HomeCultureMemphis in Summer

Memphis in Summer

From marching ducks to art, Elvis and of course barbecue, Memphis is a great place to be this summer.

by Annie Bares

The Peabody Hotel

One of the South’s great landmarks since it was built in 1869, The Peabody Hotel is a must must-see for visitors and Memphians alike. Author David Cohn famously noted that “the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.” While it has fallen on hard times historically, the Peabody was restored in the 1970s and remains a popular Memphis landmark.

Over the years, the hotel has housed some important Southerners, from Jefferson Davis to William Faulkner and Paula Deen. Its most famous residents are without a doubt the Peabody Ducks though.

Legend has it that back in the 1930s, the hotel’s manager and some of his hunting buddies had a little too much sipping whiskey after one of their hunting trips and decided to put their live duck decoys in the lobby fountain. Their prank received an enthusiastic reaction from guests and before long, five American mallards took up permanent residence in the fountain. Soon after, bellman Edward Pembroke became the first Duckmaster, teaching his team how to march through the lobby to John Philip Sousa’s “King Cotton March.” The duck march continues today, and you can also visit their rooftop palace. Take a break from the steamy streets of downtown Memphis at either 11 a.m. or 5 p.m. daily to see the Peabody ducks parade through the lobby. Be sure to arrive early to get a good spot.

During the summer, the Peabody hosts a Thursday night Rooftop Party. The $10 admission (ladies get in free before 7 p.m.) includes one drink, a buffet, live band and the best view of Memphis. Weekly parties continue through August 16.

From ducks to views, the Peabody is truly a treat. I always look forward to ditching my dorm room during Parents Weekend and staying with my parents at the hotel. For one of the South’s finest, it’s relatively affordable. Just think, you could be staying in the same room Elvis Presley once slept in.

Autozone Park

Nothing says summer in the South like a good game of minor league baseball. From the music to the goofy fan games between innings, the minors really are the most fun way to watch a game. Autozone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds, is located just blocks away from the Peabody in downtown, and in my opinion, is the best minor league park in the South. Families can bring a blanket and take advantage of the park’s $8 ($5 in advance) lawn seats. Sample traditional ballpark cuisine like cotton candy and peanuts or go with the more local fare and order the barbecued nachos. Evening games start at 7:05 p.m., right when the day goes from brutally hot to bearable and the park offers picture perfect views of the Memphis skyline at sunset.

African American Art & Elvis 

Indulge in fabulous art (and air conditioning) at the Brooks Museum of Art this summer with three exhibitions opening in June and July, two that focus on The King.

Starting June 9, the Brooks Museum will be showing “The Soul of the City: Memphis Collects African American Art,” revealing the variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and mixed media works from the 20th and 21st centuries in both private and public collections in Memphis. On June 23, “Elvis is in the Building” will present 11 early photographs of The King from the museum’s collection. And on July 21, the Brooks partners with Graceland for “If I Can Dream … .” An international art contest in honor of the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, the exhibit will display selected winners through the end of Elvis Week, August 19. (On August 16, the short film “Tupelove,” featuring little-known places in and around Tupelo, Mississippi, will be shown.)

Southern Fuel

While Memphis may be known for its barbecue, anyone who’s spent time here knows that one of the city’s greatest assets is its wide range of cuisine. Sunday morning brunch options are seemingly infinite in downtown Memphis, but for something beyond standard fare omelets and crab cakes Benedict, check out Cockadoos on Second Street.

Located in the heart of downtown, Cockadoos can truly call itself a Southern restaurant. The menu announces that it proudly serves Luzianne tea and goes onto unabashedly proclaim that sweet “is the only way to drink it.” Also found on the menu are a barbecue pork omelet, and hardcore Elvis fans can delight in “The Shag,” a peanut butter and banana French toast sandwich topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. I would also recommend the catfish grits, a twist on the traditional lowcountry dish that pairs cheese grits with a generous portion of lemon butter catfish. Melt-in-your-mouth cathead biscuits and sweet potato hash are a perfect way to start the day.

Center for Southern Folklore

From Beale Street to Graceland, Memphis has no shortage of souvenir shops. They can be fun, but if you’re looking for a more meaningful memento from your time in Bluff City, check out the Center for Southern Folklore. Located right off of the trolley stop on Main Street, the center is primarily a historical preservation and archives organization, but also offers a fabulous gift shop and café.

Chock full of historic photographs, music memorabilia, bottlecap birdhouses and everything in between, this store will send you home with a memorable souvenir. And since no summer afternoon in the South is complete without ice cream, don’t miss the cafe’s MoonPie Sundae.

Photo credits, from top: Peabody rooftop courtesy of The Peabody Hotel; AutoZone Park from Facebook; Elvis courtesy of Brooks Museum; Cockadoos sweet potato hash from the restaurant’s Facebook page; and Memphis Music & Heritage Festival poster from Center for Southern Folklore’s Facebook page.

Annie Bares is a former intern with Deep South. 

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  • Hunter Murphy / May 15, 2012

    Annie Bares and Erin ZB, I love this! I have to get to Memphis soon and I’ll be taking your article with me as guide!

  • Judy Peiser / May 16, 2012

    Thanks for including the Center for Southern Folklore in your article! Come on back for some “meatless” greens and yummy hotwater cornbread, mac and cheese and our peach cobbler with Maggie Moo’s ice cream.

    We present music in our Folklore Store or Heritage Hall every Friday and Saturday night. Check our website and facebook page for details and information. Friday night, May 25th Star and Micey present an all ages show. And Saturday night, June 2nd Kate Campbell will perform during her new CD release. And make your plans now to attend the Center’s Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, Sept 1-2!