Tourism Tuesdays Feb. 11, 2020

April Walking Tours sign-up

Alabama Tourism Department’s 2020 Spring tourism workshop

2020 Alabama Vacation Guide wins two ADDY Awards

Trail to connect Downtown Birmingham with Avondale

Civil rights museum in Scottsboro announces upcoming renovations

The Mom’s Guide to Birmingham

SafeRoom Lounge Bar enters next phase with beverage director Stephen Suitts

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


April Walking Tours sign-up deadline this Friday
It is time to sign up for the 2020 April Walking Tours. More than 2,300 people participated in the 2019 April Walking Tours, with 30 towns across the state hosting the tours.

The hour-long tours start at 10 a.m. each Saturday in April. Dates for the 2020 April Walking Tours are April 4, 11, 18 and 25. There is no cost to participate, and the Alabama Tourism Department provides all of the posters, brochures and collateral materials.

Cities or towns interested in participating should respond with an email giving their town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to The deadline to sign up for the walking tours is this Friday, Feb 14.

Alabama Tourism Department’s 2020 Spring tourism workshop
The Alabama Tourism Department will host its Spring Tourism Workshop April 9. The workshop will be held in Montgomery at the Alabama Center for Commerce Building. The workshop is designed to inform our tourism industry partners, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. ATD’s staff members will attend this workshop, and you will have an opportunity for one-on-one time with each of them. Please, mark your calendars and make plans to attend.

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

2020 Alabama Vacation Guide wins two ADDY Awards
The 2020 Alabama Vacation Guide recently won a Gold ADDY for Publication Design/Editorial Spread or Feature and the 2020 Best Copy Writing ADDY. Both were for the “Hit the Trails” feature. The awards were presented at the Mobile Bay Chapter of the American Advertising Federation’s annual awards show on Feb. 6, 2020, which was held at the Mobile Carnival Museum.

The local phase of the awards is the first of a three-tier, national competition. Winners from the local level move on to the district level. The district winners are advanced to the national stage.

“We are proud to showcase the natural beauty found in Alabama,” said Rick Harmon, publications director at the Alabama Tourism Department. “With towering mountain ranges in the north, sandy white beaches in the south and spectacular rivers, lakes and forests in-between. Alabama has natural wonders like few other states – a fact I’m not sure that everyone in other states realize.”

“We worked with some incredibly talented people at Compass Media, which publishes the guide. They did a wonderful job in helping us showcase trails that provide visitors with numerous opportunities to explore and discover our great state. We’re honored to receive the award and look forward to the next step of the competition.”

Dustin Gontarski, president of Compass Media, said having such a beautiful message to convey made their role in the project a pleasure.

“We have worked closely with the Alabama Tourism Department for decades and are grateful to be recognized for our part in the guide,” he said.

To have the 2020 guide sent to you, visit or to read a digital version of it online, visit The “Hit the Trails” feature is pages 20–37.

Trail to connect Downtown Birmingham with Avondale
From the article by Stephanie on

An extension of the Jones Valley Trail will provide a key connection between Avondale and Downtown Birmingham.

Downtown Birmingham will soon be connected to Avondale’s 41st Street through an extended trail along First Avenue South. The trail, known as the Jones Valley Trail, has gained popularity recently with tourist destinations like Railroad Park, Rotary Trail, Sloss Furnaces, and the Pepper Place Market District nearby.

Freshwater Land Trust is spearheading the expansion project, extending the trail to pick up at 32nd Street South and tie into 41st Street South, providing a safe, off-road trail for commuters and recreational users.

The nonprofit hopes to begin construction by the end of 2020 and have the trail open before the 2021 World Games.

“We are thrilled to move forward on this long anticipated project,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust’s Executive Director. “Outdoor amenities like Jones Valley Trail are critical for connecting our residents and neighborhoods to the outdoors and to each other.”

The extension will build on the growing Red Rock Trail System, a network of master planned trails that will eventually include 750 miles of trails, parks, bike lanes, and sidewalks.

For the complete article please see

Civil Rights Museum in Scottsboro announces upcoming renovations
From the article by Madison Neal on

The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The museum serves to bring dignity to nine black teenagers wrongfully convicted of raping two white women while traveling through Jackson County on a train in 1931.

“They were innocent, put in jail until they were grown. They lost their childhood and they were on that train for one reason, to go to work in Memphis,” said Washington.

