We love the boutique Hu Hotel which recently reopened, having re-branded the former Madison Hotel. You can’t beat the location and history of this former bank property. It was among downtown Memphis’ first “skyscrapers” and the first building on Banker’s Row to exceed the traditional four-story height for banks in the city. It is an outstanding example of early skyscraper form with richly ornate exterior detailing still intact.
It’s a stone’s throw away from Beale Street and a number of exceptional small local eateries including our favorite Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar and the not to be missed– Café Keogh – one hell of a coffee house. Owner Kevin Keogh is so amazing that he opens at 6.00am when we need him to. And he is there, always smiling with the most incredible bagel and lox (not too salty) waiting for us! And don’t even get me going on their coffee that tastes just roasted. Rich aromas – no bitterness and so smooth. In the late afternoon as the low sun floats in, the gorgeous room takes on a soft glow and the sound of jazz competes with the sound of friendly chatter and the clink of a few wine glasses. The Parisians say it’s Paris, the Germans say Vienna, we just smile and say “welcome to Memphis!”
But back to the Hu Hotel. The Hu hotel still has doormen. Yes, this boutique hotel still has doormen who help you. They open the door for you, help with your luggage, give directions and, when raining, they offer you an umbrella. Having chatted with them, you leave the hustle and bustle of Memphis behind as you enter the lobby.
I personally am not such a big fan of these new reception desks where the reception area is tiny. You can’t decide if you should be asking for a room key or a cup of coffee. Maybe I am just not hip enough but I get over it quickly because everyone who works there is SO genuinely nice and SO efficient. In fact, I am always happy to see my favorite receptionist – Rosemary. One day talking to her I discovered that her father is the pastor at the Farish Street Baptist Church. I always try to go to this church if I am in Jackson on a Sunday. We have bonded now and when checking in on one of our civil rights tours, I always ask for a room on a higher floor because many of the rooms have peep views over the Mississippi!
Just beyond the reception is the peaceful lobby lounge with a small bar. They have done a great job of mixing modern touches representing the city’s bright future with vestiges of the building’s—and Memphis’s— past. The light fixtures are so unique. Rarely busy, it really is a perfect place to have a drink and watch the world go by.
The elevators feels very hip and industrial but their spacious size means that you are bound to meet other guests and something about Memphis just gets everyone talking. Anyone who is anyone visiting Memphis stays at the Hu and the list of people I have met, just in the last year, is long. I got to ride up to the 14th floor with Mike Bloomberg and, last fall I got free tickets to a Temptations concert playing just down the road at the Fedex Forum. Leaving the elevator, the floors are pretty compact so no long corridors have to be navigated to find your room. This is definitely not a corporate, soul-less hotel!
The rooms are on the small side but they are so comfortable and well-designed. Enjoy stained oak, brass, copper, and white Carrara marble. I love the soothing colors and the subtle lighting. Indeed, the tasteful décor speaks to the art deco period of the original building. You have all the modern comforts and they kept the original window frames so you really do still feel like you are in a historical building. The original art work on the walls is by local artists. Sheets are plush – pure Egyptian cotton – and each room has a small stocked fridge (think local, Memphis products), a handy desk, an iron and board and, thankfully, masses of conveniently-positioned outlets. The clock by the bed is an analog clock – no chintzy digital hotel clock here.
I absolutely love the bathrooms – showers only, but there is something about the lighting and feel of them that make me glad to get up in the morning. I gave up saving hotel toiletries years ago but I love the fresh scent of the Hu’s products so I have to admit that I do bring them home (and incur the wrath of my husband who reminds me every time that I had promised not to do this anymore!) The towels are fluffy and because of the windows, the light is great. And best of all, the bathrooms feel very spacious.
The Hu hotel has a couple of great meeting rooms, perfect for hosting group discussions. If you take that industrial elevator all the way to the top, you are in for a treat. The Hu has an amazing rooftop bar with magnificent expansive views over the Mississippi River. Come up here for a sunset drink and watch the sun go down glorifying, with a burst of last minute color, this mighty river. The bar tender can whip up just about anything but he is known for his perfect mojitos. Settle down into one of the comfortable chairs outside, sip your drink slowly and get ready to watch as the Mighty Lights show on the Hernando de Soto Bridge. It is a ten-minute show that happens every day at the top and middle of each hour after sundown. It’s a feast of color and art and movement.
And then head downstairs and enjoy dinner at the Hu hotel’s restaurant – the Diner. The atmosphere is soothing – not at all loud and the décor is tasteful. Simple lines and keeping the hotel’s historical roots intact. I feel very comfortable eating at the bar alone – it’s that kind of a place. If you have not already had too much fried chicken (I mean you have to eat at Gus’s Fried chicken at least once in the south), the lavender honey-friend chicken is to die for. For those who need something a little different, I love the shrimp skewer. It has lots of flavor and I feel that maybe, maybe, I won’t be consuming as many calories as I usually do at dinner in the south. Their wine list is great and very reasonably priced.
If you are feeling adventurous, walk a few minutes to Beale Street where live music is always great every night. There are a million (not literally!) places to choose from but I love the Rum Boogie Café. Their in-house band, the Boogie Blues Band, has won the award for Best House Band on Beale Street three times. Or, you can head upstairs to your comfortable room knowing that when you wake up in the morning Café Keogh is just a 60 second walk away!