Best of Birmingham is back and better than ever. This year, we spiced up our regular program with some creative and humorous categories (chosen by our editors!) that show off the best—and “worst” —of our city.
Best Humorous National News We Made: Deeznutz the Squirrel
Alabama has been in the national news a lot this year, and not always for the best reasons. But the most comical news story to come out of our state centered around a meth-fueled attack squirrel. That’s right, if the rest of the world didn’t already think we were crazy, we gifted them more fodder in the form of Deeznutz the Squirrel. So how did this all come up? Alabama police had a warrant to search Limestone County resident Mickey Paulk’s house for guns and drugs, when they were warned of a potential attack squirrel high on meth. Paulk released a viral video defending himself and his pet Deeznutz. Implications of animal abuse aside, sometimes all you can do is laugh—especially when the story’s as bizarre as a meth-addicted squirrel. A Twitter user even Photoshopped our state seal with the phrase “The squirrel could not be tested for meth” translated into Latin.
Best New Star: Walker Burroughs on American Idol
Hometown kid strikes it big in Hollywood—the headline is familiar, only this time, that hometown kid is ours! Vestavia High School graduate Walker Burroughs captured the hearts of Americans across the country from the moment he sat down at the piano as the first audition of Season 17 of American Idol. From there, he rode his charming nature, humble demeanor, and incredible talent all the way to the Top 8. Needless to say, we’re anxiously awaiting his debut album—even if he doesn’t know he’s recording one yet.
Best Restaurant Decor: Cayo Coco
The new rum bar in Founders Station took a while to open, but it was worth the wait to have a bar that feels straight off the streets of Cuba. Step into the art-deco restaurant/bar, and prepare to be transported to Havana via bright teal walls, vintage-style banquettes, and statement chandeliers. The bar area is laidback, with couches under a mural that translates to “Drinks make miracles,” while the dining room takes on a more elegant feel, with brass details and moody lighting. The brass was especially intentional, as it’s regarded as a sign of affluence and elegance in Cuban bars. You’ll be tempted to snap pictures of every little vignette you see.
Worst Letdown: The End of Sloss Music & Arts Festival
Well, it was fun while it lasted. For three glorious (plus one not so glorious) years, Birmingham had a real-life, rocking music festival. During one long, hot weekend each year, the site of our city’s historic iron manufacturer was overrun with thousands of festivalgoers—both local and not—eager to see some of the nation’s hottest bands. Odesza, Widespread Panic, Flaming Lips, The Avett Brothers, Arcade Fire—they all made the trek down South to play in none other than Birmingham, Alabama. The energy was electric, and it sparked pride for the city in a way that few other events in our history have. But you know what they say: when it rains, it pours. And the 2018 festival proved exactly that. Multiple delays, canceled acts, spotty communication, and a general mishandling of emergency weather procedure caused tons of fans to vow they’d never come back. The PR firestorm that followed was too much to overcome, and in October, Sloss announced the end of its four-year run. Now, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed for a comeback tour—if only to see St. Paul & The Broken Bones bring down the house at their hometown festival one more time.
Best Beer Trend: Small-batch Sours
It’s no secret that Birmingham’s brewing scene is hoppin’. With seven major downtown breweries, plus more out in the suburbs and a couple soon to come, there’s a brew for everyone. We’ve got IPAs, stouts, lagers, even a Kolsch or Scottish ale when the season’s right, but our favorite beer trend is guaranteed to make you pucker. Sour ales are all the rage, and for that, our taste buds are thankful. Ghost Train rocks smoothie sours like the Chugga Peach Cobbler and the Pau Hana Punch, and Trim Tab brings the coast to us with its Beach Club series including a Mango Colada Imperial Sour.
Worst Disappointment in Sports: Birmingham Iron
It’s not technically our fault. But the disbanding of the Iron—and the entire AAF league—in its inaugural season was quite the disappointment nonetheless. To be fair, Birmingham did its part, sending around 17,000 fans to each of the Iron’s five home games at Legion Field. In a city known for its loyalty to college football, we showed out for our new home team and even came away with a winning record and a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, due to concern that the league wouldn’t produce enough revenue to sustain itself, AAF ownership shut down the entire operation with just two games left in the regular season. We sure are going to miss cheering on the Iron with the stadium’s frozen pineapple drinks in hand.