She said her personal experiences as a teen led her to eventually open the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.

“At age 17, I read a book about the Scottsboro Boys. At age 18 my brother was killed in the same prison the Scottsboro Boys were housed in. That fueled my passion,” said founder Shelia Washington.

Washington said her vision for the museum started with, “wanting to place a candle and a book on a table.”

“Little did I know the vision was much bigger than that. I wanted to bring justice and equality and stop racism,” said Washington.

The museum historian said people travel from all over the United States and even other countries to visit the museum.

“We have had thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some people barely make it in the door before they start crying. We call it a place of healing and restoration,” said Washington.

She said, “each tear shed at the museum is meaningful.”

“Because of the Jewish lawyer that represented the boys, we have a lot of Jewish people that come in and cry because they feel the Jewish were treated just like the blacks, and I cry along with them because these boys’ story is so compelling,” said Washington.

Now that their doors have been open for 10 years, it’s time that it gets a new look.

“We’re going to make it something that will be the launching point for the civil rights trail so that people who are coming to Alabama to look at the Civil Rights Trail will come to Scottsboro, Alabama first,” said museum historian Thomas Reidy.

The museum is open on the second and third Saturdays of the month and through booking appointments during the week. The museum’s renovations will be funded through community donations.

For the complete article please see

The Mom’s Guide to Birmingham
From the article by Stephanie on

One of my favorite parts of traveling — and travel writing — is seeking out the underrated cities and then getting all evangelical about them. Ever since I moved from New York to Nashville three years ago, Northerners have been asking me for family travel tips for Tennessee’s capital. And while I’ve got plenty, I’d much rather direct your Southern sightseeing to the lesser-known gems like Memphis, Athens, and yes, Birmingham.

“Alabama?!” shout ye shocked Yankee parents. But hear me out: “Magic City” (yes, that’s Birmingham’s nickname, I did not know this previously either) is not some backwoods town, folks. While yes, Alabama, like the rest of the South and our whole damn country, has its issues (past and present) with racism, classism, and more, that’s far from the whole story. And Birmingham in particular is a brilliant spot of diversity, history, and vibrant modern arts/culture/food/you name it — one we should all be proud to take our kids to. Plus, it’s a less-than-three-hour drive from both Nashville and Atlanta, so make it (the most affordable) part of your family Southern road trip. You won’t regret it.

Where to stay
I’m always a fan of renting my own space when traveling with my son (when we’re not staying with friends, that is), and Birmingham has no shortage of cute Airbnbs. That said, if you’re looking for a full-service stay, you can’t go wrong with the Holiday Inn in Birmingham’s Homewood neighborhood. The hotel is a win in terms of accessibility, affordability, and cleanliness. And what traveling parent could turn down a few nights of someone else cleaning their room? Not you? Me neither.

But if you’re looking for a splurge, the Grand Bohemian Hotel in the quiet Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook will set you back some bucks — but make up for it with luxe amenities and, you know, this outdoor pool.

Where to eat (& drink)
In Birmingham, unsurprisingly, Southern food is paramount — and the relative proximity of the Alabama Gulf Coast means that fresh seafood is in good supply. But the multicultural city also boasts an ever-growing share of Asian and Latin American food, so you’re guaranteed not to get bored (or overdose on biscuits).

Coffee in Birmingham really deserves its own “Where to coffee” category, but I’ll throw it in here. From Five Points’ Filter Coffee to Pepper Place’s Red Cat Coffee House to local roasting icon Revelator to Caveat Coffee over by the Homewood Holiday Inn, there’s no shortage of caffeinated hotspots to fuel parents and muffin-fuel little ones. But my personal favorite has to be quirky Urban Standard, with eclectic arty decor that delights kids and adults alike — and plenty of tables to spread out and draw or play a game.

Pizitz Food Hall
Housed inside a 1950s department store that’s been converted into a food mecca, Pizitz Food Hall’s offerings range from Southern food classics to pho and poke bowls. Don’t miss The Alabama Biscuit; its name speaks for itself.

Automatic Seafood & Oysters
Chances are your kids aren’t oyster fans (although if they are, more power to them), but there’s something for everyone here at Automatic Seafood, from blackened fish to bananas foster French toast. The open space includes outdoor seating and impeccable Southern-chic design.

