VOL. 121 | NO. 2 | Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Hunt-Phelan Home Reopens for Business
By Andy Meek
NOW SERVING: David Parks mans the bar at Veranda Grill, the Hunt-Phelan Home's new bar/bistro. The property now features a bed and breakfast and formal and informal dining areas. -- Photograph Courtesy Of Hunt-Phelan Home
The mansion that towers above the corner of Beale and Lauderdale streets is a leading example of antebellum architecture, a grand relic of the Old South where generals pored over battle plans and presidents pondered urgent matters of state.
And like those men of power and influence, visitors from all walks of life can now relish the comforts of the Hunt-Phelan Home, located at 533 Beale. This month, the historic home opened to guests, who can enjoy an upscale dinner, relax in one of several bed and breakfast suites or have a drink with friends at the historic property.
Long-awaited project. The two-fold project - a bed and breakfast and a bistro and bar - has been a long-awaited dream of Memphis businessman Bud Chittom, whose partners include New Orleans restaurant consultant Joe Segreto and the home's owner, Bill Day. For them, this is one more story to tell about the historic residence, which is filled from top to bottom with echoes of its Southern heritage.
The partners have done no real marketing yet, but word is already trickling out. In the past week, Clear Channel Communications and Memphis Magazine have thrown Christmas parties in the home. Dinner menus at the bistro are being refined, and Chittom hopes to begin hosting special events in an outdoor garden area once the weather warms up.
"We're bringing in a lot of Christmas parties now," said Chittom, a local restaurateur who has an interest in businesses including Blues City Cafe, among others. "We're not advertising yet, and we don't have a sign on the street. We opened up first with half the menu and half the house, and now we're up to a little more of the menu."
"We've been here 15 months, and we've addressed everything it takes to make a successful fine dining restaurant, a little bistro/grill and a bed and breakfast."
- Bud Chittom
partner, Hunt-Phelan restoration project
A rich history. The home has a well-established reputation as the oldest antebellum residence in the city that is open to the public. It has been in the same family for 178 years. William Hunt, a former owner and a close friend of Jefferson Davis, was a Confederate colonel during the Civil War.
Several Union generals, including Ulysses S. Grant, used the home as a personal headquarters during the war, after which the home was used as a makeshift hospital for convalescing federal soldiers. Today the mansion's location puts it at the crossroads of history and commerce - and in the hands of a few plucky entrepreneurs eager to reverse its recent fortunes.
During the '90s, Day opened the home as a public museum, a short-lived venture that was overwhelmed by the home's acreage and upkeep needs. Since then, years of work and millions in restoration dollars have been spent on the property.
"This became the ultimate idea for the home," said Alexandra Turner, a spokeswoman for the project. "Not only can the public tour it - they can come and partake in it."
Dining at the mansion. Besides the bed and breakfast suites upstairs, the project includes a fine dining area -named Dinner in the Mansion - and a laid-back bar in the back of the home, the Veranda Grill. The fare is essentially Creole cuisine with a country French influence.
The menu for Dinner in the Mansion includes such entrees as grilled duck breast with pecan butter sweet potatoes and herb-roasted Cornish hen. In the Veranda Grill, guests can order salads and smaller plates, such as grilled Georgia quail and French onion soup.
"We've been here 15 months, and we've addressed everything it takes to make a successful fine dining restaurant, a little bistro/grill and a bed and breakfast," Chittom said. "I think we're at about 11 entrees, maybe 10 appetizers, and back of the house there are a lot of small plates and shared items."
Turner said the new additions are currently open to the public Wednesday through Saturday nights. Eventually, the property will offer a Sunday brunch. This week, visitors can stop by for a Christmas Eve dinner.
"Eventually, they'll go to being open every night, with maybe lunch as well," Turner said. "They have a full stage outside where they can do weddings and live bands, and it's the perfect place to have a reception. But it's all been kind of a work in progress."
Adaptive reuse. Progress being the operative word. Day has been criticized by preservationists for several recent decisions he has made about the home, including the construction of condos next door and the sale of furniture and other accoutrements several years ago.
But everyone involved in the current project believes the changes preserve one of the most charming, historically priceless destinations in the city.
"These houses, if you don't use them, you lose them," Chittom said. "Adaptive reuse is the highest and best use. It's what keeps our architectural heritage, and that's what we've worked real hard on."
Property amenities. Another addition the partners have worked on can be found right outside the home's front door. In addition to the lure of history, the mansion offers another amenity - free parking, a rare find Downtown - along with a 10-person golf cart that can shuttle guests to places such as FedExForum and back again.
"And I have a feeling that's going to go over well in the spring," Turner said.