In the last decade or so, Birmingham has become known as something of a culinary center, and rightly so. From jambalaya to James Beard, we’ve got a lock on the eats and drinks. But, truly one of the best kept secrets of Birmingham is the music scene. This was brought to mind recently when one of our phenomenal listening places, Iron City, was awarded the Nightclub & Bar Award for Live Music Venue of the Year. Which is why, in this measure, Iron City gets the first note.
Beat 1: Iron City
From its food to location, to the historical renovation of the building, Iron City scores big. With standing room for about 1,300, this excellent intimate venue has attracted performers ranging from Willie Nelson to BB King to the Trey Anastasio Band. While there’s not a bad seat in the house, taking in a concert from the mezzanine is guaranteed to be a memorable experience. And if you find yourself hungry after the show, make sure you walk on around to The Grill at Iron City, where artfully crafted sandwiches and cocktails are the order of the day.
Beat 2: WorkPlay
WorkPlay, so called because, in addition to the theatre, there are working professionals with studios, a full-on sound stage and the like, was built with the audiophile in mind. The developers selected everything from dimples in the walls to the metal railings in order to create a superb acoustic experience. It’s no wonder so many acts like to record their live work (both on audio and video) here. With standing room for about 450, you’ll want to ticket up early. Before the show, consider getting your burger on at Farm Burger. You’ll find it within walking distance of WorkPlay.
Beat 3: Oak Mountain Amphitheater
With seating for 10,500, Oak Mountain Amphitheater is the largest outdoor amphitheater in Alabama. With three tiers of reserved seating, there’s not a bad view, and on a clear summer night, there’s hardly anything better than taking in a show under the stars. Afterwards, you might want to head into Birmingham to enjoy some top notch ramen, fried shishito peppers, and flights of sake at Shu Shop.
Beat #4: The Nick
Billed as “Birmingham’s Dirty Little Secret,” The Nick is music at its rawest. If the first three notes from this measure are clean, this one’s got the sort of distortion you’d expect from Jimmy Page. And The Nick’s been around about as long as Page, too. Here, you’ll find local, regional, and national acts, and everything from blues, rock, punk, emo, hiphop, rap, pop, and country, to metal, bluegrass, rock-a-billy, and roots rock. Enjoy cocktails, take in excellent tunes, and shake your booty into the wee hours of the morning. It’s The Nick, and it doth rock. Afterwards, you’re close enough to Five Points where, if it’s not too late, you can bop into any of a number of restaurants for noshes. And there’s always Waffle House.
Beat #5: Saturn
With its retro-mod styling and cool coffee shop and bar attached, Saturn is definitely one of the coolest new music venues in the Ham. Located in the popular Avondale area, Saturn is the destination of choice to get your indie fix. The venue was designed with music in mind, plus you can step out of the concert area and into the bar for a cocktail. It’s also a pretty cool morning hangout for a quick coffee and pastry to start your day. If you decide to make a night of it, you’ve got any number of restaurant choices right within walking distance – Melt, Hotbox, Fancy’s on 5th, Saigon Noodle House, Avondale Common House & Distillery, Saw’s Soul Kitchen, Hot Diggity Dogs, and Post Office Pies, to name a few.
Beat #6: Moonlight on the Mountain
If you like getting up close and personal with your concert experience, Moonlight on the Mountain is a must. It’s a great place to catch local up and comers, old standbys, singer songwriters, and small groups. Intimate is definitely the word for this excellent little listening room. And, if you happen to find yourself up on Shades Crest around sunset (in other words… before Moonlight… see what we did there?) , you might want to consider a hamburger or hotdog from Tip Top Grill, a classic little burger joint with an indescribable view.
Beat #7: Zydeco
The second oldest music venue in Birmingham, Zydeco is really three places in one. The main concert hall has standing room for about 600, while depending upon the weather, the Patio and the Pub offer perfect places to take a break from the music. Here, you’ll find a broad range of music ranging from acts that have been around a while, to some of the coolest new vibes to arise. The concert hall is intimate enough to feel like you’re experiencing something special. Plus, you’re right up the street from Five Points, which means there’s ample food in the area if you choose to make an evening of it.
Beat #8: Gip’s Place
No mention of Birmingham music venues can be complete without mentioning Gip’s Place, one of the last remaining true juke joints in the South. Acts from all over the country play here. The greats have stood on the makeshift stage in old man Gip’s backyard over the years, people like Muddy Waters and BB King. You’ll want to get directions to find it, and you definitely don’t want to miss an opportunity to experience it. If you’re going to make an evening of it, you might want to start at The Bright Star restaurant, a Bessemer institution since 1907. (Try the snapper throats… oh my!)