Tourism Tuesdays January 26, 2016

  • Huntsville Botanical Garden breaks ground for new Guest Welcome Center
  • Italian Tour operator publishes Alabama fly-drive
  • Thornton Dial has died
  • Gulf Shores included in UK RV tour of the south
  • ZAGAT chooses 8 must-try restaurants in Birmingham
  • Garden & Gun reports on The Magic City’s Next Act
  • Bon Appetit publishes article on Birmingham
  • Act Two: A Look at Birmingham’s Historic Theaters
  • From Alabama to the Grammys: the new star of country
  • Alabama musician makes national TV debut
  • Learn how to work with the Alabama Tourism Department
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Huntsville Botanical Garden breaks ground for new Guest Welcome Center

By Bob Gathany,, Jan. 21

The Huntsville Botanical Garden held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new 30,000 square foot Guest Welcome Center Tuesday afternoon January 20, 2016. The iconic new facility will feature many new guest amenities and welcome visitors with warm southern hospitality. The building features a new portal to the Garden, larger Gift Shop and Café, three fantastic rental facilities, two catering kitchens, separate bride and groom’s room along with supporting restrooms, storage and office space.

The largest room, The Grand Hall, will seat 350 guests and the more casual Carriage House, featuring doors that open to the Garden along the east and west sides of the building, will seat more than 150 people. The gorgeous Glass Conservatory will entertain about 50 people. Reservations for these halls for 2017 events begin March 1, 2016.

Garden CEO Paula Steigerwald states, “We are so excited and proud of what this facility will do for the Garden and the community. It will provide resources to the Garden for continued growth and provide an even better place for our visitors, members, volunteers and staff to enjoy, celebrate, work and come together.”

The building was designed by Huntsville architects Matheny Goldmon + Interiors. Turner Construction has provided pre-construction services and has continued to work with Matheny Goldmon through our design build process.  

Editor’s Note: This is from the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s website.

Funds for the $12 million project are raised through contributions to the capital campaign. Major donors to date include the City of Huntsville, Dorothy Davidson, Alpha Foundation, Linda J. Smith, Butch and Jerry Damson, Phylis and Bob Baron, John and Tine Purdy, Jurenko Family Foundation and Jan Smith.  Additionally, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Dynetics, Crestwood Medical Center and Venturi have led the corporate contributions for the project.  Technology partners include Adtran and Digium.

For more information visit

To read this entire article, go to:


Italian Tour operator publishes Alabama fly-drive

Press Tours, an Italian tour operator established in the 1970s, has published an Alabama Fly-Drive as part of their Wise Traveller brand.  The suggested fly-drive features several destinations in Alabama. 

In copy on Alabama, Press Tours says “Alabama Located in the South region, Alabama is a state extremely diverse, rich in history, culture and landscapes. A land of cotton fields, antebellum mansions, sites of Civil War battles, struggles for Civil Rights, oak trees shrouded in Spanish moss, swamps full of shrimp, virgin forests, mountains of Appalachia and the fantastic white sunny beaches.”

The fly-drive tour includes:

1st leg: Birmingham

2nd leg: Birmingham / Decatur / Huntsville

3rd leg: Huntsville / Joe Wheeler State Park / Florence

4th leg: Florence / Muscle Shoals / Tuscaloosa

5th leg: Tuscaloosa / Clarke County Historical Museum / Mobile

6th leg: Mobile / Magnolia Springs / Gulf Shores-Orange Beach

7th leg: Gulf Shores-Orange Beach / Selma / Montgomery

A visitor booking this trip with Press Tours through Wise Traveller must book at least one night in each overnight destination leg. Only hotels contracted with one of the receptive companies that Press Tours uses are available for booking.

Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department met with Maurizio De Bella of Press Tours at the Travel South International Showcase last year.  He was also one of the invited guest to the Alabama dinner at that event.

To see the tour on-line, go to

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing to international destinations, contact


Thornton Dial has died

By The Associated Press, Jan. 26

Self-taught painter and sculptor Thornton Dial has died at his home in Alabama.

Maria May, of the African-American art-preservation group the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, says Dial’s family passed along the information that the artist died Monday.

Born in 1928 to sharecroppers in rural Alabama, Dial had made things from found materials for years but didn’t come to wider attention in the art world until 1987. His work frequently dealt with history, politics and race relations.

