By Trevor C. Hale
Seeing Birmingham through the eyes of my Australian wife offers a crickey-bonza fresh perspective. Since bringing her and her Australian family for the first time last year, B’ham has become her favorite city in America.
Summertime is a great time to leave sweltering Dubai (120 degrees in July) and, upon returning, reflect on all the great places in B’ham.
We held our Gatsby-themed B’ham wedding (following two in Oz and preceding one Elvis wedding in Vegas) last December at the wonderful Highland Ave. Club House (the perfect Gatsby setting). We had a right bunch of Aussies in tow and it fell to me to be tour guide.
The first night in town we took them to a real southern barbie. After eating two huge slabs of Dreamland ribs, my brother-in-law—a man who knows his ribs—kissed me on the forehead.
This barbie’s goin’ down a treat!
We sampled some of Birmingham’s finest fare—we had scattered, smothered, and covered at the Five Points Waffle House, Super Crunch rolls at Surin West, and fennel sausage pizza at Bottega.
Vulcan’s mighty manhood impressed our international guests and was the perfect perch from which to discuss Birmingham’s iron origins. We toured the glorious Sloss Furnaces, which brought back so many great B’ham Jam memories and stories of climbing to the top platform. Getting lost in the oldest area at Sloss, the room with the “blowing engines” did indeed elicit a “crickey” or two. There’s nowhere else like it on the planet.
We were advised to see Avondale, which was described to us at the time as Birmingham’s Brooklyn, or the new hipster hangout. We hit Avondale Brewery, which felt more like a frat party than a hipster haven—but who am I to know? The Post Office Pies pizza in Avondale was one of the best pies the Aussies have ever had.
The after-wedding party converged on Collins Bar on Second Avenue North. Fantastic ambience, great service, wonderful drinks, and a one-of-a-kind B’ham periodic table of elements wall map. We hit Collins several times over several days. Every time we were downtown, especially on Second North, Meredith Calhoun gave us the rundown of all the downtown development, from the City Federal Building and Cahaba Hotel, to the Pizitz and Florentine Buildings. Exciting things are happening downtown!
We saw Railroad Park and Regions Field. I was part of Operation New Birmingham (ONB) in the early 90s while working at SlaughterHanson on Morris Avenue, and today’s downtown represents the fruition of the wildest and grandest dreams of ONB—a thriving downtown.
Of course we hit up the Peanut Depot on Morris, walked under the 24th Street Viaduct (home of the first Spook-a-Delic Halloween festival), then walked through the theatre district to see the marvelous marquees of the Alabama, and now, Lyric Theatres. Unfortunately the Alabama wasn’t open that particular day, but it brought back memories of Stevie Ray Vaughan (my first time there), taking my son to see Casablanca at its summer movie series, the first year of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and of course, Kerri Lane’s annual Rocky Horror Picture Show!
Tom Cosby, Mr. B’ham and the man behind refurbishing the Lyric Theatre across the street, recently told me he found a framed article I’d written for Black & White about the Lyric in the mid-90s. It had been hanging on the wall in Cecil Whitmire’s Alabama Theatre office. Cecil was the man behind the Alabama and the organist of its mighty Wurlitzer. It’s a right show stoppah, mate!
We ambled out Third Avenue West and rode by the legendary Legion Field. Having neither professional nor college football ties, the Aussies are all now bonafide Tide fans.
Just around the corner we came upon ravishing Rickwood Field, the world’s oldest ballpark. When Ron Shelton brought Tommy Lee Jones to B’ham in 1993 to film Ty Cobb there, he said of Rickwood that it was a church to baseball. The groundskeeper happened to be there and the gates open. After throwing around the names of the original Rickwood saviors, Coke Mathews and (again) Tom Cosby, all doors were opened and we were given a VIP tour of the entire facility.
So much more to see and do next time. As the Aussies would say, B’ham, you’re a legend!