More often than not, a city’s “revitalization” is fueled by food, drink, and accommodations. Urban centers like Asheville, Greenville, and Portland, Oregon, all have risk-taking restaurateurs, mixologists, and hoteliers largely to thank for their current coolness levels. Birmingham, Alabama is no exception. While the history of its violent civil rights past is well memorialized, Birmingham’s future is being written through the lens of hospitality.
Just shy of its two-year grand opening anniversary, the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook serves as the ideal hub to explore all Birmingham has to offer. Featuring upscale, design-centric accommodations, the 100-room boutique hotel affords travelers ample opportunity to taste diverse flavors while enjoying the unique experiences of a city listed by the New York Times as one of the 52 Places to Go in 2017.
The hotel is a piece of an artistically themed property portfolio founded by developer and arts supporter Richard Kessler. Its 2,600-square-foot art gallery and attached sculpture garden is the largest in the Kessler Collection and features more than 100 works by local Alabama artists and internationally acclaimed masters in a diverse array of mediums and styles.
Iron & Wine // Birmingham, Alabama, is a rising star of the South with a super-charged food and arts scene. The Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook features modern and cozy rooms, along with artsy amenities, such as a rooftop terrace with plush seating by a fire pit and an elegant pool table at the bar.
Habitat Feed & Social, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, emphasizes regional and seasonal dishes such as roasted baby beets and maple-lacquered duck breast. The restaurant’s Sunday Brunch features short ribs and eggs, skillet-seared trout and polenta, and a Corpse Reviver #2 with gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lime juice, and a hint of absinthe. For a sneak peek behind the culinary scenes, the hotel offers patrons wine-blending classes and a cooking school.
Stroll outside the grounds to the Bohemian’s across-the-street neighbor the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a sixty-seven acre wonderland of twenty-seven gardens and more than 3,000 plants. Open year-round, the garden offers free admission, although some educational classes such as “Tipsy Terrariums,” where guests build a tabletop garden while sipping wine, carry a small fee.
Drive to downtown Birmingham, a short ten-minute trip from the hotel, where you will find a surprising variety of culinary flavors. The recently opened Pizitz Food Hall, a 20,000 square foot “foodie heaven,” features twelve food stalls and two full-service restaurants with everything from Ethiopian dishes, Asian dumplings, and banh mi to poké, waffles, and gravy and biscuits. Roots & Revelry, in the newly remodeled Thomas Jefferson Tower, presents a PB&J like no other—open-faced with homemade cashew butter and pork belly seared with quince jelly. For craft cocktails with a retro vibe, the Atomic Lounge is a Midcentury Modern bar with a kitschy twist, and customers can don a costume—the shark or the Princess Leia come highly recommended—from the bar’s collection. A three-minute walk from the Atomic takes you to El Barrio, where the grilled chorizo meatloaf with Cotija-mashed potatoes recalls Sunday dinner at grandma’s (if grandma didn’t take reservations and had a line of hungry patrons stretched down the block).
For a nightcap, the Grand Bohemian’s rooftop terrace, complete with fire pits, illuminated furniture, and decor straight out of an Alice in Wonderland acid trip, is one of the city’s funkiest places to see and be seen. After a day of such diverse experiences, it’s easy to forget where you are. It’s called Birmingham, Alabama, and it’s surprisingly cool.
Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, 2655 Lane Park Rd, Birmingham, Alabama. (205) 414-0505, grandbohemianmountainbrook.com; rates start at $313.