The interactive exhibits and programs compiled by the Pink Palace Family of Museums reinforce a mission that has stayed constant for 80 years: to "inspire people to learn how history, science, technology, and nature shape the Mid-South." Attached to Clarence Saunders' mansion built in the 1920s, the museum's permanent exhibits take an eclectic approach to chronicling the past, revealing everything from ancient fossils to contemporary southern history. Inside, visitors can chart the history of Memphis from the early Spanish explorers through the Civil War or walk through a replica of Saunders' original Piggly Wiggly—the country’s first self-service grocery store, and even see a shrunken head. Global adventures are chronicled on a four-story screen at the CTI-IMAX theater, and the Sharpe Planetarium explores the cosmos from the comfort of a 130-seat theater.
Traveling to east Memphis, one can discern the natural side of the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Lichterman Nature Center encompasses 65 acres of lush gardens filled with native wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. The center combines self-guided nature walks with plant sales and educational activities to expose visitors to the natural world.
When visitors walk between the 1853 Greek-revival mansion’s six solid-cut stone pillars, onto the portico, and through the heavy wood door, they might tour the rooms or learn to cook in its original kitchen. Originally founded by John Harding in 1807 for thoroughbred-horse breeding, the rolling grounds of Belle Meade Plantation now welcome seasonal tours and events ranging from book signings to art shows. Knowledgeable guides in period costumes lead tour groups through the building’s parlors and bedrooms and down a long central hallway to ascend the three floors via a circular cherry-wood staircase.
As groups wander the mansion and cross the grounds, guides divulge facts about famous visitors, such as President Cleveland and General Ulysses S. Grant, including the fact that they probably got scared of the dark just like normal people. During special tours, the staff demonstrates Southern cooking techniques and walks visitors through an herb garden or serves them lemonade or hot wassail with desserts. In an on-grounds winery, winemakers hold tastings of red and white varietals made from Tennessee grapes. Visitors can also clink wineglasses over Southern-style cuisine at the Harding House restaurant, located on the plantation grounds.
For more than 70 years, jewels used to fill the African mahogany cases lining Sapphire's walls. The dark wooden cabinets remain, although they now brim with more than 40 kinds of vodka, Tennessee and Kentucky whiskeys, and rums from Central and South America. Sapphire may no longer drape its customers in precious gemstones, but it does aim to preserve the sense of elegant refinement that characterized the historic building for decades.
This commitment is readily apparent in the menu of upscale southern cuisine, which includes Tennessee cheeses from Sweetwater Farms, bacon and ham from nearby Benton's, and seasonal produce from local farms. These ingredients appear throughout the selection of regionally inspired dishes. Some dishes, such as the Louisiana-crawfish-stuffed hushpuppies with cajun remoulade, assertively announce their southern roots, whereas others show a bit more restraint, such as beef-tenderloin medallions, which arrive with a simple southern succotash.
On Thursday through Saturday evenings, the elegant environment in the long, narrow room becomes livelier as the night progresses and DJs begin their sets. Upbeat rhythms echo off the high ceilings and the vintage mahogany woodwork while patrons enjoy one of the martinis that earned Sapphire a spot on Metro Pulse's Best of Knoxville 2012 list.
The chefs at Terra Nostra Tapas and Wine mix European, American, Asian, and Caribbean cuisines on a small-plates menu that changes daily, ensuring consistently fresh tastes. Within the bustling kitchen, they can be found architecting shareable servings of tender meats, fresh vegetables, and market fresh seafood. Servers keep diners hydrated as they pour out 80 wines by the glass and 90 wines by the bottle, offering palate-tickling quaffs that both sate grape thirsts and wash away tablemates' memories of conversational gaffes.
Terra Nostra's space comes to life with international art and nautical murals depicting schools of fish. Outdoor seating is available in a festive patio area, and indoor diners are arranged at spacious dining bars designed to foster sharing of food, conversation, and bootlegged films. Along with bringing the local community together over shared meals, Terra Nostra's staffers remain committed to serving the global community via work with charitable organizations. In 2010 and 2011, they took part in medical-relief mission trips to Ecuador.
Dining at Cloud 9 is an experience that celebrates finely prepared comfort food and fun, experimental cocktails—especially the martini. On the smaller end of the menu, chefs prepare gourmet three-cheese grilled cheese sandwiches and turkey clubs that sneak crispy bacon in with wholesome avocado. The dishes only get heartier from there: the Filet 'N' Mac piles a hand-cut filet mignon atop a bed of white cheddar mac 'n' cheese and several fish dishes offer lighter, just-as-filling options. And with an especially creative drink menu before you, it's hard not to order a signature cocktail here. The Cloud 9 cocktail is one of those irresistible options, mixing Absolut vodka with Malibu rum, blue curacao, and pineapple juice.
When patrons step into Lanes, Trains, & Automobiles Entertainment Depot, playful noises jostle their senses: the crash of bowling pins, the decisive zaps of laser-tag guns, the thunder of colliding bumper cars. The center shelters a spectrum of friendly competition under one roof, but at the heart are 32 bowling lanes. During open-bowling hours and late-night cosmic bowling, touchscreens tally strikes and automatic bumpers shift up and down to accommodate different players in case they decide to somersault down the lane.
Nearby, up to 16 laser-tag soldiers duck behind barrels and walls splattered with neon paint in the 2,500-square-foot Lazer Station. In the Spinzone, black lights and colorful spotlights swivel around a central traffic signal, which dictates the stops, starts, and illegal U-turns of bumper cars.
In the arcade, patrons battle for champion status and pick of pizza toppings at air-hockey tables, skee-ball machines, and racing video games. Professional competitors face off on flat-screen TVs at Tailgaters, an on-site eatery slinging burgers and pizza. Eight VIP bowling lanes, a designated party zone, and a stage for live entertainment and karaoke act as peaceful dignitaries in the 4,500-square-foot restaurant as well.