By Tristan Riesen
This town has many names, some of which 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 not to be forgotten is the fact that it’s considered a barbecue mecca.
But it can also be a getaway; and if you want to go somewhere warm and quaint, somewhere with people—real people—you can’t top Tuscaloosa.
Sitting along the southern border of the Black Warrior River, Hotel Indigo is accommodating and comfortable without being overbearing. It has chic, new age architecture, and supplies red bicycles to guests free of charge, complete with baskets on the front for any extra gear. As the hotel is across from the River Walk, guests often take the path via these two-wheeled cruisers.
The suites are modern and stylish, spacious and airy, with a large window and huge showers—but you won’t want to confine yourself to your room. Not with so much to see and do, especially if you’re looking for great food and fabulous drinks.
After checking in at Indigo, take the elevator up to The Lookout, the hotel’s rooftop bar. It’s one of the best decks—one of the few, in fact—in town. Order a cocktail like the Strawberry Mojito, a refreshing drink made with strawberries, or The Bees’ Knees, made with honey from the beehives on the top roof. Don’t worry, though—these bees don’t bother the guests.
Travelers aren’t the only folks on Indigo’s deck. It’s also a favorite haunt of the locals. 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 also experiencing it.
Head chef Alan Parker and his outstanding sous-chef, Eric Horton, make some of the best appetizers in town, from black-eyed pea hummus with a bite of chili oil and deviled eggs to a towering charcuterie board laden with cheeses and meats, pickled okra, nuts, grapes, jam, and—of course—that homemade rooftop honey.
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 and was later converted into 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’s 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 peek 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 and 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 non-smoking bar in town, and for this, Alcove made the front cover of Tuscaloosa News. The idea, Smith says, was to be different but not too different; to be small, intimate, and cozy, a new place that looks old. He has undoubtedly succeeded.
Boasting 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 yet still spicy, with just the right amount of kick, made the way a Bloody should be. There are 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, and the bar has been in business since 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, complete with cast-iron chairs and tables as well as taller bar seats. They even grow their own hops, which spread up and around the trellis above to provide respite from the hot Alabama sun.
Druid City Brewing
Book an Uber and head toward Druid City Brewing. This brewery is more than a Tuscaloosa staple; it’s a reason to call Tuscaloosa home. Tucked away in a parking lot at the corner of Hackberry and 15th, it may seem out of the way, but there are plenty of advantages to Druid City’s location. In a town where the population almost doubles in the school year, the ample parking afforded there is a huge asset to this brewery, which definitely draws a crowd.
Inside is extra funky. The walls are decorated with local art, 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, bring them an album. Druid will play your record on request.
Because Alabama breweries can’t have food licenses, owner Bo Hicks barbecues for all the patrons on game days and special occasions, free of charge.
Southern Ale House
A short drive over the Woolsey Finnell Bridge, you’ll find Southern Ale House is, a restaurant and bar serving up Southern food and delicious plates that carry on their family traditions. Here, everything is made from scratch, from their bacon-wrapped meatloaf served with homemade tomato jam on top to the chicken tenders that are buttered and brined 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 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., offering drink specials and $5 shareables including tacos, chicken sliders, and a delicious Margherita flatbread.
Feeling fancy? Go to Chuck’s, where you’ll find the best seafood in town. Managed by Charles Morgan, the restaurant is named after his father, Chuck Morgan, a famous civil rights attorney who fought multiple civil rights cases in the’60s. In memory of the great man, photographs and memorabilia adorn the walls.
Interestingly enough, Chuck’s got its start in Destin, Florida, at a place called Harbor Docks. They’ve opened additional locations in Birmingham and Mobile, and 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, 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, which is a glazed General Tso’s-style shrimp dish with a lettuce bottom. All the local fish is fresh from the Gulf, and in addition to its local seafood, Chuck’s knows its sushi. Naturally, they have all the essentials like California rolls and spicy tuna; 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 fifteen beers on tap and three rotations: a Japanese, a seasonal brew, and something local. Order your preference. The manager Alicia chooses all the alcohol personally, and it’s obvious that she knows her booze and her brews. But do yourself a favor—don’t forget that sake.