There are touches of Elvis Presley throughout the Guest House at Graceland, just as one visiting the new, four-diamond resort on the Graceland campus might expect. But those Elvis-inspired accents are classy, not kitschy. You won’t find velvet paintings or green shag carpet.
Instead, you’ll notice subtle hints of the King’s style in the lobby’s mirrored ceiling, which bears geometric patterns designed to match a crystal-studded cape Elvis wore onstage. Purple hues in the lobby furniture and carpet were inspired by Elvis’ purple Cadillac. A mid-century star pattern on the resort’s Shake, Rattle & Go coffee counter sign references a gold clock from the living room at Graceland, and light fixtures are adorned with understated lightning bolts in homage to the King’s “taking care of business motto.” Carpeting in the Guest House Founders Lounge features a peacock pattern suggestive of the stained-glass peacocks in Elvis’ living room and the green drapery is the same shade as the shag carpet in the famous Jungle Room. The Guest House is Elvis for the modern era.
The 450-room resort opened in October 2016, just feet away from Elvis’ famous home in the Whitehaven neighborhood of Memphis. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death, as well as the first time the resort has been open during Elvis Week (August 11-19), the annual week of festivities at Graceland that honor the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s legacy on the week of his death.
CLOSER TO THE KING
Thousands of Elvis fans from around the globe descend upon Memphis to celebrate Elvis Week each year, and Elvis Presley Enterprises expects this anniversary celebration to attract the largest crowd to date. Thanks to the Guest House, many of those fans will now be able to stay on the Graceland campus for the duration of their visit.
Keith Hess, vice president and managing director of the Guest House at Graceland, says Elvis always dreamed of having a guest house for his visitors at Graceland when he was alive, and that soon after Graceland opened to the public in 1982, Elvis Presley Enterprises began planning for some sort of hotel.
“They had drawings made up of a guest house with 150 to 190 rooms. The first set of drawings was for a motor lodge, like the old Howard Johnsons in the 1970s,” Hess says. “And then, finally in 2015, we designed a 450-room guest house on the property.”
The land where the $92 million resort sits was formerly home to a rundown, vacant apartment complex. Elvis Presley Enterprises purchased the property and began construction on the Guest House in late 2015. Hess says it’s the largest enhancement to the Graceland Mansion to date. Guest House also happens to be the only four-diamond resort in Memphis.
LIVE LIKE THE KING
“The fact that the hotel has all these Elvis touches, it really feels inspired by Elvis,” says Gary Hahn, vice president of marketing and media for Elvis Presley Enterprises. “It’s a new way to immerse yourself in the world of Graceland. You’re not just driving to the parking lot, spending a few hours and driving back to your hotel downtown. Now you can feel like one of Elvis’ guests and you can live the lifestyle for a few days. It brings a whole new dimension to the experience.”
For the full Elvis experience, guests may opt to book one of the Guest House’s 20 suites, all of which were designed by Priscilla Presley. Each of the suites, located on the seventh floor of the resort, comes with a microwave, wet bar, bathrobes and slippers, as well as daily newspaper delivery, among other amenities.
Most luxurious are the two King’s Suites: two-bedroom suites that feature a living room, dining room, kitchen and bar area. Both are styled with extravagant furnishings and color schemes inspired by Elvis’ favorite hues.
One such suite is modeled after Elvis’ master bedroom at Graceland, a room that has been off-limits to the mansion’s touring guests since its public opening in 1982. The bedroom in that suite is surrounded by rich red curtains that drape over a king-size bed garnished with a gold comforter and black pillows.
“Across the hall, the other four-bay suite is designed after the apartment Elvis lived in at the Hilton in Las Vegas, when he performed there from 1970 to 1973,” says Hess.
That suite is bathed in gold accents and styled with vintage furnishings in royal blue. Purple plush carpeting harks back to Elvis’ love for shag carpet without appearing tacky or garish.
The one-bedroom Vernon and Gladys’ Suites, named after Elvis’ parents, are inspired by Elvis’ mid-century modern Palm Springs home, and the beds in the TCB Suites, which also feature a dining area and living room, are set off with black and gold headboards decorated with iconic lightning bolt cutouts. The one-bedroom, open-plan Living Room Suites are modeled after Elvis’ living room and feature glitzy metallic accents and custom-designed headboards.
Guests will also have a fine, upscale experience in one of the regular guest rooms, which are accented in blacks, grays and reds and equipped with a fridge, Keurig coffee pot, clothing iron and safe. Both the suites and guest rooms feature room service and televisions equipped with streaming services, cable channels and three closed-circuit channels that play Elvis concert footage 24/7.
Priscilla designed the decor in the suites and rooms and guided the design process throughout the resort.
“She’d come out and sit down with architects and look through [interior design] color boards,” Hess said. “She was very involved. She had her hand in all of this.”
In the Guest House’s south tower, there’s an exact replica of the famous staircase that leads to Graceland’s second floor. Hess says that staircase has become a popular spot for fans to snap group photos.
Guests may dine at two full-service restaurants in the resort or grab a quick pick-me-up from the Shake, Rattle & Go coffee bar, which serves Starbucks coffee. The upscale Delta’s Kitchen serves Southern-inspired fare, such as blackened catfish with potato and onion hash, sweet tea-brined fried chicken served with cheddar waffles and an Elvis favorite: shrimp and grits. Delta’s Kitchen also hosts a daily breakfast buffet.
