Readers Guide: Hunter on Memphis, TN
Profession: Retired chemical analyst for an environmental laboratory and currently an amateur historian and a part-time professional tour guide.
City: Memphis, Tennessee
Relationship status: Single, not looking. I've been in relationships in the past and find I am happier single and enjoying the company of friends.
Sexuality: Gay (100% homosexual)
What was the last vacation you took? Where did you go? Where do you most want to go?
A mostly gay group tour on a chartered bus to New Orleans for a three-day weekend. The trip was organized by a gay social group here in Memphis, and included meals on the way there and back, and the bus had an open bar. A very festive time was had by all. I would love to visit Biltmore House in North Carolina. I've never been, and now that I am retired I hope to fulfill that desire.
Are any famous people from your town?
Duh! Of course, Elvis Presley comes to mind immediately, but so many of the other great musical artists and performers in many different genres were either born here or made Memphis their home at one time or another -- from Muddy Waters and B. B. King to Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake and Three Six Mafia. For the opera lovers were have Mignon Dunn, Margarite Piazza and Kalen Esperian. Some of the actors who call this home are George Hamilton and Cybill Shepherd, who went to the same high school; Cathy Bates and Morgan Freeman were born nearby and call this area home. A more obscure name is that of adventurer and author, Richard Halliburton (who rumors say was a "friend of Dorothy").
What are some of the things you love most about your town?
The trees and parks! Memphis has one of the nation's largest urban park systems. There are parks scattered throughout the city in all sizes, and for various recreational purposes. Go up in a high-rise building, you look out over a sea of green -- not asphalt -- in all parts of the city. One city park has over 3,000 acres and is home to a herd of buffalo. The several gay softball teams enjoy the many fine facilities, as well as gay running groups and those of us who just like to sit in the shade and watch.
If someone came to your town for just four hours, what is the one thing he should do?
With all due respect to Graceland, one of the most-visited places in the world, I would advise you to make Sun Studio your primary stop. The 45-minute tour there is really more of a performance conducted by real contemporary musicians, and features excerpts from recordings made by many of rock and roll's great early performers. Graceland is, of course, de jure on most people's lists -- but allow yourself at least three hours to see everything offered there. Check out the Stax Recording Studio Museum for great review of soul performers, and the Rock and Soul Museum (which is a part of the Smithsonian Institution). If you like art, call ahead and see what is on exhibit at Memphis Brooks Gallery of Art and the Dixon Galley and Gardens. Also don't miss the Beltz Museum of Oriental and Judaic Art. For someone not from this area, I recommend the River Museum on Mud Island, which is accessed by a monorail (featured in the John Gresham movie "The Firm"). It has lots of well-made exhibits regarding the Mighty Mississippi River and life during the Steamboat Era. There is also a six-block scale model of the river that you walk and wade in).
What are some great restaurants for a night out with gay friends?
Food is so subjective, and I like it all! I hesitate to say what anyone else would enjoy. Of course Memphis is the pork barbecue capital of the world, and there are many great places to sample that in all it varying forms. For pulled pork shoulder with a wet sauce, I recommend Corky's on Poplar Avenue. And, of course, the dry-rubbed ribs are world famous at the Rendezvous, located in an alley downtown. For a quick and inexpensive (but very tasty) lunch, try any of the Tops Bar-B-Que chain, located all over town -- they've been slow-cooking quality for over 50 years. We have a wide variety of foods from many cultures, as well several homestyle places we call "meat and three," where you choose one of the meat entrees of the day and three vegetables, from what is usually a long list. The Cupboard on Union is my pick for homestyle Southern cooking, or Dale's just over the state line in Southaven, Mississippi, near I-55. Two of the local bay bars serve offer food service: Crossroads and Mary's. The owner of Lorenz is a great cook, and often provides free food to lucky customers on weekends.
What are some great restaurants for a romantic gay date? What about these restaurants appeals to you?
If money is no object, then Chez Philippe in the Peabody Hotel has fine cuisine and elegant ambiance. Those of us on a tighter budget get a meal to go from the deli in the Peabody Hotel (home of the famous ducks in their lobby fountain) -- they have good sandwiches and great desserts. Pack it up and enjoy it in the shade of the massive oaks or an ornate gazebo on the grounds of the National Ornamental Metal Museum -- high on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Le Chardonnay in Overton Square is dark and cozy with good food and great wines, or catch the American Jazz Orchestra at Alfred's on Beale Street, during their Sunday show.
What are your favorite gay bars and/or dance clubs?
