Hyatt’s 1st Caption hotel is open: My time walking (and sleeping) in Memphis

Jul 13, 2022

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I grew up in Memphis. I love the city for all its strengths, weaknesses and quirks.

But I’m sorry, Memphis: I arrived last weekend with a preconceived, incorrect notion about your (and Hyatt’s) newest hotel.

When I got the assignment to check out the Caption by Hyatt Beale Street Memphis — the first location in the world for the new Caption brand — I scoured the development page for the Chicago-based hotel company. I noticed Caption had many of the same youth-oriented attributes of brands like Marriott’s Moxy, CitizenM and Hilton’s Motto: a lobby aesthetic that screams WeWork more than it does check-in, younger travelers pictured in all renderings, and frequent use of the word “lifestyle.”

I figured I’d fly down to Memphis, pig out on barbecue, write an article that went something along the lines of, “If it looks like a Moxy and quacks like a Moxy … it might be Hyatt’s new brand,” and be back in Boston by Sunday night in time to watch “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

Instead, I found a charming place to stay that mixes history with modern Memphis and excels spectacularly where its peers fall short.

I also walked away wondering if the combination of Caption and the Bluff City is a great way to beat travel inflation this summer (if you can put up with the sweltering Memphis heat).

In This Post

Booking details

I’d been keeping my eye on when reservations would open for the hotel, as I had quite a bit of hometown pride when Hyatt chose to debut the brand in Memphis. (The next batch of openings center on Asia with locations slated for Shanghai; Osaka, Japan; Tokyo; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.)

Reservations only opened in the last few weeks, and I booked directly with Hyatt for a king river-view room for $178.85 per night — a steal in my mind since I’ve stayed in some mediocre-at-best hotel rooms this summer going for rates several hundred dollars more a night. After taxes and testing out a few meals at the hotel, my total for two nights at the Caption ended up coming to $545.35.

I don’t have status yet with Hyatt, but I did get a 10% discount on the daily rate just by being a regular World of Hyatt member.

For travelers considering a stay, I did notice that rates begin to creep up in the fall when temperatures come down in Memphis, but they generally hovered at or below $200 per night.

Location

The Caption is a 16-minute drive from Memphis International Airport (MEM), and the trip cost $22 via Uber.

Caption by Hyatt Exterior Hyatt 3
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

Hyatt has typically been one of the lesser-present hotel conglomerates within Memphis, save for a few Hyatt Place properties out in the suburbs.

The Caption is the second of three planned Hyatt-branded hotels going into the same downtown development where iconic Beale Street meets the Mississippi River. A Hyatt Centric is already open next to the Caption, and a Grand Hyatt is close to breaking ground in front of it. (And no, this doesn’t mean the “river-view” component of my “king river-view” room is fleeting — the Grand Hyatt tower will rise more behind the neighboring Centric while the shorter base of the hotel will extend in front of the Caption, according to renderings.)

But the recent flurry of Hyatt additions to southwestern Tennessee did make me wonder about the exact moment in Hyatt’s Chicago headquarters when someone looked at the map and decided the company needed to go walking in Memphis. Maybe an Elvis fan is finally making development and expansion decisions for the company.

A little context for y’all: It was surreal to spend time in my hometown as a tourist (I haven’t been back to Memphis for six years since my mom moved away), and it was heartwarming to see the progress that continues in the city’s ongoing push to revive its downtown.

Downtown Memphis languished after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. outside the Lorraine Motel (now part of the National Civil Rights Museum just a few blocks south of the Caption). Businesses and the city’s economic center moved east.

But downtown began to turn a leaf in the early 1980s with the reopening of the Peabody, the city’s historically glitzy hotel known for the ducks that spend the day splashing in the lobby fountain before retiring to their rooftop home amid pomp and circumstance each evening at 5 p.m.

A new ballpark for the city’s minor league baseball team as well as the FedExForum arena for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies followed over the decades along with efforts to draw more tourists to areas like Beale Street and South Main around the Civil Rights Museum.

