Big Cypress Lodge, Memphis, Tennessee
North-west of Memphis' downtown area, the Big Cypress Lodge sits on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. The lodge is the only property at the end of a long driveway leading to a cul-de-sac. Aside from the river, the only other notable landmarks are car parks, a railway line and road flyovers.
The Big Cypress Lodge, which opened in April 2015, is no typical hotel. It sits inside the Memphis Pyramid - a former sports stadium and concert hall that sat empty for 10 years after it was replaced by the larger FedExForum, home to the city's NBA team, the Grizzlies. The owner of the Bass Pro chain of outdoor gear shops leased the building in 2010 and converted its interior into a giant store-cum-theme park. Inside, there are fish ponds and aquariums, hugh resident catfish, alligators and ducks, a shooting gallery, a bowling alley, giant artificial trees and all manner of outdoor gear for sale - from clothing to boats and off-road vehicles. There are also two restaurants, including one at the top of the pyramid, which is reached by "America's largest free-standing elevator". It's all rather strange - more akin to something you'd find in Las Vegas than in low-key Memphis.
In keeping with the outdoors theme, the room has the look and feel of a hunting lodge, complete with mounted deer head on the wall and lamps made from antlers. There are timber cross beams and a large solid cabinet that houses the TV, fridge and wardrobe. The bathroom is huge, with a large, deep tub, two sinks and a separate large shower. A lighting effect gives the impression you're bathing in moonlight. Ironically, given the theme, most of the rooms, including mine, overlook not the river but the interior of the building. As a result, there's no natural light, making the room quite dark during the day. A weird design, perhaps related to the original structure, puts a large column just to the side of the bed, which I have to squeeze past to get in and out (this is not the case in most of the other rooms). This side of the bed also lacks a bedside table, though it does have ample power points.
There are two dining options, Uncle Bucks, which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and features items on the menu like "all you can eat shrimp". It's that type of place. The observation deck is worth a visit - entry is $10, but hotel guests receive free passes. The restaurant up here feels a little like theme-park fare. I order the redfish. It's quite good, but it's not quite what Australians would consider fine dining. The restaurant is circular and surrounds a large aquarium. Plastic and metal fish sculptures hang from ceiling. There's also live music - a singer crooning to a karaoke machine.
The lodge's location does not make it conducive to exploring Memphis by foot (there's seemingly no official way to exit the area and reach the town by foot without climbing a steep embankment), though the city is not a particularly pedestrian friendly one anyway. However, taxi or Uber rides to some of the city highlights are relatively short and inexpensive. The city's National Museum of Civil Rights is a must. The museum is in the former Lorraine Hotel - the site of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King in 1968. The exhibits follow the struggle for civil rights throughout American history. See civilrightsmuseum.org
Big Cypress Lodge is a highly unusual property and worth a visit even if you're not staying there. It's popular with outdoorsy Americans but most urban Australians will find it quite a curious place.
Rooms at Big Cypress Lodge start from $US230 a night, including tax. See big-cypress.com
The views over the city and Mississippi River from the observation deck.
The out-of-the-way location means taxi and Uber rides, or having your own car.
Craig Platt stayed as a guest of Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.
See also: America's top 10 music cities