You don’t know this, so I’m going to tell you: We recently spent a few days in Memphis. The one in Tennessee, not the one in Egypt. It’s the slow season in New Orleans, visitor-wise, so we used this opportunity to get away and do some business-related research. Let me tell you something else if you didn’t know this already: Memphis is not New Orleans.
We enjoyed Memphis. Our first morning, we went to the National Civil Rights Museum, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (no relation to your humble narrator) was assassinated. We found it very moving. Our first afternoon, by way of counterpoint, we went to Graceland. We were somewhat less affected by our visit to Graceland, though our wallet was about a hundred bucks lighter.
When we went to Graceland, we were each issued an iPod and headphones. I used mine for less than a minute. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get as much out of it as I might have. We both enjoyed seeing Elvis’ house, though.
A little number from Elvis’s best film, King Creole, shall we?
That busboy really could sing.
Why is King Creole Elvis’ best film? Because it is set in New Orleans, naturally. There is no place in the world like New Orleans. We have returned from Memphis, Tennessee to tell you, dear reader, that Memphis is not New Orleans.
Nor should Memphis be like New Orleans, really. Memphis should be Memphis, warts and all.
If someone tells you that Beale Street in Memphis is like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, they are somewhat correct. Both streets are where visitors go to listen to music in the streets’ respective cities. Here are the differences:
- There is much more on Bourbon Street than there is on Beale Street.
- Bourbon Street is located in a picturesque real neighborhood, the French Quarter, a place in which a person can get lost marveling at the architecture, the art galleries, the antique shops, and the restaurants. Beale Street is located in downtown Memphis, a part of the city that is, to put it politely, fairly empty.
- You can listen to the blues on Beale Street. On Bourbon Street, not so much. It’s mostly jazz in New Orleans, though Bourbon Street music runs the gamut of styles to appeal to the almost 10 million annual visitors to this fair city.
- You can eat at one of the fanciest restaurants in the city, Gallatoire’s, on Bourbon Street. We didn’t see any fancy restaurants on Beale Street.
- There always has to be a 5, doesn’t there? We didn’t spend a lot of time on Beale Street, so I don’t have much else to say about it. The lively part of Beale Street is only three or four blocks long. It did have the fabulous A. Schwab Trading Co., which is an excellent store that particularly appealed to your humble narrator. It has a museum, all sorts of tacky-tacky to tempt the unwary shopper, and a bunch of voodoo (or hoodoo, as they say in Memphis) supplies on its third floor. A tip of my fedora to A. Schwab.
So, anyway, we went to Memphis to do some business research. Since we’re in the hospitality business, the goal of our working vacation was to stay at the world-famous Peabody Hotel in beautiful downtown Memphis.
The Peabody is famous for being an old-style grand hotel in the best tradition. It is steeped in its own traditions, the most famous being the march of a band of ducks from their penthouse roost every morning down the elevator to the fountain in the center of the lobby. Every afternoon, the ducks march out of the fountain, up the elevator, back to their swanky digs on the hotel’s roof. It’s quite the show and we watched it more than once. At 11:00AM and 5:00PM every day, the lobby is crowded with people who want to see the ducks go from and to the elevator. Most of those people don’t stay in the Peabody. Everyone we sat next to were staying at nearby chain hotels: Holiday Inn, Spring Hill Suites, Doubletree, the Westin, wherever. When I asked why, they said the Peabody was too expensive.
The Peabody Hotel isn’t cheap, that’s for sure. We paid $30 more per night what you would pay if you stayed at La Belle Esplanade, here in New Orleans. The Peabody Hotel is not La Belle Esplanade. Here’s why:
- Our room in the Peabody was small. The bed took up most of the space. There was one chair at the room’s desk and there was one upholstered chair by the window. There wasn’t a lot of room to move around. At La Belle Esplanade, everyone gets a spacious two-room suite and plenty of comfortable seating options.
- The walls are paper thin at the Peabody Hotel. Our first night, there was a party on the roof, something that happens every Thursday. When we got home, we could hear the rooftop DJ’s bass in our room about ten floors down. Our last night, the guests next door to us got in from Beale Street at 3:00AM and proceeded to talk for the next two hours. We heard every word. It wasn’t the most fascinating conversation.
- The Peabody Hotel allows pets. La Belle Esplanade does not allow pets. Our second night, someone left their dog in their room and it barked and barked until we called the front desk to check on it. Someone on staff came and removed the dog to some undisclosed location (presumably not the riverbank). The barking was annoying, sure, but we felt sorry for the dog locked in its room. That dog didn’t sound happy.
- When you stay at the Peabody Hotel, you are within walking distance of Beale Street (see above) but we had to take a cab to see anything else of interest in Memphis. We did take advantage of the trolley lines, but they go up and down fairly empty Main Street, or in a loop to various empty storefronts and the riverside park. At La Belle Esplanade, there are innumerably more interesting things within walking distance of our inn and New Orleans is a lively and vibrant city, each neighborhood brimming full of activity and culture.
- There always has to be a 5, doesn’t there? While the lobby is breathtaking at the Peabody Hotel, for the money, we think you’ll get a better lodging experience at La Belle Esplanade. We’re not saying this because we run La Belle Esplanade. We’re saying it because we think it’s true. Frau Schmitt is usually right about these things. Our lobby may not be up to Peabody standards, but it does house an odditarium. The Peabody Hotel also contains a museum (pictured below) but it doesn’t have the same kind of interesting objects the New Orleans Odditarium has.
We won’t be going to Memphis again any time soon. Our calendar is filling up for the next couple of months. Our guests come to New Orleans and they tell us they have to come back. Their stay was too short. They only scratched the surface of what dense and richly textured New Orleans has to offer. We live in New Orleans and, let me tell you, Memphis is not New Orleans. We enjoyed our time in Memphis, but by vacation’s end, and it was only three days, we were ready to come back to New Orleans. We’ve lived in New Orleans six years and we still aren’t bored yet. Rather than stroll around Memphis for a couple of hours before we HAD to go to the airport on our last morning, we opted to just go to the airport early.
That last sentence defines the difference between Memphis and New Orleans. Everyone who visits New Orleans wants to squeeze a few more memorable moments out of their trip. They head to the airport with regret.
I’ll tell you one more thing now: There’s not a lot going on at the Memphis airport, either.
À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
…where every morning is a curated breakfast salon.
July 17, 2016: Peaceful, tranquil, seasonably warm and seasonably humid, just the way it should be.
Postscript: Before we move onto other business in the next installment, I would like to take the time to give a shout out to the best stewardess on Glo Airlines: Lola!
I know I’m not supposed to call flight attendants stewards and stewardesses anymore, but I’m old-fashioned, just like the city I am proud and pleased to call home. —À votre santé.