His works are in collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington and the High Museum in Atlanta.

To read more online, go to:


Gulf Shores included in UK RV tour of the south

Worldwide Motorhoming Holidays, a tour company offering RV caravanning tours around the world has included Gulf Shores in their Explore The Rhythms of the Deep South tour.  The tour is scheduled for September of this year and includes 2 days in Gulf Shores.  In an ad on the tour, the copy on Gulf Shores reads “DAYS 5 – 6, Cross the state border into Alabama. Soak up the sun on the white sands and enjoy a daily fresh catch. 2 nights Gulf Shores campsite.” 

The tour is part of the Camping and Caravanning Club in the UK and is designed for a group of RV to travel along the same route, each driver making scheduled stops but also with the flexibility to travel on their own timetable each day.  The tour is advertised at 3,850 British Pounds (approximately $5,400 US Dollars) per person including flights. The tour starts in Florida and includes Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia.

To see the tour go to

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing in the UK contract


ZAGAT chooses 8 must-try restaurants in Birmingham

By Sara Ventiera, ZAGAT, Jan. 14

A number of Southern cities are now top destinations for the food-obsessed due to both an influx of big-city talent and a surge of homegrown gourmet ethos. You hear a lot about Charleston, New Orleans and Nashville but the food scene in Birmingham, Alabama, is also one of the most exciting in the country right now. In fact, it was voted the No. 1 Up-and-Coming Food City by Zagat voters in our recent national survey. If you’re passing through town anytime soon, here are eight restaurants that prove exactly why you need to eat in Birmingham right now.

Ollie Irene: Ask Birmingham’s top toques where they like to go on their occasional night off, and Ollie Irene is sure to come up. Set in Mountain Brook, near Birmingham, this Beard-nominated gastropub offers new takes on the farm-style fare chef Chris Newsome’s grandmother used to prepare. Expect to see dishes like boudin balls and chicken liver pâté with house pickles, Dijon and toasted baguette.  Insider tip: Buy a beer for every chef in the back for just $15.

: After 20 years of serving some of the most refined farm-to-table cuisine on the eastern seaboard, James Beard Award–winner chef Chris Hastings, chef-owner of renowned Hot & Hot Fish Club, has expanded his Magic City footprint. Opened this fall, Ovenbird serves Latin American–inspired fare cooked solely in wood-burning ovens — the space was built without a gas line. Responsibly sourced proteins are slowly fire-roasted, then served in flavorful small plates. Insider tip: Order the beef-fat candle; it’s an edible candle made from rendered beef fat.  

Highlands Bar & Grill
: Since 1982, mom-and-pop team Paradis and Beard-winning chef Frank Stitt have been attracting hordes of locals and traveling gourmands to their Five Points restaurant. For the past seven years, the place has been a finalist for Beard’s “Outstanding Restaurant” award. Even without the prestigious nods, it’s been a longtime go-to for special occasions. And the Frenchified Southern fare is just as impeccable as it has been since the start. Multi Beard Award winner Stitt now has two other concepts under his belt, Chez Fonfon and Bottega Restaurant. But a trip to Birmingham isn’t complete without a visit to Highlands.  Insider tip: For a more relaxed dinner, grab a seat at the bustling bar.

Habitat Feed & Social
: Part of the brand-new Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, this chic rooftop eatery is reminiscent of a modernized medieval castle. It offers an array of regional, seasonal fare prepared by executive chef Kirk Gilbert such as Alabama lamb rack with huckleberry-elderflower reduction as well as Gulf shrimp and diver scallops with celery root and Yukon gold potatoes, heirloom rainbow carrots and saffron lemongrass beurre fondue. Right near the kitchen, the space also offers a wine tasting lounge, wine blending room and a cooking school led by owner/former executive chef of Little Savannah, Clif Holt.  Insider tip: Grab a drink next to the fire pits on the outdoor terrace.

El Barrio Restaurante y Bar
: This funky spot, located in Downtown’s up-and-coming Second Avenue North neighborhood, takes fare from across Mexico and gives it an American twist with locally sourced ingredients — it’s not your typical cheese- and bean-laden burritos. Instead, the place offers interesting mash-ups and hybrids like grilled chorizo meatloaf and green pozole with slow-roasted pork, hominy, hatch chile, cilantro, tomatillo, marinated cabbage and cornbread. Insider tip: Tuesday through Friday, the restaurant offers one-night specials ranging from duck tamales to slow-cooked ribs.

