On the afternoon of Aug. 16, 1977, Elvis Presley was found unresponsive at his home, Graceland. He was rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital, but the doctors there could do nothing for him. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m.
In the days that followed, tens of thousands of people made their way to Memphis in an impromptu pilgrimage of grief. They’ve been returning ever since. Now, 40 years later, the organizers of “Elvis Week” expect the largest crowds ever.
Truthfully, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll shimmied off his mortal coil in an inconvenient season. The middle of August finds Memphis balmy if we’re being charitable. Let’s not mention the language a person could use if he were feeling uncharitable.
Still, it’s a lively time to visit. Elvis fans will no doubt find many events at Graceland moving, particularly the candlelight vigil, beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 15. Several popular locations are worth a visit, including Sun Studio and Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The National Civil Rights Museum should not be missed, though its somber nature requires ample time to tour and reflect.
Other popular locations can be cut from your itinerary without sacrificing an authentic experience. Specifically, Beale Street should be avoided at all costs. Much like the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Beale Street exists entirely as a kind of live play-act for tourists. The ducks at the Peabody Hotel are cute, but they are simply ducks indoors.
Better to spend your time away from the crowds exploring a bit of the “real” Memphis. Here are some family-friendly activities located throughout the city, although each is easily accessible by car.
Let’s get two things straight. One, barbecue is not what happens when you cook hamburgers in your backyard; that’s grilling. Two, there is no more delicious and tender barbecue than what can be eaten in Memphis. The good people of Texas, Missouri and the Carolinas will tell you otherwise. Bless their hearts.
Many visitors gravitate to The Rendezvous downtown, which certainly puts on a memorable show. The food is good, but the place is crowded. One feels rushed at the table, instead of invited to linger over succulent ribs. A better choice for a table service is The Bar-B-Q Shop. Order your ribs dry, your pulled-pork topped with slaw and your tea sweet. Spend a while savoring the flavors.
If you’ve got picky eaters to think about, Central BBQ offers smoked turkey, chicken and Portobello mushrooms along with the standard pork options. It’s worth a trip just for their home-cooked potato chips. Grab an extra bag on your way out.
But if you want the absolute gold standard, go to Cozy Corner. This places doesn’t put on airs, but it does make unbeatable ribs. Try the Cornish hen or bologna if you’re feeling adventurous. And if you’re feeling downright reckless, order the Super Hot sauce — just not on the ribs, please!