Worst Representation of the City: The Bachelor Comes to Birmingham
We were all excited to have our very own Birminghamian on the most recent season of The Bachelor. Hannah Godwin from Hoover was one of the many women vying for Bachelor Colton’s heart, and she obviously made an impression—she made it to final three. She represented us well, staying out of the drama, remaining calm, and standing up for herself when Colton unexpectedly broke up with her prior to their fantasy suite date (he wasn’t worth it anyway, girl!). But we have a bone to pick with the ABC producers who planned a hometown date that offered quite possibly the most stereotypical representation of Birmingham this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Instead of taking Colton to any of our thriving breweries, or the world-renowned race track at Barber, or even to get a better view from Vulcan, the producers had the couple take an etiquette class at a historic mansion. As if the world doesn’t already have a backwards, antiquated view of our city, the producers decided to put the nail in our coffin. Thank you, next. (Was that good etiquette?)
Best Place to Get the ‘Gram: Shoppe’s Greenhouse
Plants! Natural light! Dreamy green windowpanes! The world’s most aesthetically pleasing greenhouse in the middle of Birmingham’s quaintest neighborhood is what you get when you visit Shoppe in Forest Park. The garden shop is a plant-lover’s oasis, but its greenhouse (imported from England) is the Promised Land for Instagram fiends looking to spruce up their feeds. The backdrops are so good that engagement shoots and even weddings have taken place there. Seriously, check the location tag on Instagram, and prepare to be disgusted by the number of ridiculously adorable photos—and the number of cheesy plant puns—that Shoppe has brought on. I guess you could say, we’re very frond of Shoppe. Runners-up: Brät Brot, Moonshine at the Elyton Hotel, 18th Street light tunnel, “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” mural, Rotary Trail sign, Railroad Park
Best Place to Dogwatch: The Market at Pepper Place
Long hair, short hair, curly hair, black hair, brown hair, blonde hair—you can see it all at Pepper Place. But we’re not talking about humans, we’re talking about the furry companions that also come out to enjoy the weekly farmer’s market. If you have dog fever, the cure is to head to Pepper Place on a Saturday morning. It might as well be renamed Birmingham’s dog parade because it seems like every dog in the city is there looking their best—and most are ready for your affection. On second thought, it might just make your dog fever worse.
Best Block Party: Crestwood Crawl
Each October, Crestwood ushers in fall with a neighborhood party like no other. The perfect combo of bar crawl and house party, Crestwood Crawl takes partygoers to seven different themed house parties, culminating in one huge after party at another home. Each stop features food, cocktails, and games, and all proceeds from ticket sales benefit Birmingham AIDS Outreach. If you want to party like a local (and feel good about it later), Crestwood Crawl is the way to go.
Best Restaurant That Filled a Void: Greenhouse
Birmingham’s food scene is stronger than ever, but until recently, it still had one obvious gap: a good salad place. Health nuts and those looking to get their daily dose of greens previously had to resort to restaurants that viewed salads as afterthoughts. Now that Greenhouse is open in Edgewood, you never again have to overlook pizza in favor of a mediocre salad. Greenhouse specializes in salads, offering filling creations that feature fresh produce, all for an affordable price. The best bet is to make your own—starting at $10 and including 10 free toppings.
Worst Unnecessary Freak Out: CBD oil
No, marijuana isn’t legal in Alabama. But as of June 10, CBD is. Following the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD made from industrial hemp and containing less than 0.3 percent THC was legalized in our state. The shortened name for cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, CBD is said to help with medical conditions ranging from seizures and epilepsy to PTSD, ADHD, and chronic pain. Since the legalization, CBD stores have been popping up all over town—in Southside, Mountain Brook, Trussville, on Highway 280, and more. And while many are fully embracing the new options—including CBD-infused edibles, oils, bath bombs, and candles—others are concerned with potential harmful effects. The issue is, the harmful effects most naysayers are worried about aren’t factually correct. CBD isn’t addictive. You can’t get high off it. And it doesn’t have any major side effects. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, maybe we can all stop freaking out that our state’s going to turn into a dispensary-filled paradise for potheads.
