I’ve always loved and gravitated towards hotels that reimagine existing spaces – but the Central Station Memphis by Hilton Curio Collection has to be the first I’ve experienced that is built into a fully functional Amtrak station. And the result is simply sensational.
First opening in 1914, Memphis’ Central Station (then the “Grand Central Station”) survived the decline of rail travel in the second half of the American 20th Century, and the downturn of the South Main area in which it sat, to be first revitalized in 1999, with apartments opening in the building. At the time – and still to this day – it sat as one of only two Amtrak stations still in operation in the State of Tennessee, serving as a stop on the rail network’s City of New Orleans route, between New Orleans and Chicago.
The building again underwent a major renovation in 2019, giving Amtrak passengers a new ticket station and waiting area, and visitors to the city an opportunity to spend a night in the station, courtesy of 123 rooms in the beautiful new luxury hotel I was lucky enough to stay in earlier this year.
The entry to the building is striking, with the design seamlessly blending elements of a modern luxury hotel, and an Amtrak station from another era. It feels so purposeful, it’s hard to determine which elements were pre-existing, and what had been engineered for the renovation. One of the most immediately striking features is a large, yellow “Yellow Cabs” sign, pictured above, that sits above the stairs that descend behind check in – while a beautiful artwork of Memphis Hall of Fame Inductee and Stax Records icon Isaac Hayes (as Black Moses) sits on your right.
It’s here you’ll find the bar and lounge Eight and Sand, where you can enjoy a cocktail, and a live DJ at select hours of the day, spinning selections from their impressive vinyl collection that rises above the comfortable chairs in the lounge area.
About The Room
As the friendly staff checked me into my King Room, soul music could be heard on the custom designed EgglestonWorks speakers, which every guest will enjoy in their space. The station’s daily curated playlist can be enjoyed here 24 hours a day. You can scan a QR code to see the playlist, and there’s volume control for the room. For a city like Memphis, which lives and breathes music, this is a fantastic addition to the room, and sets the tone for your stay.
A massive LG TV sits in the space, with a comfortable couch against the wall. You’ll also find a mini fridge and a pod coffee machine, and if you need any ice, you’ll find the machine on level 3 (where I happened to be staying). AC and USB plugs sit next to bed – a requisite for any new build. The place to hang your clothes sits in the open area, above a set of three drawers, and the only thing that’s missing is a proper desk. The design and layout of the space reminded me of some rooms I’ve stayed in at Ace Hotels – another brand who like to reimagine existing spaces.
Oh and that King Bed? It’s as comfortable as it looks, with the lightning bolts of the hotel logo designed into the bed throw – both seemingly a nod to electric rail travel, and the logo often used for Memphis’ own Elvis Presley.
In the bathroom, a massive shower and sizeable sink area give you plenty of room for everything you might you want to leave laying out. William Roam toiletries are against the wall, with meadowfoam seed oil shampoo, conditioner and body wash. There’s a smaller body lotion toiletry, and a shower cap, makeup remover wipe & towel and aloe soap. A hairdryer hangs in a bag, and an extra TP sits in a bag with the C ⚡️H logo on it.
The only criticism of the room is that there isn’t a clear space to work, but while you’re in Memphis, it’s something you’ll have little time for. There’s so much to do in the city, and a lot of it’s within walking distance, which I’ll get to shortly.
Check in time is at 3pm, and check out is at the very respectable time of Noon.
Elsewhere in the hotel
Looking around the hotel, you’ll find a fitness center, and a conference center. There’s the bar near check-in, Eight and Sand, and the French inspired restaurant Bishop on the ground floor.
You’ll find excellent shared plates and mains at Bishop, with one of the best aioli’s I’ve ever had for a shared plate of fries. A platter of meats and cheeses went down well, and for a main, I had the Beef Bourguignon and it was sensational. As were the cocktails. A restaurant worth visiting whether you’re staying at the hotel or not.
About The Area
The sound of the MATA Trolley heritage streetcar can be heard from my room, which moved its Main Street terminus to the station and hotel in 2021. This keeps you well connected to the rest of the city. The station sits in between the hotel and a strip of stores that is highlighted on the corner by the iconic Arcade Restaurant.
Opening in 1919, the diner has been run by four generations of a Greek family – the latest having been in charge for the last five years. This was one of Elvis’s favourite spots in the city, and his seat remains in the back corner of the room, near a door so he could easily get out should a flock of fans have entered; a mirror helped him spot them, too.
You can sit in his booth, and see his signature on a small plaque on its wall. And it’s still the same furniture from the 50s – little has changed in the main room since that era, and the walls and windows date back to the 20s – though a newer bar is connected next door.
On the other corner of Main and Patterson you’ll find the iconic dive bar Earnstine and Hazel’s (there’s a great article on its history over at Thrillist).
You’re also a short walk from what may be America’s most important museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, built in and around the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. You could spend an entire day here; the exhibits are powerful, detailed and will leave a lasting impression.
One of my favourite spots to eat in the city, Central BBQ, is across the street from the museum, and a minute or two walk away you’ll also find the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, which has a lovely photo gallery on the top floor, and a small but impressive museum detailing the history of the Blues on the lower level.
You can learn more about the South Main area at http://www.gosouthmain.com/.
There’s nothing not to love about this one of a kind destination hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The room was effortlessly comfortable, with the spirit of the history of the building intertwined with every aspect of the design and experience. The dining option, Bishop, was excellent, and the surrounding South Main area of Memphis brimming with culture, history and fantastic food and drink. I can’t recommend this hotel enough, especially if you have a love of the history of American train travel and its design. It’s hard not to want to get lost in the halls of the building and find all the secrets of its 100+ year history. I feel like I only scratched the surface.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
To book your stay at the Central Station Memphis by Hilton Curio Collection, head to their official website.
Address: 545 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103, United States
The author travelled to Memphis, and stayed at the hotel, as a guest of Memphis Tourism. All photos by the author.