Revelator Coffee
: Birthed in New Orleans, raised in Downtown Birmingham, this chainlet of coffee shops is taking over the South. Similar to Portland-based Stumptown or San Francisco’s Blue Bottle, there are now crisp, minimalist storefronts popping across the region with newly opened locations in Atlanta, Chattanooga and Nashville. By the end of 2016, the company plans to add 30 to 40 more. Birmingham, however, is the base of operations, where all the carefully sourced beans are roasted and sent off throughout the region.  Insider tip: Try an old-fashioned from Birmingham-based We Have Doughnuts

Babalu Tacos & Tapas
: Babalu is the taco joint that’s taking over the area under the Mason-Dixon line. After receiving rave reviews in Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, the company jumped into the Magic City with a modern location in the Lakeview district. With indoor and outdoor seating, the place serves hormone-free proteins and craft cocktails in comfortable surrounds.  Insider tip: Don’t overlook the Baba Burger, served on a sweet sourdough torta-style bun.

Galley & Garden
: Opened in late 2014 by Le Cirque vet (in Daniel Boulud days) and James Beard nominee chef James Boyce and his wife, Suzan, Galley & Garden is the husband-and-wife team’s foray into Birmingham. (The couple owns multiple beloved concepts in Huntsville, Alabama.) Set inside the recently renovated historic Merritt House, their Birmingham spot features modern French-American dishes with Southern influences including coffee-crusted short rib and Joyce Family Farms fried chicken breast with sweet potato purée, braised greens and sawmill gravy.  Insider tip: Sunday morning jazz brunch is a must.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Garden & Gun reports on The Magic City’s Next Act

By Jennifer V. Cole, Garden & Gun, February/March

Vacant storefronts and empty sidewalks were the norm for years, but these days downtown Birmingham is on the rise.  “I know that it’s time / for this city of mine,” wails St. Paul and the Broken Bones front man Paul Janeway in the song “Half the City.” This breakout band of Alabama native sons has become the symbol of the new Birmingham, a city fueled by the heart, creativity, and optimistic spirit of its youth. The twenty-something Janeway moves like James Brown, singing the soulful blues of a town on the verge. It’s a city that carries the worldly burden of its not-so-distant past and is pushing harder than a freight train to move ahead. Nowhere is that more evident than downtown, where in recent years that forward progress has been transforming this long-sleepy area of historic high-rises and adjacent industrial neighborhoods hemmed in by interstates.

Even at its most dormant, downtown remained a business hub, full of banks and law offices. Come closing time, though, everyone fled the grid. Its renaissance began in earnest in 2010 with the opening of Railroad Park, a $20 million project that brought nineteen acres of green space to a once-gritty wasteland along the tracks. Around the same time, Good People Brewing Company opened its tasting room catty-corner to the park. Suddenly, downtown was a weekend destination. Now a growing number of restaurants, bars, and music venues have people not only sticking around after work, but also moving into lofts that are going up faster than Alabama or Auburn’s stock after an Iron Bowl win.

The black-white tensions of the past can’t be ignored. But the new generation is doing what its parents and grandparents never did: talking about them. That discussion is led by groups like Leadership Birmingham, which brings together influential residents to improve race relations, quality of life, and economic opportunity. Last August, the Negro Southern League Museum opened adjacent to the new Regions Field, where the minor-league Barons recently welcomed their one millionth visitor. Once relegated to the outskirts at Rickwood Field, this chapter of Birmingham’s sports history—which saw the Black Barons win three Negro American League pennants and produced such all-star players as Willie Mays—is now being told in the heart of the city.

The young people who once fled en masse for the glorious metropolises of Atlanta or New York City more and more are staying put, Gen Xers are returning home, and baby boomers are enthusiastically branching out beyond their suburban stomping grounds. Just try to get a Friday night table at El Barrio, a no-reservations modern Mexican canteen on Second Avenue North, helmed by Highlands Bar and Grill alum Brian Somershield. The wait can exceed an hour, prompting folks to wander down to the bustling Collins Bar or the terrace at Carrigan’s Public House for a drink while they wait. The sidewalks are buzzing.