Best Person to Follow on Twitter: Mayor Woodfin
For city goings-on, humor, feel-good stories, and a side of sass, there’s only one man to follow: Randall Woodfin. That’s right, our millennial mayor is on top of his Twitter game. From constantly @-ing Cook Out to get them to come to Birmingham to making memes, Woodfin’s Twitter will keep you entertained. He also shares heartfelt stories, as well as calls-to-action for the community to come together for the betterment of the city.
Worst Traffic: Highway 280 at 5 p.m.
… or 8 a.m. … or 6 p.m. … or 3 p.m. if it’s a Friday. It seems that Highway 280’s traffic is relentless. Trying to get to work? You better leave before 7 a.m. or after 9:30 a.m. Trying to get home from work? Forget about it. If you’re not on the road by 2:30 p.m., accept the fact that you’ll have to at least double your commute time. Why is it so bad? Because people seem to lose their minds while driving on 280. Rear-end collisions are rampant due to people texting or attempting to do their makeup while manning a moving vehicle. Fender benders happen daily from others not understanding how to properly use a U-turn lane (no, you can’t take an immediate right turn from the far-left lane). And to make matters worse, developers seem to think it’s a good idea to build more homes and apartment complexes along the busiest corridor in town. A new 400-home development is in the works. That means 400 more cars (more likely 800), which means even more traffic. Is this a strong enough case for public transportation yet?
Worst Cocktail to Order Your Mom: The Legendary Sex Panther
If you’re taking your mom (or conservative friend or relative) out for drinks, there’s one cocktail you might want to skip—though it’s one of the city’s most notorious. Behold: The Legendary Sex Panther at Atomic Bar. This strong cocktail features bourbon, blackstrap rum, Cynar, demerara, and bitters. It’s strong to say the least, but the best part is, it comes with a temporary tattoo of a panther, so you can channel the drink’s inspiration (the other part of the name must come from within). Go to Atomic for the atmosphere and the costumes, but maybe don’t let mom look at the menu.
Best Restaurant Worth Waiting For: El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar
There are few restaurants that should command an hour-plus wait (especially on a random Tuesday), but there’s one place that’s always worth waiting for: El Barrio. If you’re headed there on a weekend, it’s almost guaranteed there will be a wait for a table, but it’s just par for the course at downtown’s most popular Mexican restaurant—which sometimes even has a wait during weekday lunch. But how can you complain when you can simply walk down the street to The Collins Bar to grab a cocktail while waiting? It’s all worth it for that goat cheese queso or chorizo meatloaf.
Best Thing We Almost Had: Affordable Flights
If there’s one thing Birmingham is lacking, it’s the ability to get outta town cheap (on an airplane, at least). While our airport is nice, quiet, and easy to manage, the downside of that is that it’s not exactly teeming with flight options—which means higher prices and inefficient flight schedules for us. But wait! Budget provider Via Airlines announced it would start service from BHM this year, including direct flights to Raleigh, Austin, and Pittsburgh. Flights began in April, but just as quickly as they landed, they were gone. Within a month, the airline ceased all operations from Alabama (also bringing up painful memories of Frontier’s dropped Philadelphia route last year). We were so close, yet we’re still so far away. Runner up: Motorized scooters. Birmingham police said no scoots on these streets, so back to Zyp Bikes we went. Though, rumor has it, they might be back soon—and this time for good.
Best Place to Drink Cheap: Thirsty Thursday at a Barons game
Take me out the ball game, take me out for the beer! Buy me some Miller and Leinenkugel. I don’t care if I never get back! Thanks to our favorite home team, the Birmingham Barons, we stay singing that tune all summer long. Every Thursday night home game is Thirsty Thursday at Regions Field, which means $2 16-ounce beers including Yuengling, Blue Moon, Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and more. Nothing quenches thirst quite like a cold brew at a baseball game. Happy hour, move over! We’re playing ball well into the 7th-inning stretch.
Best Downtown Development: Parkside District
With the construction of several new residential apartments, condos, and mixed-use developments, downtown continues to be on the upswing. One area has particularly hit its stride this year, and that’s the Parkside district—the area surrounding Railroad Park (includes Regions Field and Good People Brewing Company). Within the last year, plans have been announced for residential buildings including The Denham, Printer’s Corner, and Macaroni Lofts; mixed-use buildings like Baker’s Row II; and a new brewery (Monday Night Brewing). In addition, new hotels have opened in the area, with plans for a boutique hotel along the way.