It was always a little touch-and-go as far as revitalization momentum went by the time I left for college in 2007, and Nashville vaulted ahead of Memphis over the years to become Tennessee’s new largest city and hub of all things tourism.

But my stay at the Caption opened my eyes to the fact Memphis is staying the course in its revival.

Check-in

I was on an extraordinarily early flight out of Boston to get to Memphis on the Friday of my stay. This meant I was touching down in the land of the Delta blues (I promise I’ll eventually stop quoting Marc Cohn lyrics) by 9:30 a.m.

Caption by Hyatt Exterior historic
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

I already had a pre-arrival notice from Hyatt via the World of Hyatt app the day before and had noted I’d like to check in by 10:30 a.m. I figured that wouldn’t pan out, especially since I don’t have Hyatt status. But I was tickled to turn my phone on after landing at the newly renovated Memphis airport to a notification that my room was ready.

Caption was already a winner in my book, and I made my way to the Uber pickup.

There are a few points of confusion that will hopefully be ironed out once the hotel gains its sea legs — though some of these points are easier to overcome than others.

The hotel is so new (opening day was June 28) that it wasn’t showing up on Uber for the duration of my stay, so I just put in the Centric next door as my drop-off point. It may also be a little confusing to some that similarly named brands are next to each other, though they have two very different vibes.

The Centric has an entirely modern feel, while the Caption has a new hotel tower while incorporating a historical facade dating to 1879 at ground level. Signage is sparse for Caption, and it was trial and error trying to find the front door (only to find the main drop-off point was around the building — something that will hopefully be remedied when this property gets listed on Uber).

Hotels like Moxy and CitizenM can be annoying for people who want clear directions on where they go to check in. The whole movement of making lobbies look less like lobbies and more like communal workspaces, living rooms or whatever the marketing team du jour wants to call it might be great from an aesthetic standpoint, but it’s frustrating for those of us who just want to get our key and go straight to the room.

Caption is no different from its competitors here. That said, the hotel is well staffed by friendly employees who were quick to guide me past the coffee bar/cocktail bar/lunch counter/coworking nooks to the check-in area.

Caption by Hyatt Check-In
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

While I had already checked in via my World of Hyatt app, the affable team member helped me navigate the normally do-it-yourself keycard machine, handed over the keys and room assignment and pointed me to the elevator.

The tucked-away front desk is off to the side of the lobby (er, Talk Shop — the brand’s name for its ground-floor space for eating, drinking and working) and the bank of elevators up to the hotel tower is just off the check-in area. Just like at a WeWork, you can find an array of chairs, tables, couches and the occasional pop of greenery from plants placed above the red metal shelving placed throughout the ground level.

A blue-and-gray color scheme with pops of exposed brick and wood finishes dominates the design scheme throughout the hotel and especially in the Talk Shop. Sapphire velvet chairs are a cozy spot to curl up with a coffee (ideally in colder weather than when I visited) while leather couches and barstools, in tandem with the hotel’s well-functioning air conditioning unit, were more apropos for the triple-digit heat blasting outside. Cobalt beadboard lining the bar area gave a nice splash of color beneath the cream, stone countertops.

Caption by Hyatt Talk Shop
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

The room

My initial thought heading up to my room on the ninth floor was how Caption already has a much more tranquil design scheme than my prior stays at a CitizenM in downtown Los Angeles and a Moxy in the East Village in Manhattan.

The carpeting at the Moxy (see photo below) was best described as Chernobyl-meets-acid trip. The lighting in a CitizenM guest room changes colors, and it is fun to go through a whole range of hues … but it starts to feel a little juvenile and more like a nightclub than a place to sleep after a while.

Caption Moxy Carpeting
The less-than-relaxing carpeting pattern of the Moxy East Village in New York City. (Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

Of course, the biggest knock on both brands is how small the rooms are. I could never imagine staying with another person in my room at the Los Angeles CitizenM earlier this year, and even though my room at the Moxy was billed for two people, I certainly thought to myself at multiple points, “Marriott, who are you kidding here?”

Caption was an entirely different ballgame. My husband traveled with me, and we were both very comfortable in the room.

