In 1933, Peabody General Manager Frank Schutt and friend Chip Barwick went duck hunting in Arkansas, bringing with them a few live ducks as decoys. After doing more drinking “Tennessee sippin’ whiskey”—known today as Jack Daniel’s—than hunting, the two decided to leave their live duck decoys in the hotel fountain. It could be said that without Jack Daniels’ there would be no Peabody Duck March today.
The Peabody’s rich history includes countless stories of first dates, last dances and memories made, but also of blues musicians creating influential recordings in guestrooms in the 1920s, of famous orchestras and Big Band dancers swinging atop the hotel’s rooftop in the 1940s, and a young rock ‘n’ roll icon named Elvis Presley signing his first major recording contract in the lobby in the 1950s.
In addition to completing a renovation of its Grand Lobby and all 464 guestrooms and suites just in time for its sesquicentennial, “The South’s Grand Hotel” is inviting travelers to visit throughout its 150th anniversary year with an Anniversary Package for $1,869 and multiple celebrations, including a throwback Big Band dance in the Skyway/Rooftop and an elegant ballroom celebration in September 2019.
On March 6 I was an overnight guest at The Peabody. From the moment I arrived until I departed the following day, memories of my years spent as the first public relations director of The Peabody flooded my mind. Most I can talk about; a few it’s best not to tell. I smile as l recall the discoveries made during the renovation, the items delivered to me for the creation of a memorabilia room, the month-long re-opening in September of 1981, and the many celebrities whom I had the pleasure of meeting from Shelby Foote to Eudora Welty to Bob Hope to Carol Channing to Yul Brynner.
After allowing myself time to reminisce, I settled comfortably into my lovely Executive King Room with a sitting room where a tray of cheeses, crackers and fresh fruit awaited me along with blue water bottles with the duck logo. Note: There are now 464 guest rooms at The Peabody including 15 suites and a Concierge Floor plus Feathers Spa and a pool on the lower level.
My dinner companion and I enjoyed an excellent dinner in Capriccio Grill, an Italian steakhouse specializing in pasta dishes from La Bella Italia and premium steaks and chops. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Capriccio Grill is among Memphis’ top dining experiences, garnering the AAA three-diamond award and the “Award of Excellence” from Distinguished Restaurants of North America (Dirona). Under the direction of Chef Andreas Kisler, the restaurant has gained a reputation for having the best steaks in the city. Fresh lobster and seafood are flown in daily, and pasta dishes are cooked to al dente perfection. Cappricio Grill is also the perfect spot for a power breakfast or lunch, and Sunday Brunch is served in this restaurant from 11am-2:30 pm.
I ordered a Traditional Caprese Salad with buffalo mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh basil; Grilled Mahi Mahi; and a side dish of Sauteed Asparagus. My friend ordered Crispy Crab Cake, a 6-oz. Petite Filet Mignon and a side dish of Spinach, Zucchini and Yellow Squash au gratin. For dessert we shared Panna Cotta al Lemoncello served with Blackberry Compote d’Amaretti Biscotti.
After dinner we browsed in the shops including Lucky Duck, where lots of ducky merchandise awaits your purchase. Two Peabody history books are sold there: a coffee table book entitled “The Peabody: A History of the South’s Grand Hotel,” published by The Peabody ($50) and a softbound book by Scott Faragher and Katherine Harrington ($22).
Lansky Bros. has four shops for men and women in the lobby of The Peabody. It was Elvis Presley who helped establish Bernard Lansky’s “Clothier to the King” title.
We enjoyed people watching in the hotel lobby, referred to as the “living room of Memphis and the place to see and be seen.” An enticing selection of desserts is offered from a cart. We strolled the mezzanine where we visited the memorabilia room (more on this later) and met new friends in The Corner Bar, a casual and cozy spot to meet friends after work or after a meeting, offering a menu of Jack Daniels’-inspired upscale bar food and daily drink specials. (Open Monday-Friday at 4 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 11 am), and we stopped by the Peabody Deli to admire the wide array of delicious desserts and ice creams from the Peabody pastry shop.
We peeped into the elegant Chez Philippe, known for its impeccable service and a menu of classical French cuisine directed by Peabody Executive Chef Andreas Kisler. This is The Peabody’s signature dining room, serving dinner Wednesday-Saturday, 6pm-10pm and afternoon Tea Wednesday-Saturday, 1-3:30pm. Chez Philippe is the most opulent dining room in Memphis. This upscale French restaurant is the only Forbes four-star and AAA Four-Diamond-rated restaurant in the Mid-South. It is included on Open Table’s list of Top 100 “Most Romantic Restaurants in the U.S.”
When I returned to my guest room, I found a lovely gold box of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Brand Tennessee Whiskey Truffles handmade at The Peabody.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, I enjoyed coffee and an apple walnut muffin the next morning from the Peabody Deli. Note: Complimentary coffee is served to hotel guests from 6am-9am.
Around 10:30am I had a pleasant visit with Kelly Earnest, Director of Marketing-Communications, The Peabody Memphis, whose busy schedule seems to match mine and reminded me of the re-opening years of the hotel. At 11am it was time for the famous Duck March to and from the lobby fountain to the tune of John Phillip Sousa’s “King Cotton March.” This waterfowl procession is a “must see” for locals and visitors. The touted tradition takes place at 11am and 5pm daily and always draws a crowd, so go a few minutes early to get a good viewing spot.
“We who work at The Peabody never know who we will see at The Peabody,” said Kelly Ernest. “Famous people are constantly staying here or just stopping by to see the ducks, the hotel’s celebrities. Our General Manager tells a story about a duck march that took place around 2000 when Michael Jordan, President Jimmy Carter, Lisa Marie Presley, and Nicholas Cage were all at the same duck march!”
At 11:30 am I had an excellent tour of The Peabody by Doug Weatherford, who is a Duckmaster and storyteller. The tour is scheduled to last one hour, but our tour lasted 1 1/2 hours and was fascinating. Doug has a special interest in the musicians who have frequented The Peabody, and he thoroughly enjoys his work. The tour includes the lobby and the charming memorabilia room, which was once a gentlemen’s reading room on the mezzanine. You may view old Peabody Hotel china, read letters from guests and see photographs of famous personalities who have stayed at and/or performed at The Peabody. One interesting item is a note penned by the first chef of Chez Philippe agreeing not to serve duck in Chez Philippe. A few new large donations include a solid brass cash register, a shoe shine kit and an organ—all from the original Peabody on Main and Monroe. A video history of the hotel plays on a loop.
On the tour we saw a large color photograph of Mr. Edward Pembroke, the hotel’s first Duckmaster, formerly with Ringling Bros. Circus. We took the elevator to the Skyway and the Plantation Roof, which has a lovely view of downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River, plus the Duck Palace atop the roof. Note: You may schedule a hotel tour at the Concierge Desk.
Following my hotel tour, it was time to say goodbye to “the South’s Grand Hotel.” The stories I could tell about this grand old lady, the renovation and the month-long re-opening in September of 1981. In all of my travels I have not visited a hotel lobby that surpasses that of The Peabody. Along with a gold medallion replica of The Peabody given to me by Gary Belz, son of owner Jack Belz, when I left The Peabody to move to Washington, D.C., I now proudly own a commemorative coin celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Peabody, a hotel that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
What to Know
The Peabody Memphis
149 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN 38103
The Peabody is a member of Preferred Hotels Worldwide Hotels of America. It is a Forbes 4-star hotel and AAA 4-diamond hotel.