Dubbed “The Magic City” for the amount of growth it experienced not long after its founding, Birmingham is now one of the largest banking centers in the United States and the headquarters for Regions Financial. Also headquartered in Birmingham is the collegiate athletic Southeastern Conference, which has proven to be one of the most accomplished conferences in the country, keeping the South on the map in the world of collegiate sports.
Since its founding during the Reconstruction period in 1871, the city of Birmingham, Alabama, has grown into one of the key cities in the southeastern region of the United States. From the city’s place in history during the Civil Rights Movement to its economic contributions that continue today, Birmingham has proven to be a city that understands the importance of progression and improvement and strives for it to provide a better community for its citizens. Dubbed “The Magic City” for the amount of growth it experienced not long after its founding, Birmingham is now one of the largest banking centers in the United States and the headquarters for Regions Financial. Also headquartered in Birmingham is the collegiate athletic Southeastern Conference, which has proven to be one of the most accomplished conferences in the country, keeping the South on the map in the world of collegiate sports. Like many other cities in the southeastern US, Birmingham features a humid subtropical climate, so residents should expect hotter summers, milder winters with some freezing, and somewhat frequent thunderstorms during the spring and fall months. The city is also located within a Tornado Alley, so the occasional tornado would not be out of the ordinary.
Like any demonstration of magic, it’s one thing to witness it and an entirely new game once you see all of the work and dedication that goes into it. If Birmingham is calling your name, this article will give you a rundown of some of the must-visit locations within The Magic City before you become part of the show.
Highlands Bar and Grill
Opened in 1982 by Frank Stitt, Highlands Bar & Grill has since become known as a pioneer in mixing the more traditional southern cuisine in the region surrounding Birmingham with the supreme finesse and quality found in upscale restaurants. Although the menu changes daily based on availability of seasonal ingredients, patrons of Highlands have become accustomed to receiving top-quality dishes composed of locally sourced ingredients that shine in the culinary spotlight provided by the skilled kitchen team. The restaurant features a selection of half-shell oysters available through the oyster bar, with appetizers like Smoked Trout & Caviar or Stone Ground Baked Grits leading diners into main dishes that include Wild King Salmon, Pan Seared Venison, and Lamb Porterhouse Chops. After the main course, Pastry Chef Dolester Miles has a lineup of delectable desserts to cap the meal with, and it’s hard to go wrong with options like the Fresh Berry Tart, Blueberry & Peach Crisp, or Crème Brûlée on the menu. Highlands Bar & Grill also has an extensive wine list to choose from, along with a variety of quality cocktails sure to satisfy anyone looking to have a drink with their meal. (Photo credit: Christopher Hirsheimer)
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
After a successful business and real estate career, automobile enthusiast George Barber realized that while there may have been thorough representation of automobile history in vast car collections and museums, nothing had yet been done on the same scale for motorcycles. Today, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum stands as the Guinness World Record-certified largest collection of motorcycles and Lotus cars, totaling over 1,400 bikes with around 700 of those on display throughout the facility. Motorcycles are not only restored for admiration and history’s sake, but also for sport as well, with a large number of the motorcycles at the museum being used in various competitions over the earlier years, drawing more than enough attention to the Barber name through their victories. To maintain this top-tier demonstrative quality of the museum, in 2003 Barber opened a motorsports park as part of the museum facility, complete with a 2.38 mile racetrack that would go on to become the home of the Porsche Driving school. Within the park, visitors have the opportunity to witness the power and speed of the historic bikes in the Barber collection, along with any other events being showcased on the grounds. (Photo credit: Benjamin N. Smith)
If quality southern food is what you happen to be looking for in Birmingham, there’s no better place than SAW’s BBQ. What this smaller local joint lacks in sophistication and culinary flair is more than made up for by the undeniable amount of work and dedication to the craft of creating great southern barbeque and providing a comfortable, welcoming environment for patrons. Head chef, owner, and founder Mike “SAW” Wilson has used his long-time love of barbeque as a basis for experimenting and developing his own signature style over the years, including his popular SAW’s BBQ Sauce, which gained enough of a popular following to be bottled and sold in an assortment of grocery stores throughout the area and even online. With a menu so full of soul and hospitality, it can be difficult to pick a favorite item, but popular dishes at SAW’s include fall-off-the-bone ribs cooked to perfection and barbeque chicken with a white BBQ sauce that should be familiar to residents of both North Carolina and northern Alabama. Of course, the best way to experience the full spectrum of what SAW’s has to offer is to go with the sampler plate, which comes with a selection of ribs, chicken, and pulled pork along with a lineup of soulful side dishes to round out the perfect southern meal. (Photo credit: sawsbbq.com)
