Regal, refined and fowl?
The Peabody Hotel, in Memphis, Tenn., is a grand experience for visitors. By Mona L. Hayden, Correspondent
It's 11 a.m. at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where hundreds of guests and local residents fill the lobby and upstairs balconies for the dramatic entrance of "The Ducks."
Each morning they march from their Royal Duck Palace on the rooftop of the hotel into an elevator and down to the lobby to the jazzy tempo of the "King Cotton March."
The ducks take center stage on the red carpet as they stroll to the majestic travertine fountain where they'll spend their day, much to the delight of guests, until the Peabody Duckmaster returns at 5 p.m. to lead them back to the rooftop in another elaborate procession.
A time-honored daily tradition since 1933, it began when the hotel's general manager returned from a hunting trip with his friend, smelling of Jack Daniels, and put three small English call ducks in the fountain as a prank.
This was so well received that it became permanent. Since that day, ducks can always be found in the fountain at the Peabody but never on the menu.
While the original grand hotel opened in 1869 at another location, upon its closing the downtown structure opened in 1925 in regal Italian Renaissance style right in the heart of Memphis on Union Avenue just blocks from the legendary Beale Street entertainment district.
This national historic landmark has 464 guest rooms that include 15 suites and offers the best views of the Mississippi River and downtown Memphis from the rooftop.
Kelly Earnest, director of public relations at the Peabody, says hotel guests range from local to some notable celebrities.
"Many high profile people and celebrities stay here while in Memphis," Earnest says. "You may see people like Oprah [Winfrey] and Laura Bush, or pass Jack White in the lobby. You never know who you're going to see from day to day."
For instance, she said, about 10 years ago Jimmy Carter came through the hotel at 4:45 p.m. and asked when the Duck March started. He requested that they wait for him to get settled in his room but was told that they don't alter the schedule for anyone. He stayed downstairs to view the "Duck March," along with Lisa Marie Presley and Nicholas Cage on the balcony and Michael Jordan sitting at the bar.
Even with names like these, the ducks are sometimes the biggest celebrities in the hotel, Earnest says.
"I saw the 'Duck March' when I was a little girl, and I've taken my daughter to see it," she says.
The Peabody is situated in the heart of the city, just a mile off the interstate, and is the only four-diamond hotel in Memphis.
Once you park at the hotel, you can walk to most anything.
As a guest, be sure to check out the special packages. A favorite is the Ducky Day Family Package that lets you be an honorary Duckmaster, assisting with the march, and receive an official brass-head Duckmaster cane, duck cookies, a rubber ducky, and more.
Whether you're with a group or just in for a night of luxurious pampering and ultimate relaxation, you're welcome to learn more about the history of the hotel with a free tour each day at 11:30 a.m., led by the Duckmaster.
Another not-to-miss event is afternoon tea (served Wednesday- Saturday from 2-3:30 p.m., reservations required) at Chez Philippe. This exquisite restaurant serves classical French cuisine and remarkable desserts prepared in-house.
The Peabody is also known for hosting the best Sunday brunch in the city.
While in Memphis, allow time to tour Graceland (graceland.com), home of Elvis Presley, where exhibits and tours are routinely updated and altered.
The 35th anniversary of his death was honored throughout 2012 as Graceland continues to be a prime tourist attraction for fans worldwide. Another stop should be the Arcade Restaurant (arcaderestaurant.com), Memphis' oldest caf' (1919), where Elvis was a regular patron. Elvis fans enjoy having their photo made in "his booth" at the restaurant.
After an exciting time in Memphis, you'll retire to your room to find a Peabody duck dessert, touted as "the perfect kiss goodnight from the South's Grand Hotel."n
Visit Peabodymemphis.com or call 1-800-PEABODY for more information or to make reservations.
[Optional SIDEBAR, if I have room]
It's very evident that the Peabody is the epitome of sophistication and finesse, from the furnishing and d'cor to the services provided.
This bar is set high and spills over to a complete wing of the third floor that houses the pastry shop.
Konrad Spitzbart, executive pastry chef, and his staff of 13 work around the clock to produce stunning desserts and pastries ranging from the famous duck cookies sold throughout the hotel to the Sweet Ending Trio served in Chez Philippe.
Originally from Austria, Spitzbart came to the U.S. in 1993 to explore pastry. He worked at five-star hotels in Detroit and Beverly Hills, even catering Oscar and Grammy after-parties.
About six years ago, he found his way to Memphis and the Peabody. Since then, one of his most popular creations is his peanut butter and banana Elvis cakes.
Konrad and his crew dazzle hotel guests and locals alike as they cater weddings, banquets and special events.
A colossal undertaking each year is the massive gingerbread house for display in the lobby of the hotel.
Baking and construction begin in September, and just after Thanksgiving, the fantasyland is dismantled upstairs and taken down to the lobby and reassembled, as if by magic.
The display is removed soon after Christmas as the hotel prepares for its huge New Year' Eve party where some 2,000-3,000 tickets are sold in advance.
A quick tour of the pastry kitchen reveals gigantic equipment, tools and staples in massive proportions.
For instance, less than halfway through the gingerbread display, the project had already consumed 300 pounds of confectioner's sugar and 10 gallons of egg whites. In an average week, 120 pounds of cream cheese are used in the kitchen.
In addition to pastries, bread and confections to be shared, the kitchen also prepares 300-400 individual desserts, and that's before the weekend.
Spitzbart recalls his largest catered event at the Peabody being about 1,100 guests. "That's quite a feat. Thankfully, my work space here is bigger than the Beverly Hills hotels," he says.
Even with the extra space, he still keeps most of his utensils in a huge automotive tool box close at hand. After all, the need may arise for handmade chocolates, gourmet ice cream, or pastries and desserts shaped like ducks, of course, at a moment's notice.
The efficient seamless movements of the staff, along with the vision and implementation of the chef's master plans, make the kitchen resemble Santa's workshop.n