EP’s Bar & Grill, a casual sports bar-style eatery, allows diners to catch all the action on multiple screens as they nosh on another of Elvis’ favorite meals, the peanut butter and banana sandwich. EP’s also features a pool table designed after Elvis’ custom table, as well as live blues performances and karaoke.
“The Memphis Burger at EP’s is out of this world. We use beef brisket. That’s our secret ingredient,” Hess says.
The Guest House’s 464-seat theater hosts concerts and screens classic Elvis films. Performances and films in the theater are open to the general public. There’s also live music nightly in the resort’s lobby bar.
Guests can cool off from the sticky Memphis summer heat in the outdoor pool, which is located on the far side of a large courtyard equipped with ping-pong tables, cornhole boards, foosball tables and shuffleboard courts. There’s also a covered back porch, where guests can lounge and sip cocktails. The back courtyard is surrounded by a wall to shield guests from the nearby parking lot.
“If you’re sitting back here and looking at the back of the resort, you’d never know you were in Memphis,” says Hess.
MORE ELVIS THAN EVER BEFORE
Just across the street from the Guest House and the Graceland Mansion is the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex that opened in March of this year. The complex features a soundstage, where most of the Elvis Week 2017 activities will take place. Previously, many of those events were held in an outdoor tent on the Graceland property, as well as downtown at the Orpheum Theatre and the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. (The latter two venues are located nearly 10 miles away from Graceland in downtown Memphis.)
“Elvis Presley’s Memphis is five times larger than our original plaza at the mansion,” Hahn says. “It’s home to a car museum called ‘Presley Motors,’ which is double the size of the original car museum. It has a career museum, which we’ve never had before, called ‘Elvis the Entertainer.’ That takes you through his beginnings in Tupelo through his entire career.”
The new complex has allowed Elvis Presley Enterprises to bring more jumpsuits, gold records and other artifacts out of storage and display them for the first time. Additionally, the complex is home to smaller-scale exhibits that showcase Elvis’ time in the Army, artifacts from Sun Studio founder Sam Phillips’ collection and artifacts from other musicians and bands who were influenced by Elvis, such as KISS, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix.
“Not only do we have a place where we can showcase more of the Elvis archives, but we have a place to share a larger story about Elvis’ influence,” Hahn says.
Elvis Presley’s Memphis is also home to gift shops and two new restaurants — Gladys’ Diner, which serves classic American cuisine, and Vernon’s Smokehouse, featuring authentic Memphis barbecue.
Graceland visitors can opt for ticketing packages that include tours of Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Guest House visitors may book various packages that include tours, as well as dining experiences. For example, the Guest House’s “Graceland Getaway for Four” includes a two-night stay, a breakfast buffet at Delta’s Kitchen and tours of Graceland, the Elvis Presley’s complex and Elvis’ custom airplanes.
“Guest House and Elvis Presley’s Memphis have enhanced the Graceland experience,” Hahn says. “You can now stay in a four-diamond resort right on the campus and take your time visiting the Graceland mansion and Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Then you can come back to the Guest House and eat at a restaurant there and a catch an Elvis movie in the Guest House theater. Rather than a two-hour visit, it becomes something people are doing for several days. They can make Graceland their home base.”
A full schedule of Elvis Week (August 11-19) events may be found on ElvisWeek.com, but here are some highlights.
On Saturday, August 12, at noon, Elvis fans will have the chance to bid on items owned by, gifted by, written by or used by Elvis at The Auction at Graceland in the Guest House theater. That evening at 8 p.m., The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley Celebration Concert at Elvis Presley’s Memphis will feature Bill Baize, Donnie Sumner, Larry Strickland and others. Tickets are $40.
On Sunday, August 13 at 8 p.m., A Salute to Sun Records hosted by John Paul Keith will feature some of Memphis’ top musicians paying tribute to the early music of Elvis and all the legendary Sun Studio artists. That concert will be held at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, and tickets are $30.
A Band of Legends Remembers Elvis is scheduled for Monday, August 14 at 8 p.m. at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. In this concert, fans can hear stories from legendary musicians, such as bassist Norbert Putnam and pianist David Briggs, who shared both the stage and studio with Elvis. Tickets are $40.
The highlight of Elvis Week is always the Candlelight Vigil on Graceland’s lawn. That free event begins at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 15, and draws both tourists and Memphis locals who gather to remember the King on the eve of his August 16th death.
On the evening of Wednesday, August 16, there’s a special 40th anniversary Elvis: Live in Concert event at downtown’s FedEx Forum. This performance will feature a full symphony orchestra performing alongside video of Elvis in concert. Priscilla will make an appearance, and other surprise guests are expected. This production was inspired by the award-winning, chart-topping album releases “If I Can Dream” and “The Wonder of You: Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,” which feature archived recordings of the King’s voice and new orchestral arrangements of some of his biggest hits. The concert was first launched in the U.K. and has toured around Europe and Australia. Tickets range from $65 to $300.
“This is the first time this production is happening in the U.S., and we’ll be touring it in 12 cities total. But Memphis is the big one,” Hahn says.
Throughout the week, fans can catch rounds of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. On Friday, August 18 at 7 p.m. at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, the 10 past winners of the contest will perform together. Tickets for that show range from $59 to $209. The contest finals to select this year’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest winner are set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 19, at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Tickets range from $55 to $209.
Hahn expects a larger-than-ever crowd at Elvis Week events this year since this marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death and the first year the Guest House and Elvis Presley’s Memphis have been open during the iconic celebration.
“There are many fans who have been waiting for Elvis Week to come around so they could check out everything new,” Hahn says.