Vulcan Park & Museum
High above the city of Birmingham stands a giant, 101,200-pound cast iron man of great importance, a symbol of the city’s origins forged in iron and steel. This man is Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, and his cast iron body was commissioned for sculpting by the state of Alabama as their entry into the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The state enlisted the talents of renowned Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who came to the country in 1888 by way of New York City. After the World’s Fair, Vulcan made his way back to Birmingham, where he would eventually find a spot atop Red Mountain in the 1930s. Since then, Vulcan’s 56-foot (180 feet with the pedestal included) body has been properly restored, and the park around him has been renovated to better accommodate groups visiting to learn more about the man himself and the history of Birmingham. Vulcan Park & Museum hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year including concerts, workshops, and informative events for an assortment of local organizations. Of course, the park is also a hot spot for scenic private events, especially weddings. (Photo credit: visitvulcan.com)
Hot and Hot Fish Club
After spending some time as Chef de Cuisine at Highlands Bar & Grill (mentioned above), Chris Hastings went on to open his own restaurant, The Hot and Hot Fish Club, on the south side of Birmingham in 1995. The restaurant is housed in a historic building and showcases a variety of artists through not only the art displayed around the dining spaces, but also the tables and chairs visitors occupy when dining in. Even the dinner plates and espresso cups were created by an individual to be used in Hot and Hot. From the beginning, Chris and Idie Hastings have made it a priority to tap their incredible network of culinary contacts to get their hands on the freshest ingredients around and use them to craft their exquisite dishes. With a blend of Southern, French, and California-style culinary expertise, Chris and his team provide visitors with a roster of incredible dishes that get things started with items like “Surf and Turf” Wagyu Beef and Tuna Tartare, Iron Chef Ravioli, and the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad before moving on to the main course. Entrées range from Wood Fired Blackfin Tuna or Pan Seared Scallops to Shrimp Orecchiette Pasta, Iron Chef Rabbit Roulade, or Oven Roasted Duck and Crispy Confit. No matter which dish you eventually decide to go with, it’s sure to be excellent. (Photo credit: hotandhotfishclub.com)
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
To say that the Civil Rights Movement was important to the city of Birmingham would be an incredible understatement. As an integral part of the city’s past and progression to now, it goes without saying that keeping the memory of the Civil Rights Movement alive is key to ensuring a brighter present and future for The Magic City and its citizens. At the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, they have made it their mission “to enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.” Featuring a number of permanent exhibits that reflect the events of the Civil Rights Movement, including the bars and door from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s cell where he penned his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Through these exhibits, visitors can view photographs and hear firsthand accounts of the events that transpired and how the community was ultimately affected. Beyond the city of Birmingham, the BCRI strives to help others develop a better understanding of the importance of universal human rights for everyone around the world. With over 140,000 visitors every year, educating the masses doesn’t seem quite so out of reach for the dedicated team behind the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. (Photo credit: bcri.org)
Post Office Pies