What’s more, the city wants to succeed. At Innovation Depot, a business incubator, more than seven hundred entrepreneurs are developing start-ups and putting some skin in the game. Groups like REV Birmingham have sprung up to help pave the way. “We’re in the midst of a virtuous cycle that is improving our collective self-esteem,” says Atticus Rominger of REV. “It’s our job to not let anyone take their foot off the gas.” The group has installed LED art displays in train underpasses, making the journey through downtown feel like a trip inside a kaleidoscopic wormhole, and just launched a BikeShare system more advanced than those found in major cities nationwide. It has had a hand in Box Row Avondale, too, a collection of used shipping containers that will soon see new life as the home to some thirty boutiques and restaurants.

The hits keep coming. Venue at the Ballpark, a collection of 236 new apartments overlooking Railroad Park, will open this year. The century-old Lyric Theatre is set to reclaim its performance throne this winter, after being shuttered for nearly five decades. Roots and Revelry, the next creation of the folks behind Saw’s Soul Kitchen and Post Office Pies, will anchor the revamped historic 1929 Thomas Jefferson Tower. And the chef Chris Hastings (of the esteemed Hot and Hot Fish Club) looked to the downtown area for his long-awaited second restaurant, OvenBird, which opened late last year. “Downtown and its contiguous neighborhoods—Pepper Place, Avondale, Lakeview—are percolating with energy,” Hastings says. “They’re having a transformational moment.”

As you stroll through the concrete-clad grid, that energy is palpable, and the question locals most frequently ask is “Hey, have you tried that place yet?” As Janeway sings, for Birmingham, it is indeed time.

To read this article online, go to:


Bon Appetit publishes article on Birmingham

By Elyssa Goldberg, Bon Appetit, Jan. 21

In their restaurant travel section, Bon has published an article highlighting Birmingham.  In a “Spilling the Beans” column Trevor Newberry of Urban Standard gave Bon Appetit information on where to go, things to do and what to eat and drink in his hometown.

On a section about where to stay, The Redmont Hotel, Tutwiler and Aloft Hotel were highlighted.

For breakfast, Bogue’s, OverEasy and Green Acres were the choices.  Seeds Coffee, Octane Coffee and Revelator Coffee were the destinations for Best Cup of Coffee, while Good People Brewing and Trim Tab Brewing Co were the brewery locations.

The Market at Pepper Place was discussed as the best market to walk around and eat.

Best art location went to the Birmingham Museum of Art.

For dinning, the hottest new dinner spots were Ollie Irene and Overbird.  Brick & Tin was Newberry’s most regular eating establishment while Highland Bar and Grill and Niki’s West made the section in classic old-school restaurant.

The Collins Bar and Lou’s Pub were listed as cocktail locations.

For live music, The Bottle Tree, Saturn, Satellite and Iron City were on the list.

In the section titled “Where can we get into trouble for the night?”, both Nana Funks and Gip’s Place were listed.

The best place for a day trip from Birmingham was DeSoto State Park.

To read the article online, go to:


Act Two: A Look at Birmingham’s Historic Theaters

By Katharine Keane, Preservation Magazine, Winter 2016

Home to what was the world’s largest Mickey Mouse Club and acts featuring the Marx Brothers and May West, a few Birmingham, Alabama theaters take center stage in preserving and archiving the city’s complicated history from the early 20th century through the Civil Rights movement.

In the Winter 2016 issue of Preservation magazine, you get a glimpse of the Lyric Theatre, one of Birmingham’s historic theaters that is currently undergoing a comprehensive restoration and renovation. We decided to take another look at this and some of the Magic City’s other historic venues that have been restored and stewarded by the local community.

The Alabama Theatre

Constructed in 1927 by Paramount Studios, the Alabama Theatre was built as a classic movie palace characterized by its opulent architecture influence by Art Deco designs of the time (the landmark Chicago Theatre is another famous example of this style). The Alabama, located in Birmingham’s historic theater district, was primarily used as a movie house and soon became known as the home to the largest Mickey Mouse Club in the world; it boasted over 18,000 members before closing almost 10 years after its 1933 organization.

Though it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, by 1987 the owners had declared bankruptcy, and it was purchased by the nonprofit Birmingham Landmarks Inc. The Alabama underwent a major renovation and restoration that was completed by the late ’90s during which some of the seats, carpets, and drapes were cleaned or replaced.

