Elvis Presley fans might be the best ever. They’re down-to-earth, friendly, loyal and just the right kind of interesting. On top of that, they come from nearly every continent and age group. At The Guest House at Graceland, though, fandom isn’t required. In fact, the Memphis resort hotel, which opened in October 2016, was designed for the Elvis impersonator and the suspicious-minded visitor alike.
Of course, there are subtle nods to the King, but they have been executed with tasteful nuance. No gaudy jumpsuits to be found — unless you count the pointed backs of the lobby chairs. According to Mike Pramshafer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at The Guest House, the chairs were designed to mimic the shape of Elvis’ upturned collar. Another fun fact: The lobby ceiling replicates the carpet pattern below, and both are inspired by designs on the backs of EP’s jumpsuits.
As guests approach the large white columns and pull into the porte-cochere, they’re sure to encounter Southern hospitality. With or without luggage, whether self-parking or valeting, visitors are treated as invited guests. Mike said that before Elvis died, he had plans for a guest house — albeit much smaller than a 450-room Guest House — to be built at Graceland, so this new hotel is, in fact, an extension of the King’s own brainchild.
In August, Elvis will have been gone for 40 years, but his larger-than-life reign becomes personal when Guest House visitors discuss the nearly palpable legend that connects them. A woman walks by in blue suede cowboy boots, suggesting she’s an employee donning the required Elvis flair. Come to find out, she’s a member of The Founders, an exclusive club of dedicated fans who pay $30,000 in dues for a 40-year, transferable membership and enjoy perks such as unprecedented access to the Graceland grounds, sizable discounts on rooms at The Guest House and exclusive access to the hotel’s Founders Room lounge.
Known within the interconnected world of Elvis fans as “The N’awlins Twins,” Fara and Deborah Sclafani, both Founders members, stayed at The Guest House in March for the opening weekend of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex across from Graceland proper. All the die-hards were there, including Priscilla Presley.
Both Sclafani sisters have limited-edition Country Outfitters boots, and each is happy to tilt a heel and show EP’s silhouette and signature branded into the sole. Like learned historians, Elvis fans are eager to share what they know and love about him.
“I moved here [to Memphis] just to be around Elvis stuff,” says Gretchen Peless, gift shop supervisor at The Guest House. Originally from Michigan, Gretchen grew up coming to Memphis on vacation. She estimates she’s been to Graceland about 300 times and admits to having a storage unit for her growing collection of Elvis memorabilia. Her two most-prized items are an Elvis autograph, which she bought at the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Canada, and one of the white scarves that Elvis passed to audience members during his final tour in June 1977. Gretchen was barely a toddler when Elvis died, but she became a fan after watching Jailhouse Rock at age 9.
Gretchen is among the nearly 60 employees who transferred from the Heartbreak Hotel, which closed right before The Guest House at Graceland opened across the street. The Heartbreak, which opened in 1985 as a Wilson World hotel and was bought by Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1999, became the de facto spot for real-deal fans, especially during Elvis Week in August and around Elvis’ birthday in January. With 128 rooms, the Heartbreak was “a busy little hotel,” says Frances McNutt, who worked in the gift shop there for eight years before transferring to The Guest House. No longer in tight quarters, she enjoys looking out the big windows of the new shop.
Whether in the gift shop, the lobby or one of the two restaurants, there is no shortage of things to do or people to meet. When the hotel’s 464-seat theater isn’t being used for movies or live performances, it’s put to good use in other ways, such as live auctions. Founders member Angela Henderson of Kiawah Island, South Carolina, has attended two auctions at The Guest House. The first was during the hotel’s opening weekend, when she and her husband bid on and bought Elvis’ 1971 “Caesar ring” for $25,000. They also attended the auction on March 4, 2017, when she secured Elvis’ copy of The Impersonal Life, a spiritual book containing his handwritten notes, for $8,125.
Angela grew up hearing Elvis because her mom was a big fan, and her Aunt Rosie saw him perform in Las Vegas. She remembers sitting by the stereo as a young girl and listening to his music while staring at pictures of him.
