In 1935, historian David Cohn wrote, "The Mississippi
Delta begins in the lobby of The Peabody Hotel... If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby... you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta
Originally built on the corner of Main and Monroe in 1869 by Colonel Robert C. Brinkley, The Peabody has long been one of the finest hotels in the Mid-South and the elegant social hub of Memphis. Named for philanthropist George Peabody, who endowed George Peabody College in Nashville, the original hotel hosted such notables as Presidents Andrew Johnson and William McKinley and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Plantation owners, professional gamblers and movie stars were frequent guests. The Peabody enjoyed much success until it closed in 1923. In 1925, a $5 million Peabody, designed by architect Walter Ahlschlager, opened at its present downtown location on Union Avenue. As a temporary residence for the well-known and the well-to-do, including such celebrities as William Faulkner and Colonel Charles Lindbergh, people-watching in the lobby has always been a favorite pastime of tourists and locals.
Along with many other downtown businesses, The Peabody fell on hard times and closed in the early 1970s. It changed ownership in 1975, and reopened in 1981 after a painstaking restoration. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the 14-story Italian Renaissance Revival hotel features a grand two-story lobby with marble columns, gilded mezzanine railings, hand-carved and burnished woodwork, and ornate gilded plasterwork on the ceiling. The lobby’s most prominent feature is its elaborately carved Travertine marble fountain, the daytime home to the world-famous Peabody Marching Ducks, one of Memphis's biggest tourist attractions.
There are four highly regarded restaurants within The Peabody. The award-winning Chez Philippe, serving classic French cuisine amid palatial surroundings, has long been the best restaurant in Memphis. Dux is less sophisticated, and serves traditional American fare. Mallards Bar is styled after a traditional oyster bar. There is also Cafe Expresso, a combination deli and pastry shop that evokes the cafes of Europe.
The Mezzanine level features the recently reconstructed Peabody Grand Ballroom, the Continental Ballroom, and a variety of richly appointed conference rooms, backstage dressing rooms, and the Tennessee Exhibition Hall. In all, The Peabody holds 32 lavish meeting and function rooms totaling 72,000 square feet.
The elegance continues in the 468 deluxe guest rooms and suites, furnished with classic French styling, maple-burl armoires and king-size beds. The bathrooms are beautifully designed with marble floors and a circular counter around the sink. If you've never been a guest before, you still might recognize it upon your first visit: The Peabody served as a movie set in the production of The People vs. Larry Flynt.
On the twelfth floor you’ll find the club level, which features the fantastic Art Deco Skyway Ballroom, and offers afternoon hors d'oeuvres and drinks as well as The Peabody's famous Sunday Brunch. The hotel was renowned for live big band radio broadcasts from its rooftop dance club during the 1930s and '40s. Entertainers such as Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman, Harry James and Smith Ballew appeared regularly in the Skyway. Today, the hotel's Plantation Roof continues to host receptions, banquets and dances, and features the Peabody Duck Palace and a spectacular view that is unequalled anywhere else in the city.
The Peabody Hotel has been cited by the US Department of the Interior as one of the country's most outstanding preservation case studies. In 1994, The Peabody completed the final phases of a multi-million dollar renovation which included the complete refurbishment of every guest room. A symbol of Southern hospitality, The Peabody has become a Memphis legend and one of the city's most identifiable landmarks. It is close to historic Beale Street, and two blocks from the Mississippi River.
The Peabody Hotel is located at 149 Union Avenue, Memphis TN 38103.
Rates (USD): $210-$345 double; $350-$1,675 suite
Reservations: 1-800-PEABODY or (901) 529-4000
Source information: Betty Spence, digitalcity.com • historytraveler.com • peabodymemphis.com