While the building still requires extensive maintenance including a new roof, a new boiler, and an updated air conditioning system, the Alabama is flourishing showing classic films and renting space for weddings, graduation ceremonies, and dance recitals.

The Carver Theatre

Now known as the Carver Performing Arts Center, the Carver Theatre was opened in 1935 as one of the first movie houses for African-Americans to see first-run films. Located in the Fourth Avenue Business District that housed much of the African-American community businesses and entertainment venues, the Carver was modernized in 1945 before slowing falling into disrepair and eventually closing in the 1980s. Before its decline, the Carver, sponsored by a local bottling company, was known for accepting bottle caps as payment for the children’s shows that were screened on the weekends.

The City of Birmingham purchased and began restoring the Carver in 1990 in an effort to revitalize the Fourth Avenue neighborhood that had played host to many civil rights events during the decades prior. Today the Carver houses the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame that opened in 1993 and continues to show movies, host concerts, and rent space for special events.

The Lyric Theatre

Located just across the street from the Alabama Theatre, the Lyric Theatre is currently undergoing an $11 million restoration project, highlighted by the relighting of its iconic marquee in 2013. The theater was originally constructed in 1914 for vaudeville mogul B.F. Keith’s theater circuit—featuring acts like the Marx Brothers and May West—but quickly fell into disrepair following the rise of moving pictures.

Unlike the Alabama which banned African-Americans before the desegregation of the South, the Lyric allowed for African-Americans to sit in the audience—though they were required to sit in separate balcony seating.  Before the theater was donated to Birmingham Landmarks Inc. in 1993, it served as office space and was opened as two separate theaters in the 1970s.

When the theater reopens, it will feature a restored 38-foot mural, “Allegory of the Muses,” that was painted by local artist Harry Hawkins. Experts worked to remove black varnish that had almost completely obscured the painting, revealing the depiction underneath that has now been protected with new varnish.

To read this article online, go to:


From Alabama to the Grammys: the new star of country

By Will Hodgkinson, The Times, Jan. 19

“The Times of London” has done a substantial piece on Jason Isbell.  This is the beginning of it.

In a dressing room at the Ryman Auditorium — the grand, late-19th-century hall in Nashville that’s home to the country music institution the Grand Ole Opry — Jason Isbell is reflecting on whether his confessional, heartfelt, chart-topping music counts as country. At the Grammys next month Isbell has two nominations, but neither is in a country category: his 24 Frames is nominated for best American roots song, Something More Than Free for best Americana album. Where does he fit in?

“I’m from Green Hill, Alabama, which is most definitely in the country,” says the 36-year-old Isbell.

To read this entire article it will be necessary to subscribe to The Times.  In order to do that, go to:


Alabama musician makes national TV debut

By Haley Laurence,, Jan. 23

Dylan LeBlanc recently released his third album, “Cautionary Tale,” and people are starting to take notice of the rising star.

The 26-year-old — who was born in Louisiana but has spent plenty of time in Muscle Shoals with his father, musician James LeBlanc — has received positive reviews for the album, which was recorded on Florence label Single Lock Records. 

NPR said,
 “He’s written some gorgeous melodies — sullen bluesiness here (see: “Beyond The Veil”), wafting

wistfulness there (see: “A Man Like Me”) and elegant unease in the title track.” 

And Uncut magazine said, “A finely crafted exercise in country-folk classicism: strong songs, given room to breathe, delivered with intense economy.”

Strong third album ‘Cautionary Tale,’ co-produced by former Civil Wars singer John Paul White, being released via Single Lock Records.

Someone else who noticed? CBS This Morning, which selected LeBlanc to perform on their Saturday Sessions today.

It was his national TV debut, according to the show, and he performed “Cautionary Tale” and “Look How Far We’ve Come.”

To read this article online, go to:


Learn how to work with the Alabama Tourism Department

The Alabama Tourism Department will soon host a Tourism Workshop in Montgomery.  This workshop is for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.  

Watch upcoming editions of this newsletter for information on the workshop.

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Jan. 26 – 27                  Snowbirds Extravaganza Show                              Lakeland, FL

Jan. 27 – 31                  Louisville Boat, RV & Sport Show                     Louisville, KY

Jan. 31 – Feb 4            National Tour Assn Travel Exchange                       Atlanta, GA



Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

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Alabama Tourism Department