Not as many as there were once upon a time. I count 10 at present. Despite being located in what is referred to as the Bible Belt, Memphis has not had any major problems with anti-gay discrimination. The days of raids on gay bars were over long ago, and I understand it was legal to do drag in Memphis before it was in New York City -- thanks to an early ruling by a conservative judge who was also a fan of Flip Wilson as Geraldine! But bars do tend to come and go, so pick of a free copy of the two monthly publications, the Triangle Journal and Gaze, for information about what's happening as far as special events or special offers. For a local pub atmosphere (OK, it's a dump, but a great place to have good time) try Lorenz-After Shock on Madison Avenue. Crossroads on Claybook has live entertainment some nights, and Arlie's Angels at Crossroads are some classic divas of drag which is still appreciated here. (Memphis is home to the National Miss Gay America Pageant.) The Pumping Station on Poplar is where the more masculine men hang their whatever they've got to hang, and One More on Peabody is popular with the womyn. A word on that: There are places that are frequented most often by males and those preferred by females, but all sorts and types and orientations mingle freely and peacefully in most Memphis-area bars and clubs. Backstreet is the largest club, and the place for dancing (or in my case, as a more mature man, the place to admire the gyrations of attractive young men while I feel like their grandfather).
What are your favorite gay parties or events in your town, if any? What is the crowd or scene like at those places?
The bar and club scene is not the only action in town. Stop in at The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at 892 Cooper Street and get an update on the many other things you can enjoy, including the Bluff City Sports Association, Memphis Area Gay Youth, Brothers and Sisters Bowling League, Mid-Towners Bowling League, Cotton Pickin' Squares (gay square dancing), one of several leather-Levi clubs. You can also get info on the numerous gay and lesbian welcoming churches and religious institutions, or just enjoy a conversation and meeting nice people of all sorts and kinds in the library, living room, or TV room of the community center. Old-fashioned potluck suppers and coffee houses with live entertainment are regularly scheduled events at the community center. There are many private events that one can get invited to during a conversation with strangers. This is the South, and hospitality is not just a word here. There is the Mardi Gras Ball, produced by an organization with both gay and non-gay members, as well an Egyptian festival with elaborate costumes held in August by a similar group raising funds for charity. It is by invitation only, but as I said, invitations are not that hard to get. Mid-South Pride Inc. produces the annual Pride Parade and Festival, which features live music and other performances in Peabody Park, as well as booths for shopping and information. This past June, even the Memphis police department had an information/recruiting booth there.
Where do you go for other forms of entertainment -- live theater, concerts, movies, art exhibits? Are there any local gay performance groups, bands, or artists that you're a fan of?
Probably the best place is Beale Street (home of the blues), which is not just for tourists but is frequented by locals as well. Not only the blues, but jazz, rock and roll, gospel, folk music and more can be found in the three-block Beale Street District. Most clubs (of all sizes) offer music, food, and of course something to drink! This is the only place in town where you can carry an open alcoholic beverage from one club to another in the street. Weekend nights in the summer will bring bands out onto the patios, as well as street performers. At Beale and Main is the Orpheum Theatre, which hosts traveling Broadway shows and other national and local performances. The Cannon Center offers classical music from orchestra to ballet and opera. There are several theatres for live performances, including Emerald City Theatre (part of Theatre Works on Monroe) which produces avant-garde and gay-themed plays.
Where do the hot boys in your town tend to hang out?
I would check out the dance floor at Backstreet late at night, and earlier I would drop in Metro for eye candy. Late nights, see who's playing pool at Lorenz.
If you had to describe the "average gay boy" style of your town in two words, what would they be?
Very eclectic. You won't find conformity here. You will find variety (often in the same place at the same time). We have our preppy club boys; the elegant impersonators and the campy queens; the buff men and the bears; the suited professionals and the T-shirt and jeans crowd. AND some of those same people will fit more than one of those descriptions on different nights!
Has your town ever had a "gay scandal?" If so, describe it -- but don't use names!
Not for some years, but we did have a big one in the 1870s. One lesbian killed her former lover, who was leaving town on a riverboat. She cut her with a straight (pardon the word) razor in broad daylight on the cobblestoned landing down by the river. The trial was such a sensation they sold tickets to be seated in the gallery. The newspapers said it made us look like a city of sin! The judge thought the whole idea of two women in love with each other so silly he tied lavender ribbons on his gavel. The jury (all men) found her guilty, and the court decided she was insane (because she thought she loved another woman) -- and sentenced her to a state mental institution, where she died some years later. Both women are now buried in the same cemetery, Elmwood, which is a whole other place to visit if you like history. It is the resting place of canonized saints and infamous "madams of commercial affection," and all sorts from generals and senators to the outlaw Kit Dalton of the James Gang.
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