Caption by Hyatt Carpeting
Significantly more soothing carpeting at the Caption. (Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

There was a seating area, a table and chair to work from, storage for luggage and hanging clothes, and the bathroom was enormous and didn’t seem like it came straight from an Ikea factory (Caption isn’t perfect: Some of the particle board-esque tabletops and the industrial feel of the furniture also felt a little too college dormitory for my liking).

The Caption guest room’s design scheme was all neutral colors and light shades of blue with occasional wall decals of sketches of things like bicycles and hanging plants. The king-size bed was very comfortable, and the blinds kept the light out so we could try and earn back some shut-eye the first night after waking up at 3 a.m. to make our flight out of Boston.

I hate to keep making this a competition between Caption and its peers, but it really is a standout just how much of an improvement this hotel was compared to my stays at hotels with similar vibes elsewhere.

Frankly, the build-out was simple but also didn’t feel cheap. I’m sure part of that has everything to do with the lower cost of doing just about anything in a market like Memphis compared with Los Angeles or New York City. It will be worth monitoring if the elevated build-outs appear in the next batch of hotels in Asia as well as future Caption properties when they start appearing in higher-cost U.S. cities — assuming higher-cost cities are part of the brand’s expansion plan.

The sizable bathroom included a walk-in shower that was spacious and didn’t feel like something found in someone’s RV (I’ll shake it up here and say even certain properties that are part of Marriott’s AC brand could take a lesson here). The hotel’s Apotheke shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are salon-quality. Sadly, they were also wall-mounted, so I won’t be flaunting minibottles of any of these in the Sperance family guest bathroom anytime soon.

My favorite part of the room, however, was the stunning view. The windows were enormous and overlooked the Mississippi River and the city’s iconic, M-shaped Hernando de Soto Bridge which connects Memphis with West Memphis, Arkansas. I often found myself drawn to the window just to gaze out at barges lazily ambling up and down the river throughout our weekend stay.

It felt good to be home.

Caption by Hyatt notepad river view
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

Food and beverage

The other area where Caption excels is the food and beverage department. Nothing makes my eyes roll more than when hotel companies trot out the obligatory “lifestyle hotel” reference these days.

I mean, really: What even is a lifestyle hotel?

The only consensus I’ve managed to come to in my years covering the industry is that lifestyle hotels are supposed to offer more of a local experience, both in design and food and beverage.

That’s kind of funny to think about considering I’ve stayed at some lifestyle hotels where their version of a curated local experience is spelling out the name of whatever city we’re in with miniature cartons of Greek yogurt.

The food and beverage programming at the Caption in Memphis does not rely on these tricks of dairy word art. Instead, there is a great reliance on local ingredients and purveyors. Some of the partnerships include local Memphis brands like Bluff City Mushrooms, Grit Girls Grits, Grind City Brewing, Home Place Pastures Pork and Joyce Chicken.

That made mealtime at the Talk Shop feel like a truly authentic Memphis experience. Over the span of my trip, I tried a biscuit sandwich (complete with fried egg, bacon and pimento cheese for $13), a fried chicken sandwich with honey hot sauce ($16), a fried chicken salad with green tomatoes and citrus ($15) and then rounded it out with a pimento cheese tray ($8).

Yes, this sampling was over the span of three days. And, yes, I still went on a run and a bike ride over the river to Arkansas to hopefully negate the need for a visit with my cardiologist after a weekend of gorging on Memphis treats.

The food was incredibly flavorful and arrived quickly. I expected major hiccups since the hotel was so new, but the Caption team did a great job serving up hit after hit.

The fried chicken was juicy, expertly brined and had just the right element of heat. The pimento cheese was creamy and paired well with various meats and other cheeses. There was a mustardy barbecue sauce that I’m still dreaming about two days after checking out of the hotel.

Of course, this doesn’t mean things were perfect.

Certain menu items weren’t available “because [they] still haven’t received an initial order,” one employee told me. We’re not exactly talking complicated items, either: Cold brew was a no-show for the duration of our stay, and one of the times we ordered it, this wasn’t communicated until after the check was paid.