“I didn’t understand my fascination fully at the time, but as I’ve grown up, I think I could sense the spiritual search and wisdom behind his incredible eyes,” Angela shares. “I felt a sense of safety in Elvis, of being fully alive and happy. I was also aware of his generosity and humility, which drew me in further.”
In addition to the chance to discover stories of lifelong fans, The Guest House offers more entertainment value than most hotels. A few of the options include relaxing in the outdoor pool or hot tub, reading a book atop a Memphis-made DreamCatcher™ Hotels mattress in a guest room, grabbing a Delta burger at EP’s Bar & Grill, or enjoying an adult beverage on the back patio. Coffee and tea drinkers can get their fix at Shake Rattle & Go, a grab-and-go Starbucks cafe.
“That’s the message we want to get out: There’s always something going on at The Guest House,” says Keith Hess, the hotel’s Vice President and Managing Director. Every night, there’s live music in the Lobby Lounge and an Elvis movie, concert or stand-up comedy show in the theater. On Wednesday nights, guests can show off their vocal skills (or lack thereof) during karaoke night at EP’s Bar & Grill. In April, The Guest House will offer an Easter supper and host a luau-themed Spring Fling event on the back lawn. Details for both are still in the works, but the luau will feature an outdoor barbecue, fire entertainers and the “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii” concert playing on an outdoor screen. The Spring Fling event will also include specialized hotel packages.
As for ongoing specials, The Guest House offers 20-percent discounts for first-responders — fire, police and military personnel — and Tennessee residents, so Memphians have all the more reason to take a staycation. Whether from the Memphis area or within day-trip distance, friend groups would do well to organize a weekend getaway to The Guest House. Between the onsite entertainment and free nightly shuttles to Beale Street, the weekend plans itself.
If you’re up for a pricier jaunt, spring for one of the hotel suites, including one that is modeled after Elvis and Priscilla’s home in Palm Springs and another that replicates the International Hotel suite where Elvis lived when he performed in Las Vegas. “Priscilla Presley had her hand in this total hotel design, and she had her real hand in the 20 suites that are each one of a kind,” says Keith. “They are detailed after where [she and Elvis] lived around the States.”
While at The Guest House, visitors should factor in a tour of Graceland and Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Both are only a quarter-mile from The Guest House, which offers free shuttle service. Graceland is known for attracting about 600,000 guests annually. Now, with the entertainment complex across the street, the mansion is sure to draw even more. With the Elvis Experience ticket package, adults can tour the mansion and complex for under $60. Plan for at least a half-day, as visitors have spent several hours just in the complex itself.
Definitely a great place to relax, The Guest House is also an ideal place for corporate meetings and conferences. Fewer than three miles from the Memphis International Airport, the hotel is a prime spot for out-of-towners. The hotel has four meeting spaces, each named for the type of music that Elvis was known for: Blues, Country, Gospel and Rock.
“We want everybody to be Elvis fans, but you don’t have to be,” the hotel’s VP of Sales and Marketing, Mike Pramshafer, says. “You can have your meetings, and you can have fun at the same time.”
Perhaps the most fun to be had is at a wedding reception at The Guest House, which can take place in one of the five ballrooms or on the event lawn outside. Although many Elvis fans opt to have their ceremonies at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in the Woods, Mike says there are both wedding ceremonies and receptions on the books at The Guest House in 2017. And just as the hotel is designed to appeal to more than only Elvis fanatics, couples of all types with weddings of any size will enjoy hosting receptions at The Guest House.
Another thing to watch for in the coming months is a potential partnership between The Guest House and the Indie Memphis Film Festival. In years past, the festival has shown its films mostly at Malco Theatres, but Mike hopes to add the hotel’s theater as a screening location for the 2017 festival in November.
The Guest House’s Manager is right — there is always something going on at the new Guest House at Graceland, and this is just its first year in business. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, Elvis’ hotel brainchild is a unique melting pot where die-hard EP fanatics, business people, wedding parties and even those simply seeking a rejuvenating vacation are all welcome to enjoy themselves.
The Guest House at Graceland is located at 3600 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis, TN 38116. For updated information on specials and events, call (800) 238-2000 or (901) 443-3000, or visit guesthousegraceland.com.
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