Getaway to Tuscaloosa

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TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA

The town has many names. Some have fallen out of favor. To name a few: T-Town, Title Town, Druid City. It’s one of college football’s all-time best, the rival and enemy to Auburn, and, as well, a barbecue mecca.

But it can also be a getaway. Say you want to get out. Maybe you want a short weekend trip. Somewhere new. Not Birmingham, that’s just another city—more people, more faux speakeasies, more hipsters. Go somewhere warm and quaint. Somewhere with people, real people.

Somewhere like Tuscaloosa.

It’ll be a quick and memorable trip. It will certainly help to know where to go. Here’s your guide to Tuscaloosa:

Hotel Indigo

There are hotels all over, but you can’t beat Hotel Indigo. Sitting along the southern border of the Black Warrior River, Indigo is accommodating and comfortable without being overbearing. It has chic, new-age architecture, and supplies red bicycles to guests. They’re free to rent, with baskets on the front for any extra gear.  Since the hotel is across from the River Walk, guests often take the path via these two-wheeled cruisers.

After checking in at Indigo, take the elevator up to the rooftop bar, The Lookout. It’s one of the best decks—one of the few, in fact—in town. Order a cocktail. The Strawberry Mojito is made with strawberries, and The Bees Knees is made with honey from the beehives on the top roof. Don’t worry though. The bees don’t bother the guests.

Travelers aren’t the only folks on Indigo’s deck, but locals too. In my travels, I like to blend in, to eat with the natives. It’s a sure sign you’re not only visiting some random where, but experiencing it.

The head chef is Alan Parker. He’s got an outstanding sous-chef, Eric Horton, working under him. Together they make some of the best appetizers in town. There’s black-eyed pea hummus with a bite of chili oil, deviled eggs, and a towering charcuterie board complete with cheeses and meats, pickled okra, nuts, grapes, jam, and, again, that homemade rooftop honey.

The rooms, as well, are modern and stylish, spread out wide with a large window. A wall-sized photograph of a local bridge adorns the back wall. The showers, too, are gigantic, and make up the size of another small bedroom.

But one of the best parts of Hotel Indigo is that it’s a short walk to the shopping district, where the vibrant town waits.

Black Warrior Brewing

A few blocks up the hill from Hotel Indigo, on University Boulevard, is Black Warrior Brewing. The building was originally constructed in 1953. For the last sixty years it had been a barber’s shop. Today, the inside is rustic and welcoming. The walls are made of exposed brick, and the bar-top is tanned and glossed. Other parts of Black Warrior—the front doors, the bench lining the wall—were salvaged from the tornado back in 2011, or found at a farm just over an hour away in Clanton, Alabama. It is quite literally built out of refuse.

The beer, on the other hand, is a town favorite.

Black Warrior has fourteen beers on tap. Two of the most popular beers are the Apricot Wheat and Lock 17 IPA, but the list is big enough to support a variety of tastes, moods, and seasons. They keep it consistent, but also throw small batches in a every few weeks.

On your way out, take a peak at the horseshoe on the wall to your left. It’s been there since the brewers moved in. They figured it would be bad luck to knock it down.

Alcove Tavern and Loosa Brews

Alcove is owned by local Chad Smith. After traveling around the world for a few years, Smith settled back in his hometown of Tuscaloosa. He opened Alcove in 2009, around the same time the Free the Hops movement took off, and Alabama’s craft beer scene opened to the public.

It was the first nonsmoking bar in town, and for this Smith’s bar made the front cover of Tuscaloosa News. The idea, Smith says, is to be different but not too different; to be small, intimate, and cozy, a new place that looks old. He has undoubtedly succeeded.

To get to Alcove, walk across the street and through the lush Government Plaza. A block farther is Alcove, the bar with the best Old Fashions in town. Davey, the bartender, also makes one of the greatest Bloody Mary’s I’ve ever had. It’s smooth and still spicy, with just the right amount of kick, made the way a Bloody should be. There’s also twelve rotating beers on tap. If you want to get weird, ask about the mystery beers. They’re $3 each, and you never know what you’re going to get. After all, it’s a mystery.

Rumor has it there’s a hidden room—The Cove—for V.I.P.’s only. But this writer doesn’t kiss and tell.

Loosa Brews is a few blocks down University, toward the stadium. Smith co-owns Loosa with his friend Brad Lee. Together they opened in 2014.

Where Alcove is snug and contained, Loosa is breezy and open, with a large room divided first by a living-room area, then by racks of bottled and canned beer, and finally the bar, one of Tuscaloosa’s draft beer havens. In addition to the cans and bottles, there are sixty-two beers on tap. There’s even a hidden sixty-third beer, but it’s off the menu. Ask and you shall receive.

