When I think of going on a trip, Birmingham isn’t the first place that jumps in my mind. It’s in Alabama. That’s only three hours away. Meh. Give me bluer skies, mountains, beaches, and people with a different accent than the one I hear all the time. But I went and it was actually…fun!
Originally we decided to go because a band I’ve adored for 12 years (Niyaz) was playing a free show at India Fest. Sadly, a three hour car trip in a BMW is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. Especially for a person dealing with an IBD flare-up. When we got to the hotel, I just wanted to take a shower, eat my weight in food, and nap. We missed the concert I’d been waiting half my life for. I wasn’t upset. Niyaz might have been missed but we still had two days to roam a city at our discretion. What better way to not plan a vacation? I strongly recommend just jumping blindly into a destination and figuring it out as you go, but why not give you a little ‘Hipster’s Guide to Birmingham’?
Disclaimer: I am not above searching ‘hipster’ in Yelp when I visit places. Ambience, good food, and a little character. For better or worse, places frequented by guys with beards and beanies usually have something good about them. If you have some sort of vendetta against the flannel wearing, typewriter using, and Etsy-shopping niche…go away. The negativity is almost always radiating off someone who is also an hipster. And as the millennial proverb goes, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
First, the hotel we stayed at was…okay-ish. Since this was all very last minute, we had few options thanks to financial and time constraints. Blah, blah, blah. Regardless, I don’t want to send them any sort of press. Good, bad, or otherwise. I will remember what you did; that strange little hair I found on the bathroom floor within 5 minutes; the shower that barely crept above body temperature. I will remember. You’ve been cryptically warned, Nameless Hotel.
Back to the goody-goody gumdrops stuff!
What To Do In Birmingham?
Om Nom Nom Nom: Food Stops
The Pizitz Food Hall: Everyone and their dog’s godson is building mixed use luxury buildings with food halls. I want to say I hate it, but I make all decisions with my stomach and my stomach is a fan. Funky little local swag store, Warby Parker, and tons of food. This is a growing place, so not everything was open. Stop by Revelator for a bit of coffee (try the seasonal honey cinnamon syrup, fyi). For a nosh, hit up Ono Poké. I have had poke bowls before, and they’re okaaaaay. Usually a little skimpy, rice heavy, and not that flavourful. Holy elephant farts, this place is not that. Ono Poké knows how to make raw seafood and rice into junk food. Skip the chopsticks, bring a shovel.
Woodlawn Cycle Cafe: Probably the most ‘Kinfolk’ stop on our visit. A tiny little brunch nook that is incredibly easy to miss. Plants, Instagram-able furniture, above average food, Grapefruit Jarritos, coffee, lots of natural light, bike friendly. It was almost a little too obvious. The pan bagnat didn’t knock my socks off, but Jonathan ordered a squash pancake that was amazing. Give it a whirl. Bring your camera/phone and an array of VSCO presets. Guaranteed to get you at least 30 new followers.
Rojo: We ate here twice. I’m pathetic when it comes to something not being broke, won’t fix, yadda yadda. The first night I was dying for Mexican food and this was what I found. They had a solid salsa selection. I’m talkin’ four or five different salsas. We had the habanero (wowzers) and the verde (boring). As far as main courses go, I only had the chipotle pork and mushroom burrito. IT HAS NO RICE! It’s meat, mushrooms, and this sauce that will make you kill a man it’s so good. Did I mention that ‘premium’ beers are $4.50? Cuz they are.
Satellite/Saturn: Now this gets a little confusing. Saturn is the music venue that Satellite is attached to. When you Google directions, they might show up together or as only one place. It’s weird. I saw that they had a Coffee Cream Soda (I got a recipe for this comin’ at ya soon). Say no more. We didn’t stay for the show that night, but have every intention of going back. If you like the colour orange, you have to go. Everything is orange. There’s an obvious space theme (Saturn…Satellite…duh), but they also have games; MarioKart near the bar, several pinball machines (I recommend the AC/DC one), mountains of board games, and some of those old-school tabletop arcade games (PacMan, Galaga, etc). If that’s not enough for you, they serve Stumptown Coffee, which is the best coffee. I will fight you, I swear to Cthulhu. (Sorry, Revelator.)
Southern Swag: Shopping
Club Duquette: This might be a menswear pitstop, but I know a super fly lady (like myself) will be down to stop in. Part art gallery, splash of apothecary, dash of camping aesthetic, and a healthy dose of southern California charm; enter Club Duquette. It’s incredibly tiny with a huge workshop space in the back. There was a smattering of products geared toward the Birmingham proud (‘Woodland is for lovers’). It was the smaller knickknacks that grabbed my attention; homemade felt patches, stone bracelets with antique skull charms, and roll-on cologne bottles in Palo Santo. Not a cheap place, but I basically have ‘Shop Small’ tattooed on my left butt cheek. Fight the good fight, am I right?
Charlemagne Records: It was Record Store Day and Bowie albums were being released. No way was I missing that. A native actually directed me to this place. (Thank you, native!) I’m a sucker for stores that I have to go upstairs for. It’s a tiny little store front, but once you go up, it’s pretty big. Ok. It’s actually rather cramped, but it’s not wanting for the merchandise. Every inch is covered in vintage memorabilia. That coupled with Nick Gilder’s ‘Hot Child In the City’ blasting from the speakers, it’s like stepping into a time machine. I found both Bowie albums quickly, so we just lurked around for a bit. Nabbed a vintage Bowie promo poster from the 80s and some albums by John Denver, Nancy Sinatra, and The Stones. It was a solid 10/10 for a vintage record store.
2nd & Charles: Ok. Don’t make fun of me. Yes, it’s a chain. BUT! Apparently Birminghamians don’t realize what they have. We found so many amazing finds for that low-low. It was absurd. We spent around $200 for 30-40 books (some of which we had been searching high and low for). There are other used bookstores in Birmingham, but I was sick and not up for the chaotic stacks of a smaller establishment. I needed order and abundance…in abundance. Check, check, and check. If you flew here, don’t go. You’ll have to buy more luggage, that weight limit is laughable, and I don’t trust media mail (long story).
Books, Beans, & Candles: I’m a witch. A very, very green witch. Herbs, crystals, animals, oils, and moon phases are my jam. If it is nature, I’m down with it. With that in mind, I’ve seen way better (and more affordable) stores. Lousy crystal selection, overpriced candles, and a rather rudimentary/silly book selection for the friendlier witch. Where it does excel, is in the very dark. Things that might have made Crowley sit up a little straighter. The vibe I got from the owner was someone that really took Ninth Gate to heart; spooky and occult-ish, albeit a little inauthentic.
There you have it! Birmingham from the point of view of me. There were a lot of places that look pretty hip to the groove, but I don’t have the time or eating power. I see me going back from time to time though. All in all, if you find yourself trapped in Birmingham, don’t groan! It really has some hidden gems and a lot of southern charm (really).