Smack in the center of the Bible Belt's buckle is the exact opposite of where you would expect to find a thriving cultural hub, but that's exactly what Birmingham, Alabama, is becoming. Talk about the Deep South, and you're bound to draw mixed emotions from pretty much everyone, even those who were born and raised there—including me. Sure, there’s that adorable, if antiquated, notion of Southern charm, but there's still a lot of negativity associated with those living in areas south of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi. Well, it’s time to change those perceptions, because Birmingham is actually... cool. I grew up in this city, and I'm not sure whether its cultural activity is new or if it's just new to me, but it's definitely a welcome surprise every time I visit.
And it's not just me who's surprised. Even those people who have lived in this city forever are finding new things to enjoy, which is why it's my pleasure to let you in on Birmingham's secrets. Sharing is caring after all, and I still have a little Southern hospitality left in me (even after living amongst Yankees for almost five years).
So though the South has long been (erroneously) regarded as devoid of cultural cachet, there are many pockets where artists flock and build their communities. We’ve already shown you around Nashville and Charleston, so read on to find out an insider’s perspective on the best places to eat, drink, stay, and shop in the ‘Ham (yeah, I said it).
WHERE TO STAY
Redmont Hotel: Redmont is the oldest hotel in Birmingham, but that in no way means it's outdated. If you find that you prefer a night in, you can still grab a meal at Harvest or a nightcap at The Roof, both of which are located inside the hotel. Take it from me, you won’t want to miss the views from that rooftop bar.
Elyton Hotel: What used to be the Empire building, one of Alabama’s most celebrated architectural landmarks, is now the Elyton Hotel, and it has an elegant and structured aesthetic you'd expect from a building of such historical caliber. Even though it’s located in the heart of Downtown (and you'll definitely want to explore the area), you can have an adventurous night in at this hotel, too. It has its own rooftop bar, Moon Shine (again, views!), and a restaurant called The Yard.
Grand Bohemian Hotel: This hotel is located in posh Mountain Brook area, so you know you'll be in good hands here. Case in point: There's an on-site spa that you won't want to ever leave. This area has its own attractions, but it's also just minutes from Downtown.
WHERE TO EAT
Roots & Revelry: They’ve only been open for about a year, but this Downtown haunt has already become the new classic in Birmingham. And it's well-deserved, seeing as everything, from the food to the tables you dine at, is designed to pay a tribute to historical Birmingham with a celebration of the modern.
Carrigan's Pub: You've probably seen their string lights from the interstate, but if you haven't made it here, now is definitely the time. Home to a variety of unique hand-blended cocktails, Carrigan's is the type of place you go for dinner and stay for drinks.
Real and Rosemary: If you're really into Southern hospitality, you'll love it here—the dining experience is made to make you feel as comfortable as you are in your own home, which means waiters who don't feel like strangers and food that tastes like your momma used to make. The best part? All the dishes showcase local ingredients, sans preservatives and MSG.
Miss Myra's: Miss Myra's is one of the most loved and under-the-radar barbecue joints in Alabama. This no-nonsense dive is decorated wall-to-wall with pig curios and home to some of the best pulled pork in the South. Be sure to test out its legendary white barbecue sauce and (this goes without saying but) banana pudding. Vegetarians, you may want to skip this one.
Vecchia: This is the best place to go for authentic brick-oven pizza, and it has a great selection of local brews to pair it with.
Little Donkey: Quickly becoming a Southern staple is this farm-to-table Mexican restaurant. You'll want to try the fried chicken (yes, at a Mexican restaurant), one of its most famous plates.
WHERE TO DRINK
Revelator Coffee: Birmingham is home to many a Starbucks, but thankfully, local coffee houses are beginning to pop up. Revelator is loved by young creatives, who you'll find working on projects around the cafe.
Saturn Birmingham: Pool table? Check. Old-school arcade games with "San Junipero" vibes? Concert space? Check, and check. Saturn is the best bar-slash-concert hall Downtown and is quickly gaining a national following.
The Atomic Lounge: Some amazing cocktails are mixed here, but the Atomic Lounge's best attraction, by far, is their replica of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, with each band member's face replaced with a famous Alabama native.
Trim Tab Brewing Co.: There are some great breweries in Avondale, but this one has the best vibe hands down. They have a bar on-site, but you'll want to sit outside. Pro tip: Get the raspberry beer, you won't regret it.
The Marble Ring: Speakeasies are always an event. The best one in Birmingham is definitely the Marble Ring, made even better by the fact that it's right below Hot Diggity Dogs, a great no-frills hot dog joint.
Parkside Cafe: Home to not one, but two, bars (one in front, one in back) and a huge outdoor seating area, this establishment also boasts a food truck parked in back, called Hotbox, for all your drunchie needs.
The Nick: This is the best dive bar in the city. It also doubles as a performance space that attracts local, regional, and national artists.
WHERE TO SHOP
Winslet and Rhys: Founded by two friends with backgrounds in creative design, everything in this modernized mercantile shop is perfectly curated and has just the right amount of millennial pink.
Manitou Supply: Birmingham is full of thrift stores, but surprisingly devoid of vintage shops. Manitou Supply is filling this niche and providing shoppers with expertly sourced apparel at totally reasonable prices. Can't make it in? You can shop it all on Etsy.
A'mano: Hands down the best place to shop for unique books and curated objects in this city. A'mano's selection will make you want to redesign your entire house, so hopefully, you brought a U-Haul.
What's on 2nd: Three stories of antiques, records, and curiosities rife with historical relevancy. I've been coming here for years, and it has yet to disappoint.
MAKE Bhm: This artist collective doubles as a place to shop the members' wares, which means that not only does the selection rotate as members join, but also that you'll find some of the most unique goods. Better yet, you can stay and take one of their in-house workshops on anything from woodworking to screenprinting and more.
Club Duquette: The Southern aesthetic, when it comes to clothing, usually aims to uphold a strict gender binary, but Club Duquette is a refreshing exception to this unspoken rule. This shop features age- and gender-inclusive lines of apparel and home goods.