Best Community Project: The Rainbow Wall on Morris Avenue
500 feet, 100 people, 1 wall, and a rainbow of color. Birmingham is a little brighter thanks to Color Bham’s giant rainbow mural off Morris Avenue between 20th and 22nd Streets North. Funded by Kinetic founder Jay Brandrup and Shipt, plus a host of other local businesses and residents, the project brought together volunteers from all walks of life to add their touch to the mural. The great unifier now serves as a landmark for all to gather around and admire. When you visit, make a pitstop at another Morris Avenue landmark: the newly painted “Before I Die” wall, located on 21st Street, that also was organized by Color Bham’s Marcus Fetch.
Best Petition to Come to Fruition: The Fight for Cook Out
There’s a magical place where chicken nuggets and corndogs are considered side dishes. And you can get both, with a double cheeseburger and milkshake for around $6. Fast-food chain Cook Out made its way to Alabama three years ago, and much to everyone’s dismay, it wasn’t in the Magic City. Since then, there has been considerable outcry. Among the most public campaigns were Mayor Woodfin’s relentless tweets and a Change.org petition from our very own editors asking locals to help #BringCtoB. In January, Cook Out finally announced a future location on Lakeshore Drive. Now, if we could only get a projected completion date…
Best Homegrown Expansion: Big Spoon Creamery
Fourth of July, five years ago: Big Spoon Creamery debuted in owners Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara’s Bluff Park driveway. A year later, the couple started peddling—literally, via an old-school tricycle—their artisan ice cream around town. The following year, they upgraded to a truck. And in 2017, they opened their first storefront in Avondale. This February, they welcomed a second shop, this time in Homewood. Frequent collaborations with local businesses like Hero Doughnuts, paired with their commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, keeps the company entrenched in our community. And for that—and their legendary Snack Time scoop—they’ve totally melted our hearts.
Best Comeup in Sports: Legion FC
Cries for a professional soccer team in town are nothing new. In 2013, a couple of local fans started a grassroots effort to bring soccer to the Magic City. They succeeded, fielding a USL League Two team called the Birmingham Hammers that played from 2013 to 2018. But in 2019, those cries turned into a roar that welcomed the city’s first-ever United Soccer League team to town. Legion FC played its inaugural home game on March 10, 2019 at the newly opened BBVA Compass Field to a sold-out crowd of more than 5,800 fans. The first game may have ended in a loss, but the mere existence of the team will go down in the record books as a major win for the city.
Worst Suspicious Scandal: Metropolitan Apartments
We’re no stranger to scandals here (remember the Love Gov?), but we had a peculiar one this past year that no one seems to be able to figure out. It all started last September when a fire ignited late one night in a Lakeview apartment complex. It completely burned down the second phase of the Metropolitan apartments, which were uninhabited and under construction at the time. Rumors swirled of insurance claims and the company running out of money. The fire was eventually proven to be arson, though the culprit was never caught. We thought the flames had died down, but in June, a note received by residents at Metropolitan (phase one) began to circulate on social media. Without warning, the residents were asked to vacate the premises (and find a new place to live) within 10 days due to repairs that needed to be made. Needless to say, residents weren’t happy and Metropolitan once again landed in the news. Now that its vacated, we wonder…should firemen be on the lookout?
AND FINALLY…THE RESULTS OF OUR YEAR-LONG BEST THING ABOUT BIRMINGHAM BRACKET
The Best Thing About Birmingham: The Food Scene
Every year we celebrate Birmingham’s best, from restaurants and businesses to sports teams and more. This year, we wanted to find out what locals think is the single best thing about our city. So in March, we got on the March Madness train and started our own bracket with 64 competitors, ranging from the Cahaba River to Mayor Woodfin to the people to restored buildings. Each month we narrowed the field to get to our final matchup: The Food Scene vs. Vulcan. It’s no surprise to us that our city’s thriving food scene came out on top. From James Beard Award-winning restaurants to mom-and-pop shops that have served generations of Birminghamians, the diversity of our food scene is what makes it so special. In addition to the Southern food we’re best-known for, our restaurant scene also represents more than 28 countries. We obviously love our food scene now, but just wait and see—we’re confident it will only get better from here.
This story appears in Birmingham magazine’s September 2019 issue. Subscribe today !
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