By John Branston

Maybe the old guy in the great movie Chinatown was right when he said “Politicians, public buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

The Bass Pro Pyramid, much derided since it was a twinkle in John Tigrett’s eye 36 years ago, was the subject of a flattering article in The Wall Street Journal last week. Specifically, the article was about the hotel inside, a relatively new addition. Five days after the story first ran, it was still third on the Journal’s list of most-read stories.

In our story-every-millisecond age this is up there with Joe Dimaggio’s hitting streak, Tom Brady’s career, and the continuing popularity of Celine Dion and Young Dolph.

 The hyper-hyped Elvis movie didn’t come close.

So here’s to Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris and his backers who ignored newspaper smarties like me and bartered enough incentives to turn a gigantic empty building into something of value. How much value is hard to say. Nobody but accountants and sportswriters crunches numbers anymore, but getting kind words from a heavyweight like WSJ is no easy thing.

The hotel on the lower level of the Great American Pyramid (Sidney Shlenker) is furnished like Nash Buckingham’s hunting lodge. If that is your thing you are in wild-hog heaven. There are no exterior windows in the rooms but there are excellent views of the store interior and the after-hours cleaning crew.

Well picky-picky. There are superb views of the river and two states from the observation deck nearly 30 stories high. The elevator ride includes a feel-good recording of fishmeister Bill Dance’s tale about a bet with Morris and a 30-pound Big Muddy catfish. Then you can get a decent meal and a drink at the restaurant while admiring the local food, fish, and fauna decor.

Shortcomings aside, no Pyramid no Grizzlies. No Bass Pro no go. The runnerup, as I remember, was a church.

Bass Pro trucker hats for $6 are another kitschy story getting a cult following and national attention. Bass Pro clothes and shoes are reasonably priced and hardly ever wear out. The gators and sturgeon and  big blue catfish in the ponds are real. The bowling alley is a hoot. It is impossible to go there with out-of-town visitors with young children and not have a good time. In our age of the $12 burger and $500k fixer-upper, most of it is free.

I’ll take it over a shopping trip to Target or Walmart or an overnight stay the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale or Wigwam Village in Cave City, Kentucky any day.

(note: my friend and Smart City editor/publisher Tom Jones knows more about the history of the Pyramid than anyone alive. As he told me recently, “it keeps pulling me back.” I hope he will write something too. –JB)


John Branston covered Memphis as a reporter and columnist for 35 years.