The back of Loosa has an arcade parlor, and a wide-open patio outside. On a nice day, make sure to check out the patio. There are plenty of cast-iron chairs and tables, and taller bar seats too. They even grow their own hops, which spread up and around the trellis above, and provide respite from the hot Alabama sun.

Druid City Brewing

Next, pick up an Uber and head toward Druid City Brewing. This brewery is more than a Tuscaloosa staple; it’s a reason to call Tuscaloosa home. In 2012 they had a three-day launch party in various local bars since the taproom didn’t open for another year. The crowd was huge, and Alabama Shakes played on the last night. In order to keep the party relatively low-key, the Shakes played under the pseudonym Boyz Room.

Druid City is a destination place, off the beaten path. It’s tucked away in a parking lot at the corner of Hackberry and 15th, adjacent to a bowling alley, Family Dollar, a Chinese restaurant, and Tuscaloosa’s best record store, Oz Music. Nonetheless, there are plenty of advantages to Druid City’s location. In a town where the population almost doubles in the school year, parking is a huge asset to this brewery.

Inside is extra funky. The walls are decorated with local artists’ works, and behind the bar is a chalkboard montage drawn by a Druid City regular, Rich Marcks, now depicting superheroes including The Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, and Nick Saban. Patrons play video games hooked up to a couple of televisions in the back, and in lieu of a jukebox Druid City spins its vast collection of vinyl.  If they don’t have what you want, walk over to Oz and buy an album. Druid will play your record on request.

Since Alabama breweries can’t have food licenses, on game days and special occasions the owner Bo Hicks will barbecue for all the patrons. There’s no charge for Bo’s barbecue. It’s on the house.

Southern Ale House

If you’re hungry by now, there’s no shortage of restaurants in Tuscaloosa.

Southern Ale House is a short drive over the Woolsey Finnell Bridge. It’s a bar-restaurant that does more than Southern food, and carries on their family traditions.

Everything is made from scratch.  Their meatloaf is wrapped in bacon, and it’s got tomato jam on top.  The chicken tenders are brined and buttered for twenty-four hours before they’re battered and fried.

Don’t pass up on the The Meme—pronounced mee-mee and named in honor of the owner’s grandmother—a large biscuit with chicken tenders, bacon, and white gravy. Wash it down with any one of the eighteen beers on tap, all from the Southeast and about a third brewed locally.

World of Beer

WoB is another beer-lovers heaven. The entire wall—more than fifty feet, from the entrance to the kitchen in the back–is a refrigerator stacked with beers. If you can’t think of what you want, ask your bartender to take a look at their iPad. They’ve got an app for everything these days, and WoB has their own Google-esque beer search engine. Search by region, taste preference, or keyword. It doesn’t matter. World of Beer has something for everyone.

Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, 3 – 7 PM. They’ve got drink specials, and $5 shareables including tacos, chicken sliders, and a delicious Margherita flatbread.

Chuck’s Fish

Feeling fancy? Go to Chuck’s. It’s got the best seafood in town. The restaurant is managed by Charles Morgan. Its namesake is from his father, Chuck Morgan, a famous civil rights attorney. Morgan fought multiple civil rights cases in the sixties. The restaurant still holds onto his memory. Photographs and commemorations of him abound the walls.

Chuck’s got its start in Destin, Florida, at a place called Harbor Docks. They’ve opened additional locations in Birmingham and Mobile. Charles Morgan keeps it friendly and open between each establishment. Workers from around the state will go down to Destin for the summer and work elsewhere. They’re like itinerant travelers—or a passing family.

If you like hot sake order away. But if you want some of the best sake of all time, order the Ozeki Nigori. It’s a cold unfiltered sake which retains the rice sediment at the bottom. Make sure your bartender shakes it up before serving. It’s not unlike an unsweetened horchata, and is superb in consistency and taste.

Order the uptown shrimp for an appetizer. It’s a glazed General Tso’s styled shrimp dish with a lettuce bottom. All the local fish is Gulf to Table. In addition to its local seafood, Chuck’s knows sushi. Here it can’t be beat. One patron claimed it’s the best they’ve ever had, anywhere. They have all the essentials—California Rolls, Spicy Tuna, etc.—but don’t forget to ask for the secret X-rated menu. The Screamin’ O and the Donkey on Crack are customer favorites.

There are 15 beers on tap and 3 rotations: a Japanese, a seasonal brew, and something local. Order your preference. The manager Alicia chooses all the alcohol personally. She’s knows her booze and her brews. But do yourself a favor. Don’t forget that sake.

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