How a local business became one of the top music venues in the country.
Written by Paige Townley
Concert Photos by Andi Rice
Portraits by Beau Gustafson
From the musical acts to the stunning décor, Iron City is anything but understated. The entertainment venue features a design scheme that rivals any upscale club in the country and big name headliners like B. B. King, Greg Allman, Willie Nelson, and Arctic Monkeys. “At Iron City, we want to represent Birmingham in a way that resonates,” says Michael Creager, Iron City’s production manager. “And not just locally, but nationally and even internationally.”
Iron City has certainly achieved its goal of resonating across the world. The venue’s doors have been open less than two years, yet it’s already making a name for itself in the concert industry. Last year, Pollstar ranked Iron City as No. 44 on its list of the Top 50 Club Venues. The venue was the first in a southern city to appear in the top 50, as well as the only venue for a “C” market. “We were also the only rookie club in the top 50, which is an incredible achievement,” Creager adds.
The versatile venue wasn’t the original plan for owner Steve DeMedicis. He initially planned to open a small bar and nightclub. “I really enjoy live music, so I thought I would take a stab at having a small place,” he explains. “I was thinking it would be a little place where bands could come in and play, maybe rehearse, but more space became available right next door and so the idea just kept getting bigger. Everything we added made it better, but I didn’t intend from the beginning to build what we built. It just kind of grew.”
DeMedicis’ small plans grew into a major project requiring construction and renovation to multiple buildings to create one fluid space, including the addition of a second story mezzanine. Although time intensive—construction took about a year once they were finally able to break ground—the end result was well worth it: a 1,300-person capacity venue boasting a main stage and two smaller stages for concerts, as well as the capability to host all sorts of other events like weddings, luncheons, private events, and receptions. “The facility absolutely exceeded my expectations,” DeMedicis says. “It’s beautiful, and although it’s big, it’s really comfortable and intimate. Everyone who comes here to see a show gets an intimate experience because there’s a great view from every angle. It’s just a great experience. When the building is full during a concert, it just becomes magical and takes on a life of its own.”
To make sure Iron City would provide the best experience possible, DeMedicis also intently focused on the interior details as well, from the top-of-the-line Danley sound system to the restroom floor’s beautiful tile mosaics. “Steve really covered every base, from the backstage facilities and dressing rooms to the sound and lights and even the way he ensured great sight lines,” says Jay Wilson, a partner with Red Mountain Entertainment, the company that books Iron City’s main stage’s national acts. “I’ve been in clubs from Seattle to Miami and the first time I walked into Iron City I quickly knew it was one of the top five venues of its size that I’ve ever been in.”
Always providing that “wow” factor to everyone who walks in the door is a critical part of the job at Iron City, Creager explained. “To us, the experience is everything,” he said. “It’s why we’ve gone to such great lengths to provide the best we possibly can, for both the bands and the customers. We want the artists and the crowd to be as happy as they can. And it’s the same for those attending a private event. We want them to have the most success possible for their event. There are a lot of things that go into our extremely high standard.”
Part of creating that high standard was the addition of Iron City Grill. Head Chef William Rogers joined the restaurant staff nearly two years ago and focuses on creating fresh, refined cuisine in a laid back atmosphere. “Our menu is set up for speed and comfort,” he says. “You have the best of both worlds. Patrons can come in and get a quick bite before or during a concert, or make a date night or family night of it and enjoy a relaxing three-course meal.”
The menu, which changes seasonally, is based on the produce, seafood, and meats that the restaurant can purchase locally. It’s also heavily influenced by Rogers’ southern roots. “I like to call it progressive southern,” the Starkville, Mississippi, native explained. “The menu certainly speaks to my roots, but we definitely mix it with other types of cuisine. It’s the comfort food you grew up with but prepared with a twist.”
In addition to customer favorites like gumbo, Iron City nachos, and the soy-braised duroc pork belly sandwich, the restaurant features fun twists on classics with fresh, local, like black bean hummus and Owl’s Hollow Farm fried tomatoes.
Even though Iron City boasts a popular restaurant and successful music venue, DeMedicis isn’t resting on his current success. In fact, he’s still looking for ways to improve. He recently purchased property next door and started working on plans to add a courtyard and outdoor bandstand. “It will be a place customers can go before or after a concert and just hang out and hear more great music, hopefully local bands,” DeMedicis says. “We’re hoping to get that added as soon as we can and create an even better experience.”