Let the Music Play: A City of Performances
Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music: when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Dining and live music are Birmingham’s signature entertainment. Let’s talk about dinner and places to hear good music.
- Fill your daytime hours with some tourist attractions. One in particular that will prepare you for your evening of music is the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Housed in the restored art deco Carver Theatre, this is home to memorabilia from Birmingham’s rich jazz history. Displays pay tribute to the likes of Nat King Cole, Erskine Hawkins, and Sun Ra.
- Before you hit the streets for music, take in a good meal at Little Donkey in the Homewood neighborhood. This is a hip hub for Southern-influenced Mexican fare with award-winning fried chicken that has received national recognition.
- If you want to be wise and organized, you’ll want to check the Iron City schedule to see who’ll be in town during your trip. Performances run a wide and diverse gamut with acts like The Arctic Monkeys, Gary Clark Jr., Chris Stapleton, Rob Zombie, and Alabama’s own Yelawolf.
- You’ll find another good music schedule at Saturn, one of Birmingham’s newest venues. In the heart of the Avondale neighborhood, Saturn is cool and lively with lots of alternative music.
- Voted by Paste Magazine as one of the best music venues in the country, WorkPlay is a premier spot to hear live music, so check on the schedule before making your travel plans. Also check the entertainment schedule at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Big-name national entertainers like Garth Brooks, Jay-Z, and Mumford & Sons regularly show up here, both in the intimate setting of the Concert Hall and the energetic Legacy Arena.
- A good place to hang out after the performance is Paramount, well known for its arcade games and pub grub. Or take the after party to Lou’s Pub and Package Store. In the historic Lakeview District, Lou’s has been around a while and has lots of friendly regulars. The bartenders are talented, and you can buy a bottle to go if you’re looking for a souvenir.
- The next evening, start out at The Garage. It’s a hidden treasure in our city, and you’re going to have to take cash—no credit cards accepted here. Occasionally they’ll have live music, but there’s always a good sandwich and a rugged atmosphere. GQ once called The Garage “one of the 10 bars worth flying for.”
- For a more substantial meal, go into Five Points South to Ocean. Locally owned and operated, this restaurant has wonderful fresh oysters and fish from around the world. Another good dinner option is Slice Pizza & Brew where they serve creative custom pizzas and a wide selection of draft beers.
- Just down the street from Slice is Oasis, which is about as laid back as you can get without a tranquilizer. They often have good live music that lasts deep into the night. Or hop on over to Black Market Bar or Zydeco, a college crowd favorite known for an array of local and national acts.
- Cap off an evening of music with drinks at the Blue Monkey Lounge. The Monkey has comfortable sofas for good conversation in a series of alcoves and recesses that make for an interesting layout.
- If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can visit The Nick, a locally infamous dive bar that features live music almost every night. But be forewarned that it’s not called “Birmingham’s Dirty Little Secret” for nothing.
- Find more fun and adventure at one of the country’s last real juke joints, Gip’s Place. Operating only on Saturday nights, Gip’s is in the residential neighborhood of nearby Bessemer. Here, Henry Gipson oversees the music and dance at this tin-roof honest-to-God roadhouse. It’s the real thing—just remember to BYOB.
- No matter where you end up, keep an eye open for these 10 “must have” cocktails while you’re in Birmingham:
- Orange Thing – Bottega Café
- Blue Monkey Martini – Blue Monkey Lounge
- Pomegranate Margarita – Cocina Superior
- Bloody Mary – The Garage
- Good People Cask Ale – The J. Clyde
- Cucumber Mint Mojito – Jinsei
- Prickly Pear Margarita – Cantina
- French 75 – Chez Fonfon
- Blackberry Winter – Dram Whiskey Bar
- CG&T – Carrigan’s Public House
And bear in mind that you don’t have to drive from place to place. If you’ve had a few drinks, play it safe and call an Uber.