Story By Carol Stigger
Photography courtesy Peabody Hotel Memphis
Peabody Hotel in Memphis is just ducky
The Peabody Hotel in the heart of “Blues City” may be your only choice for elegant lodgings with no reported Elvis sightings – although Pricilla Presley was a guest as well as every U.S. president since Truman. It is rumored that England’s Prince William and Prince Harry stayed there recently while attending a wedding. Perhaps they were not as awed as I was by the glorious high ceilings and wood paneling in a lobby with such old warm charm that even the ducks are real.
The ducks were introduced to the Peabody in 1933 and remain a beloved Memphis attraction. The five Peabody ducks spend their days in the lobby fountain that was cut from a huge piece of travertine marble then shipped from Italy for the hotel’s re-opening in 1925. The Duck Master marches them from their bespoke lodgings to the fountain every morning and marches them back every evening at 5. It is quite a ceremony with red carpeting and honorary Duck Masters who have included Oprah Winfrey, Florence Henderson, Emeril Lagasse, Molly Ringwald, George Hamilton, and Larry King.
While off-duty, the ducks live in their $200,000 Royal Duck Palace on the rooftop terrace which is a fine place for sipping wine and viewing the city. The palace is made of marble and glass and includes a fountain with bronze ducks spitting water and a small replica of the hotel for nesting plus a grass lawn. The ducks even have a retirement plan. After three months of active duty, they are released to live in the wild.
A duck-free menu
And, no, the hotel has not had “duck” on their restaurants’ menus since its 1981 re-re-opening, making the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Chez Philippe, probably the only French restaurant in the world that does not offer any type of duck dish. You’ll need to get foie gras elsewhere or settle for Chez Philippe’s smoked quail rocket salad with poached quail egg and sherry vinaigrette before tucking into venison loin with sous-vide baby fennel, celery root fondue and blackberry sauce. I finished my meal with Strawberry Rhubarb Verrine, which is pink peppercorn pound cake, strawberry pana cotta, and rhubarb jelly. I did not miss the foie gras. The menu changes frequently to take advantage of local, seasonal ingredients.
Chez Philippe is the only place in Memphis to enjoy an English-style afternoon tea, an indulgence of tea sandwiches, assorted sweets, scones, and a selection of fine teas. If you are addicted to Lipton tea bags, mosey on down to Beale Street with the rest of the world and get your blues on.
The hotel dates back to 1869 when it became the social hub of Memphis. It has maintained its lofty standards through renovations that keep amenities up-to-date while preserving its historical opulence and charm. It is difficult to feel anything less than blissful in a Peabody Club room on the private access concierge level with complimentary drinks and snacks and the Southern hospitality of a welcome cocktail. But I felt a bit wistful when I peeked inside the Romeo and Juliet suite. It has loft bedrooms with a romantic spiral staircase ascending from a two-story parlor with a fireplace. Definitely room for the kids; certainly a romantic excuse for leaving the kids at home with a sitter and Disney movies.
The junior suites have one or two bedrooms and a parlor that looks like one. Celebrity suites and the presidential suite are probably booked by people whose names are household words, but the Peabody is too discrete to disclose them. A multi-million dollar renovation/restoration of its 464 guestrooms and suites was completed in 2013, so guests have room choices that meet their needs and often surpass their expectations.
Your concierge can direct you to the best BBQ restaurants, Blues venues, events, and themed tours. I took the three-hour Tastin’ ‘Round Town BBQ tour that required a few blocks walking and a van ride to the last two of six restaurants serving Memphis’ finest BBQ. By the time we got in the van, we were too full to walk, but well educated in the varieties of BBQ that make Memphis famous. I did not want the BBQ egg roll or the BBQ spaghetti, but I am pleased I forced myself to taste them. In addition to the interesting flavors, how many people do you know who have eaten BBQ egg rolls?
You should not miss the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The museum is a 15 minute walk from the hotel, a little over half a mile. It re-opened in April 2014 after a $27.5 million restoration. The museum chronicles key elements in the American Civil Rights Movement and includes immersive environments. I crouched in the confined spaces of a slave ship, sat in a court room and watched the landmark Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision, sat behind Rosa Parks on a segregated bus, and sang along with protesters from the interior of an Albany, Georgia, church.
Dr. King’s Lorraine Hotel room has been preserved as it was when he lost his life on the balcony. Stubbed out cigarettes and a half-eaten chicken dinner are in a room so humble I was reminded of Gandhi. Across the street, the rooming house where the assassin, James Earl Ray, lived displays his run-down room with a sagging mattress and the window where he made the fatal shot. The museum is both sobering and inspiring with these shameful parts of our history locked in time as we go forth to live our lives in a more enlightened world.
With thanks to the Peabody Hotel www.peabodymemphis.com
The National Civil Rights Museum civilrightsmuseum.org
Lance from Tastin’ ‘Round Town www.tastinroundtown.com
Duck Master Anthony Petrina
© June 2014 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.