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A Rebel's Guide to Birmingham

Urban Standard
Urban Standard

Plan your Compass Bowl trip with these tips for hotels, dining, and drinks from a Rebel in B’ham.

By Erik
Ole Miss fans unfamiliar with Birmingham may have heard that Legion Field is in a not-so-nice part of town. That’s correct. But it’s a great city with plenty to enjoy before and after the game. Having lived here for 14 years, I feel I can safely guide guide you as you contemplate your trip for the January 5, 2013, Compass Bowl.

Places to Stay

The only parts of town worth staying in are:
Downtown: The Tutwiler on the North side of the tracks has a nice fancy-ish bar, restaurant, etc.—pretty self-contained and historic. Good thing it’s self-contained, because there is no nightlife nearby.
The Southside (of downtown, south of the tracks) is where all the worthy bars and most of the good restaurants are. Here, I would recommend the Residence Inn by Marriott which is brand-new and within easy walking distance to Five Points and, more importantly Cobb Lane, (more on that later). The Doubletree across the street is alright too, but it’s older. A little further away is SpringHill Suites, which is new and really nice, but it’s a short cab ride or boring walk through the medical district to Five Points. Hotel Highland is an older property that has been completely renovated and is getting impressive reviews on the travel sites. It is in the heart of Five Points, so if staying near night life and really good restaurants is important, this is the place.
Homewood: Think Midtown Memphis. Stay at the Aloft hotel. Nice bar/restaurant and in the middle of “Downtown Homewood” with enough good eats and cutesy “Square-like” shops to keep your wife/girlfriend happy during non-game daylight hours. It’s right “over the mountain” from downtown if you feel so inspired.
Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort: The crown jewel of the Robert Trent Jones golf trail. This is where the Senior PGA Regions classic is played. It is beautiful, huge and new. It is also about 30 minutes from anything not resembling suburbia. Luckily, if you’re into spas, pools, and country club-type stuff, it has all that and more, for a price (in the summer this place would be more attractive, for the golf and the great pool).
Where NOT to stay: Hoover (outside of Ross Bridge), anywhere on 280 (BORING) or anywhere remotely close to the stadium (“$49.99 a night or $20/hour” is no great deal)

Places to Eat

Breakfast: Best omelet and coffee in a cool atmosphere is at Urban Standard, north side of downtown. Best well known breakfast place in Five Points that I’ve somehow never been to: the Original Pancake House. Best family-friendly typical breakfast: Another Broken Egg, Mountain Brook Village.
Lunch/Dinner: Chez Fon Fon, Five Points. Just do it. Get the Steak Frites. Get dessert. Be thankful for Frank Stitt. El Barrio, north side of downtown. Awesome atypical Mexican food in a cool, intimate atmosphere. Trattoria Centrale, north side of downtown. Best local pizza around. Just a cool place. Bettola, Pepper Place area of downtown. Great little Italian lunch. Rojo, Highlands Area. Casual with a good vibe, nice porch. Saw’s Soul Kitchen, Avondale/downtown area. The best BBQ in Birmingham. Don’t be fooled by Dreamland’s touristy B.S. Saw’s is tiny, but amazingly well done, and I don’t even get the BBQ, because the other “soul” food is so tasty (fresh blackened fish sandwich or soft shell crab BLT).
Dinner when somebody else is paying: Highlands Bar & Grill, Five Points. Frank Stitt’s flagship. Gourmet magazine rated it Top 5 in the county. Hot and Hot Fish Club, Five Points/Highland Ave. Area. Chris Hastings > Bobby Flay, live on Iron Chef America. That’s all I have to say about that. Both of the above are reservation-required. If you don’t/can’t get reservations, Chez Fon Fon is maybe as good for dinner as the others but is first-come, first-served and not quite as pricey. In Homewood, it’s Jensi for high-end hipster sushi in downtown Homewood, or a short drive through Homewood to GianMarco’s for the best Italian in Birmingham, with a cool little intimate atmosphere.

Places to Drink

Best beer garden and best beer selection in the South: the J. Clyde, Five Points Area/Cobb Lane. This is Mecca for beerophiles. I love this place. Atmosphere kicks ass, and the beer list is a damn novel. Bar food is above average as well. The perfect place to hang out with bros, before or after the game.
Best whiskey bar: Dram Whiskey Bar, Mountain Brook Village. Not really close to anything but girlish shopping, but they have BACON FLAVORED WHISKEY. Yeah, that’s right.
Best funky, low-key bar for live music:  Bottletree, Avondale area of downtown.
Best microbrewery with most excellent taproom: Avondale Brewery, “downtown” Avondale. Just an awesome, historic place to drink fresh local beer. A close second is Good People Brewing Company taproom, downtown. GP is more centrally located, and the beer is just as good, if not better, than Avondale’s, but the atmosphere is slightly less appealing.
Best place to hook up, late night: The Tin Roof, Southside/LakeVIEW District (not “lakeshore” or “lakeside”). I’ve never been to Tin Roof B’ham, as I’m 32 with two kids, but I hear it’s the New Hotness, much like the Tin Roof in Nashville, I suppose. Also Innisfree, Lakeview; The Barking Kudu, Lakeview; Oasis, Lakeview (more mature crowd, meaning not 23); the Blue Monkey Lounge, Five Points/Cobb Lane (could be sketchy now, not sure).
Super-late-night hippie hangout: Marty’s, Southside/Five Points Area
Super-late-night rock ‘n’ roll bar: The Nick Rocks, Southside/Highlands area
Erik, a former blogger at Deep South Sports, is an Ole Miss alum and has lived in Birmingham for 14 years.

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