The Peabody Memphis
Classic, $$ ($200)
There are many tests in life – that's true for people as well as buildings. The original Peabody Hotel, a Southern icon that has been a backdrop for countless movies, music tours, political affairs, and celebrations, was built a few years after the Civil War and survived the European-American financial crisis referred to as the “Panic of 1873," a couple of yellow fever epidemics, a partial building collapse, a fire, and Elvis's high school prom. In 1933, the hotel's wise-cracking general manager, back from a hunting trip, put live ducks (his decoys) in the lobby fountain — and they became a sensation. The raft of feathery fellows gained squatter's rights and, eventually, a floor show, when a former circus trainer-turned-hotel-bellman taught the ducks to march in and out of the lobby. (Mr. Edward Pembroke was deemed the official Duckmaster and cared for the animals until 1991.) Today, The Peabody Memphis is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, a kind of Delta version of The Ritz or The Savoy, with its own American brand of quirk.
At a Glance
The Vibe: Touristy but terrific town square.
Standout Detail: The Peabody Marching Ducks, of course. They live on the rooftop in the Royal Duck Palace and, led by the Duckmaster, descend the elevator to the lobby fountain every morning to the tune of John Philip Sousa’s "King Cotton March." The whole process is reversed in the evenings, when they march along the red carpet and retire to their penthouse palace.
This Place Is Perfect For: Fans of grand hotels and historic places.
Special Covid Protocols: The Peabody is following CDC-guidance and Shelby County Health Department directives. Everyone on the property over the age of 2 must wear face coverings in all public areas of the hotel. More info can be found here.
Rooms: All 464 rooms, including 15 suites, were given a big renovation in 2019, on the occasion of the hotel's 150th Anniversary. Rooms are heavy on traditionalism (big furniture, floor-length drapes, executive desk) with modern creature comforts (WiFi, Direct TV, smartphone docking stations). The duck-shaped soap makes for a cute keepsake.
On Site: The Peabody Club Floor includes private concierge, continental breakfast, snacks for grazing, and access to The Peabody Athletic Club. There are also meeting rooms, ballroom spaces, a beauty salon and spa, nine souvenir and retail shops, and a museum of hotel memorabilia.
Food + Drink: Three restaurants (classical French, Italian steakhouse, American deli), two bars (including the one in the lobby, excellent for duck-watching), and room service. Not to mention old-school creature comforts like afternoon tea, laundry service, and shoe-shine.
What to Do Nearby
The Peabody is two blocks from the Beale Street, where you can catch live music day and night. It's living and breathing soul, really: Stax Museum, Aretha's childhood home, Al Green's church, all the places graced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To really get a good sense of Memphis, says native Rachel Knox, Thriving Arts and Culture Program Officer for the Hyde Foundation, "You need four days and a car." Check out the website Choose 901 and wearememphis.com to find out what's going on. The Memphis Flyer is a great mix of arts culture and politics. Usually, outside of pandemic times, "there are a bazillion festivals like Bacon and Bourbon (April/May) and Soulsville Music Festival. Everyone at Memphis in May competes for BBQ bragging rights," but Payne’s Barbecue is her pick, "because it’s so authentic."