que at 2265 S 3rd Street in Memphis serves up the most succulent platters of chopped or pulled pork, with sides of cole slaw, baked beans and fresh rolls. Neely,  makes a tangy sauce that complemented the ‘cue perfectly without overwhelming it. Neely, tending a perfectly fired pit said, “The thing I love about being a barbeque chef is the same feeling that an artist gets in creating a magnificent landscape. We both get the raw ingredients to start with and at the end of the day we both have created a unique product.”

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief sojourn in Memphis and emerged a few pounds heavier than when I arrived thanks to the succulent and abundant varieties of BBQ and sides. Forever etched into my mind is the haunting iconic blues song Beale Street Blues sung by the late BB King.

If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk
Married men would have to take their beds and walk
Except one or two, who never drink booze
And the blind man on the corner
Who sings the Beale Street Blues
He said, "I'd rather be there than anyplace I know
Yes, I'd rather be here, than anyplace I know

All in all, I found Memphis, the Queen City of the Mid-South just ducky, offering a lot more than its quacked up to be. And that’s no canard either!

You can contact Larry at larrymayran@bellsouth.net.