Lattes were fine. The iced Americano offered up as a substitute on our last morning was bitter to the point of being almost undrinkable, and I love all things bitter. (I know, I know: Insert any given snark about me being a bitter reporter here.)

A jalapeno cornbread muffin stood out on the menu, but I was told it wasn’t available that morning because “it wasn’t really popular with guests so far.”

Maybe give it more than two weeks to build a following, Team Caption.

Other amenities

The Caption doesn’t have a spa or sit-down restaurant (perhaps those will arrive with the Grand Hyatt when it rounds out this downtown Memphis Hyatt trinity). Its younger vibes mean the focus is all on the communal, multipurpose space. There is also a billiards room just off the main section of the Talk Shop.

Caption by Hyatt Billiards
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

There is an outdoor seating area dubbed the beer garden (though I didn’t see any frothy steins of hoppy delightfulness getting passed around, so Caption’s definition of beer garden doesn’t appear to be the same as Bavaria’s). The Caption beer garden would have been more inviting with its tables and chairs and big-screen television had the heat index not been 113 degrees for most of our stay.

A second-floor fitness facility was modern and well equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes, an elliptical machine, a rowing machine, free weights, medicine balls, kettlebells and even a side studio that appeared to be for stretching and cooldowns. Various shelving units were left out in this room, so it was unclear if additional construction is needed to finish the facility.

Caption by Hyatt Fitness Studio
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

It did appear as though the Caption isn’t entirely finished in certain areas, though the fitness facility was the only place where a guest would immediately take note. Further work to preserve some of the original historic building was underway just off the Talk Shop, and it looks like it will be a great addition to Caption’s streak of blending old and new.

Out and about

If the game in real estate is location, location, location, it’s going to be hard to beat the Caption.

The hotel is within walking distance of the bars and music venues of Beale Street, the FedExForum, the South Main Arts District and walking trails along the Mississippi River. We walked a couple of blocks down Main Street one morning to grab a coffee and rent bikes to take across the Big River Crossing into Arkansas for additional trail rides and views of downtown.

We grabbed dinner one night in the trendy Cooper-Young neighborhood followed by drinks a few blocks away in Overton Square in Midtown. This wasn’t within walking distance of the hotel, but the Uber ride was less than 10 minutes and each way cost around $10.

Given the array of things to do (the two-night trip could easily have extended to an additional night or two, and we wouldn’t have run out of things to do), I couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more people on the streets. Nashville is three hours up Interstate 40, and I knew Broadway there would have been slammed with crowds all weekend.

Luckily, an out-of-towner two stools down at a bar on Beale Street did my homework for me by asking the bartender why it wasn’t more crowded on a Friday afternoon.

The bartender didn’t miss a beat in deadpanning over the sound of a struggling air conditioning system: “Have you been outside? That humidity is your answer.”

Checking out

Yes, as mentioned, it was hot in the Bluff City for the duration of our stay. Excessive-heat weather advisories came out each day, and there was a triple-digit heat index more often than there wasn’t.

I figured it couldn’t be that much different in Nashville, but when I went to check, my weather app told me it felt like 101 in Music City compared to 113 in Memphis. Twelve degrees makes all the difference, I guess.

That said, hotel rooms are way more expensive in Nashville than they are in Memphis, and our bar and restaurant tabs were significantly more affordable than we’re used to seeing up in Boston. If you can put up with the excessive heat during the summer, Memphis is a no-brainer way to have a fun trip and not break the bank.

Caption by Hyatt Talk Shop 2
(Photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy)

I was a little sad to check out of the Caption because it meant my long overdue trip to my hometown was ending. It was simple to check out of the hotel via the World of Hyatt app (though I could have done it in person downstairs) and be on our way to a final brunch before our flight.

The Caption is a surprisingly well-executed addition to the pool of hotels catering to younger travelers with changing guest expectations. The rates were affordable, the food was delicious and the hotel was charming and had character.

The onus on Hyatt is to maintain the strength of the Memphis property and replicate that when it comes time to open in cities where it is more expensive to open and operate a hotel.

Featured photo by Cameron Sperance/The Points Guy.

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