While Nashville has grabbed a lot of the glory as Tennessee’s destination city over the past few years, Memphis has slowly inched its way forward as a strong contender for an unexpected weekend jaunt. This spring, the city that gave the world rock ‘n’ roll and FedEx and epic slabs of barbecue hosts a startup art fair in March (one that bills itself as, among other things, a party), and celebrates its 200th birthday in May, when it will set the stage for the Beale Street Music Festival (May 3-5) and the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest (May 15-18).
Now in its fourth year, the Young Collectors Contemporary art fair (March 21-24) exhibits the work of emerging artists from the area, allowing younger collectors to get in on the ground floor of Memphis’ up-and-coming talent. An all-day pass costs $50, and it’s a great reason to check out the always-interesting David Lusk Gallery (Memphis native Rana Rochat’s Twombly-esque canvases will be on view in March)—and to stay at the newly opened Hu. Hotel.
Designed by the Brooklyn-based studio HOME, the 110-room space features inspired reinterpretations of Memphis’s signature aesthetic—think neon street signs and lush mid-century curves—and resides in a former Beaux Arts bank building from 1905. The in-room cocktail featuring spirits from Memphis’ Old Dominick Distillery is a nice touch.
Another hotel option to consider would be The Peabody, "the South’s Grand Hotel.” In addition to the warm welcome you’ll get from the staffers who’ll ask for and always address you by name, the Peabody is perhaps most famous for the twice-daily march of Mallard ducks to the hotel’s ornate lobby fountain.
May kicks off the city's bicentennial celebration which will take place in downtown Memphis’ Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River, honoring Memphis heritage and hosting an outdoor celebration of the city’s beloved music and food scene.
While in Memphis, save half a day to visit the National Civil Rights Museum. The space, located at the Lorraine Motel, offers an immersive experience covering historic moments including the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and the student sit-ins of the 1960s. Don't forget to allow time for the Boarding House across Mulberry street. Last but not least, you can't visit Memphis without visiting Graceland—the place Elvis Presley called home.
The food options in Memphis are plenty, but be sure to check out Acre for lunch—we recommend the kampachi crudo with a side of kimchi French fries. Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen has been a staple for dinner (we love the pork shoulder crepinette) since it hit the scene in 2008, and the owners recently opened Gray Canary, which features thoughtful preparations of local ingredients. If a nightcap is in the cards, hit the well-appointed Mollie Fontaine Lounge for a properly prepared cocktail.