Sleep Inside a Working Train Station at This Funky Memphis Hotel
Pull into the historic Central Station Hotel for vinyl, views, and vibes.
There’s something alluring about train travel. Sure, it could be the chance to sit and watch the world go by, but it’s hard to overlook the way each railroad journey invokes that bygone era before cars became ubiquitous. If you wish to seek out vestiges of train rides past, you can hop aboard an American scenic train line or look for old-fashioned passenger cars like those on the Orient Express. Or you can opt to simply stay at the train station—specifically, at Memphis’s historic Central Station Hotel, a stylish accommodation situated inside a former rail hub where you can still catch a train.
While the train station, which first opened in 1914 as the Grand Central Memphis, hasn’t served as a regional hub since rail travel declined in the ‘60s, passengers on the City of New Orleans Amtrak line still load and disembark there twice a day. The train stops by each morning as it heads to New Orleans, and again in the evening on its way to Chicago. Alongside the train platform, Central Station Hotel guests sip and chat in the outdoor seating area for the hotel’s cocktail lounge Eight & Sand. It’s been this way since the Hilton Curio Collection property opened in 2019—simultaneously a train station and a destination in its own right.
If you wish to stay at the station, you can choose to arrive by train, or via the antique trolley that stops out front. However, coming by car is also an option (I took a modern van from the airport). No matter how you get there, first impressions of the hotel are—in true Memphis style—surprisingly musical. A massive wall of vintage speakers assembled by local speaker company EgglestonWorks graces the lobby, impressive enough to make it one of the most Instagrammed spots in Memphis. The brand designed all of the speakers in the hotel, from the private listening lounge behind the lobby bar to the speakers located in each guest room that can be used to blast a curated daily playlist. A towering wall of vinyl anchors the hotel’s lounge area as local DJs spin a custom mix of Memphis artists.
But it’s not all tunes and funky design. The hotel is housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city, a historically designated place that locals call a “Memphis Original,” and its design aims to showcase its past. The converted station’s original neon signs have been restored to direct guests to the train platform or the former taxi stand. The massive hall that once held rows of ornate wooden benches for waiting passengers is now an event space, but it still displays the station’s original arrival/departure board. The hall was filmed for the miniseries Women of the Movement, standing in for the Chicago train station where Emmett Till said goodbye to his mother for the last time, and the board still displays the stations through which he made his final journey.
The guest rooms at Central Station (which start at $185 per night) also retain something of their past. When the building was renovated, it maintained the original footprint of the rooms that once hosted overnight rail guests, which means most of the guest rooms are still on the smaller side. This doesn’t mean things feel cramped, though. Each room makes efficient use of the compact space, from the open wardrobe to the built-in workspace below the TV and EgglestonWorks speaker. The large picture windows open things up a bit, too, offering sweeping views of either the Mississippi River or Memphis's South Main neighborhood, depending on your specific location.
As far as bedding and decor goes, everything from the local art to the woolen throws and cushy mattresses makes the rooms feel cozy and sumptuous. It’s the perfect spot to order breakfast in bed from the onsite restaurant Bishop while watching Memphis wake up through the window. The whole breakfast menu is delicious, but trust me—the croque madame is a can’t-miss way to start your day.
Speaking of Bishop, a meal at the French restaurant is an absolute must when you come to stay at the hotel. In a city of barbecue and blues, the brasserie’s elevated menu is a unique experience. Guests wait for their table on repurposed train station benches. The classically prepared beef bourguignon is a popular choice, according to James Beard-nominated head chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. Bishop also boasts an impressive menu of tinned seafood; the octopus in olive oil and sardines in lemon and pimento pair perfectly with the extensive wine list.
When you’re ready to venture away from the French food, music, and cozy beds, there’s also a lot to explore just outside the hotel’s walls. “Our location in the South Main District puts us just steps away from many must-visit spots,” explains general manager Troy Dixon. It’s a short, level stroll to Central BBQ, a top-rated barbeque spot, for some real Memphis cuisine. You can also walk to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is located at the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The nearby Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum immerse visitors in the rich musical history of the city. And of course, no visit to Memphis is complete without hearing some of that music live on the historic Beale Street.
After all, as Dixon puts it, “We're in the heart of the birthplace of the blues, barbecue, and rock ‘n’ roll, surrounded by historic Memphis sites. There truly is something for everyone here."