Feeling Funky in Memphis
Graceland, Beale Street, and Sun Studios are all worth a visit, but to commune with the true Memphis, you must get down and dirty. "I ask my friends here, What makes Memphis Memphis?" says Tad Pierson, founder of American Dream Safari, who offers tours of hidden Memphis in his beige '55 Cadillac (from $200 for up to five passengers). "They always say it's the gritty and the funky."
Tap into the spirit of old Memphis and stay at the Peabody (from $219 a night), a local institution since 1869, where William Faulkner once sipped cocktails and bluesman Furry Lewis made his first recordings. From there, it's an easy bus or trolley ride to the South Main District and what may be the city's favorite dive bar, Earnestine & Hazel's, a former brothel (said to be haunted) that now offers live jazz and blues and one of the juiciest burgers anywhere. Across the street is the Arcade Restaurant, open since 1919, which has fed classic Southern fare — the sweet potato pancakes and biscuits and gravy make it a favorite breakfast spot — to everyone from Machine Gun Kelly to Elvis Presley.
Speaking of Presley, true fans head to Coletta's in South Memphis for one of the King's dietary staples — barbecue pizza. Back in the 1970s, he'd eat with his crew in his own private room, which is now a memorabilia-stuffed shrine to the Pelvis.
South Memphis is also home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, a shrine to the studio where Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and countless others recorded their hits. Down the street is the Four Way, a soul-food institution known for salmon croquettes, collard greens, and fried chicken. Time-travel from the gritty past to the hipster present in the Broad Avenue Arts District, home to 3 Angels, a diner beloved for its "adult grilled cheese" (made from your selection of six cheeses) and pork chops. Or have a Sazerac and a cold dozen at The Cove, a funky, nautically themed dive and oyster bar.
You're unlikely to hear authentic live blues in Memphis proper. For that, you have to trek to Wild Bill's in North Memphis or the Blues Nightclub in South Memphis. Both joints are located in pretty dingy strip malls far from the neon glow of Beale Street. But the music never disappoints.
The world's second-busiest cargo hub, Memphis International Airport gets nonstop flights from more than 30 U.S. cities.