Situated on 41st Street near Avondale Brewing Company and SAW’s Soul Kitchen location, Post Office Pies brings together the age-old pairing of pizza and beer in what remains of an old postal service building while adding their own unique character to the dynamic duo. Chef and co-owner John Hall places a large emphasis on hospitality and welcomes others into his establishment to show his dedication to producing quality pizza day in and day out, as made evident by the visible dough room at the front of the restaurant. Ingredients are sourced locally when available and pretty much everything else is made from scratch, adding further value to the pies put out at Post Office. The menu centers around what the POP crew does best: pizza, salads, and meatballs – all house-made. The most popular pizza in the place is the Swine Pie, which piles on the meat with house-made pork sausage, pepperoni, and bacon covering mozzarella on a tomato sauce base. Other selections include appetizers such as Garlic, Jalapeño, or Pepperoni Chunk cheese bread and even a build-your-own pizza option for the more particular pizza eater. Selections from the bar may be limited to Avondale Brewing Company brews, but there really is no better variety of drinks to be paired with the creations coming out of the POP kitchen. (Photo credit: postofficepies.com)
Red Mountain Park
Covering around 1,500 acres along the Red Mountain Ridge, Red Mountain Park has become the go-to destination for experiencing the natural beauty of central Alabama. The team behind the park has made it their mission to provide the citizens of Birmingham with a place they can go to learn about the history of the city, including its beginnings as a center for iron and steel production. More importantly, the team also aims to bring people together with the park, showing citizens that, while they may all come from different backgrounds and lead different lives, they share a common ground in the state of Alabama and the rest of the world. The park features a 15-mile trail system capable of accommodating a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, Segway tours, and geocaching. If a four-legged friend happens to accompany you on a trip to the park, there’s no better place to be than Remy’s Dog Park. Other stops along the trails include two overlooks of Downtown Birmingham, three treehouses, and three historic mining sites. If you happen to be part of a group looking for a great day of team-building (or forging) exercises, the team at RMP can also lead you through the park and tailor a set of activities to your group’s needs. (Photo credit: redmountainpark.org)
Serving Latin and American food in a more relaxed, casual dining atmosphere, Rojo (Spanish for “red”) manages to give visitors the best of both worlds with their sizeable double menu of mixed-culture culinary goodness. On the Latin side of things, diners can kick off their meal with any of the appetizing salsas and dips before moving on to entrees that include a variety of delicious burritos, tacos, fajita plates, and quesadillas. On the more familiar American side of the menu, Rojo gets things started with classic American party appetizers like mozzarella sticks and wings (or salads, if you’re looking for a healthier option), then opens up to a selection of hearty burgers, steak, pasta, fish, and widely recognized American classics like the Philly cheesesteak, buffalo chicken sandwich, and BBQ sandwich. Rojo also features a brunch menu on the weekends that brings the Latin and American sides of the menu together to brighten up the mornings of its visitors with dishes like chorizo con huevos, breakfast burritos, a dish potato-based dish known as The Lumberjack, and a brunch sandwich. Brunchtime beverages include sangria, margaritas, a variety of mimosa choices, and both bloody marys and bloody marias. Rojo also offers an extensive list of catering options for your next big event or gathering. (Photo credit: rojobirmingham.com)
The Alabama Theater
Since 1972, the Alabama Theater in downtown Birmingham has hosted a wide variety of shows and performances for the citizens of Birmingham. Events showcased at the Alabama Theater include film showings and screenings, concerts from a variety of artists both big and small, pageants featuring contestants from far and wide, along with many more that bring crowds into the historic building. Originally built by Paramount Studios to showcase their films, the Theater eventually found its way into the hands of non-profit corporation Birmingham Landmarks Inc. and has since been utilized for much more than exclusive film viewings. Featuring a valuable Mighty Wurlitzer organ that spurred the historic building’s acquisition in 1987, the interior of the Theater is far too ornate to be put into words or captured by a photograph, instead beckoning those who are curious to witness the grand décor in person in order to truly understand the scope of the Theater’s intricate and beautiful design. The Theater hosts tours both public and private, and as one might expect, it is also a fairly popular venue for wedding photos. (Photo credit: M. Lewis Kennedy)
The city of Birmingham, Alabama is full of magic, no doubt. From parks that showcase the natural beauty of the state to museums that allow for visitors to learn from the past to create a brighter, better future, Birmingham’s contributions to helping better the lives of its citizens are bountiful. When it comes to the area’s consumable offerings, the restaurant scene is covered with a variety of incredible eateries that bring together not only standard American and Southern cuisine, but also French, Latin, and (if amazing pizza counts) Italian without compromising the distinct and welcoming character of the region. Visit any of these establishments and it quickly becomes evident why Birmingham, Alabama is definitely a place where magic happens.