Room with a river view

The River Inn on Mud Island at Memphis opened in October 2007. I stayed there for the first time Saturday night — it was Melissa’s birthday, but I won’t dare tell you how many — and the experience was a good one.

The River Inn is a boutique hotel with only 28 rooms and suites. That means it’s quiet, and it also means that there is a lot of personal service provided by the staff.

We arrived Saturday in time for lunch at Tug’s, the less formal of the two restaurants at the River Inn. I was worried at first when it took forever for the drinks to arrive and when the entrees appeared before the appetizer. But the fried oysters were some of the best I’ve had north of New Orleans, and a gumbo of shrimp, crawfish tails and sausage was also good. Tug’s is open from 11 a.m. until midnight Monday through Friday. The restaurant opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. Bottom line — good food, nice atmosphere, service could stand some improvement.

Dinner was at Currents, the fine dining restaurant adjacent to the River Inn lobby. The three-course meal for $29 is a steal for a restaurant of this quality. Breakfast at Currents, which was also a treat, is included in the price of the room. I have no complaints about Currents. I even agreed with my waiter about how nice it is that Memphis Mayor Herenton has resigned.

There’s also a rooftop terrace with a great view of the Mississippi River. Though it’s a bit hot to be outside in August, we still sat up there for almost 30 minutes Saturday night, looking west toward Arkansas and the setting sun. The window of our third-floor room also looked out onto the river and the adjacent, well-manicured Riverwalk.

While the hotel rates are not cheap, it’s a great choice for Arkansas couples searching for a close spot to get away. Champagne is served upon arrival, and the turn-down service includes chocolate truffles and port (though it would be nice at this price if they actually turned down the bed, replaced some towels and toiletries, turned the radio on low, laid out a robe, etc. like a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons).

It’s so quiet that you don’t realize you’re in the city. There’s almost the feel of a country inn, though you’re on the edge of downtown.

The hotel and its restaurants were built by investors Henry Turley, Lewis Holland, Tom Scott and Joe Weller to complement the surrounding Harbor Town development. The Henry Turley Co., established in 1977, is behind some of the leading developments in Memphis.

Based on the New Urbanism concept of development — think Seaside with narrow streets, front porches and lots of joggers and bikers — Harbor Town is a collection of homes, townhouses, lofts and apartments on the northern end of Mud Island. If you look to your left while driving east into Memphis over the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, you’ll see it.

The Henry Turley Co. has also developed the Shrine Building in downtown Memphis, the Uptown Memphis mixed-housing development and the South Bluffs development. It has proposed redeveloping the Mid-South Fairgrounds now that the fair is leaving Memphis for Tunica.

Most Arkansans, familiar only with the Mud Island River Park portion of the island, don’t realize that Mud Island is home to more than 5,000 residents. Harbor Town has its own Montessori school, a health center and an upscale neighborhood grocery story and sandwich shop known as Miss Cordelia’s. Harbor Town has been a favorite home for past and present Memphis Grizzlies players and coaches.

Nature trails, walking trails, ponds and a marina all are part of the Harbor Town mix.

At breakfast Sunday morning, two couples were telling the waiter about the Journey concert the night before at the Mud Island Amphitheater.

“The concert was great,” the man, who appeared to be in his mid-40s, said. “But the park is falling apart.”

Like me, he probably remembers when the park was new in the early 1980s. One of the best outdoor concerts I ever attended — was it 1982? — was Al Jarreau on Mud Island on a perfect summer evening. What great Mud Island concert memories do you have?

I also remember how much I enjoyed the Mississippi River Museum when it was new. The last time I took my kids to the museum, almost half the attractions were closed or broken.

Unfortunately, like so much that is controlled by the city government of Memphis, the park was allowed to deteriorate. With a stagnant city government and an out-of-touch mayor, crime soared, development slowed and Memphis residents fled to places like Collierville, Southaven and Hernando.

As mentioned, the fair is leaving. The Pyramid sits empty. Downtown retail at Peabody Place was a failure. And the neighborhoods surrounding Graceland remain crime-ridden.

As someone who has always enjoyed spending time in Memphis, I hope the city can get its act together. With a new mayor on the way — thank goodness — there is at least hope. I’ll have more on that in a later post.

For now, Harbor Town and the River Inn offer a respite from the crime, neglect, decay and apathy that has been eating our neighbor to the east in recent years from the inside out. It’s worth the trip. And unless you want to, there’s really no need to go to other parts of town. You’re on the bridge and back in the promised land of Arkansas within a matter of minutes.

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