Back Forty Brewery
What would 2020 family travel be without a stop at a big brewery that welcomes kids? Back Forty is a Birmingham standby, with tons of seating, outdoor space, dogs, kids, you name it. Farmers even stop by and bring their goats on leashes. Seriously. And of course there’s plenty of delicious local beer (fun fact: in AL breweries can only sell what’s made on-site, which means zero wine on offer here but you won’t miss it), plus a kids menu, pizza, and this poutine. Come on.

Where to shop
Club Duquette and Trove Design Shop are your best bets for clothing and cool local makers. And during my visit to Birmingham I believe I stopped at Botanica BHM no less than…thrice? And I loaded up my entire car with plants to drive back to Nashville (apologies to my son for the “poky plants”). This place is gorgeous and has super knowledgeable staff, plus every happiness-inducing houseplant you could want at prices you can handle. What better way to introduce the next generation to the fun of a green thumb? Another great option for this is the Forest Park neighborhood’s garden and plant shop Shoppe, which has a green house and even does events for kids.

Where to play
When you’re road-tripping with kids, you need stops that serve multiple purposes. Where can you rest and snack, walk and climb… play arcade games and drink whiskey (for kids and parents, respectively, obv)? Birmingham has plenty of establishments that do double-duty when it comes to pleasing all ages and all traveler temperaments.

Railroad Park, Birmingham Barons Minor League Baseball, Good People Brewery
These three BHAM favorites are all on the same block; Railroad Park hosts cook-offs, live music, and plenty of kid-friendly events. Grab bagels and coffee at nearby Mile End, catch a Birmingham Barons game with the kids (tickets are very affordable), and top it off with a gose at Good People Brewing, Birmingham’s largest and perhaps most iconic brewery.

The Woolworth
This was my first stop on arrival in Birmingham, and it was the ideal place to decompress after the drive from Nashville. The Woolworth offers food, cocktails, a rooftop space, and games, games, and more games. Kids love the duckpin bowling, foosball, ping pong, air hockey and more. Plus it’s very affordable (by Nashville/New York standards at least).

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Site Museum
This old ironworks is right across the street from Back Forty, so grab a beer and then go wander through. The Sloss Furnaces iron mill operated for a hundred years — from the 1870s to the 1970s, when Birmingham was something of a post-Civil War industrial powerhouse — and is now enjoying its retirement as a museum. Kids love exploring the (totally safe, now) furnaces; parents love the history, the Instagram moments, and the concerts. Even The White Stripes have played here!

Vulcan Park & Trail
Ah, the giant statue of Vulcan! This big guy is a regular Birmingham mascot — the Alabama Cristo Redentor, if you will (you know, the big Jesus that overlooks Rio de Janeiro?). Climb up for gorgeous panoramic views all the way to the Appalachian foothills. There’s also a great nearby trail and geology museum that will please nerds of all ages.

Pepper Place Farmer’s Market
It’s the largerst farmers market in the state! How could you miss it? Every Saturday morning until noon only, catch live music, free samples, and all the fresh produce, cheese, meat and breakfast you and your kids can eat. And make sure to stop by The Farm Stand at Stone Hallow in the middle of the market. They sell pickles, straw hats, and even farm-made perfume.

Where to Learn:
Birmingham Museum of Art
This is a good one, guys. And I’m saying that as an art museum obsessive who has dragged my child to see art in every city we’ve been to. The Birmingham Museum of Art does not scrimp on indoor-outdoor design, traveling exhibitions (we saw one on Barbie that was sweet), and hands-on exhibits and activities for kids. Plus, chances are, if you visit Birmingham between, I dunno, May and October, it’ll be 103 degrees out — and you’ll love this cool, art-filled respite.

McWane Science Center, Birmingham Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Gravity! Live science demos! An iMax! You pretty much can’t go wrong with kids and science centers, and the McWane does not disappoint. Kids can feed underwater creatures, watch chemistry experiments come to life, roam through a pint-sized version of Birmingham (“Itty Bitty Magic City,” natch), and touch…pretty much everything!

And just a few steps away from the science center, the Birmingham Zoo is known as one of the best in the South. You can even “Brunch With the Bachelors” — bachelor elephants, that is.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
But really, arguably the most important part of Birmingham is the crucial role the city has played in the Civil Rights Movement. And the fantastic Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rivals even its sibling in Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum. The BCRI’s exhibits are fascinating, powerful, beautiful, educational, and incredibly moving. You and your kids have never learned so much and maybe cried at the same time. Hurry over, and get motivated to keep the movement going.

For the complete article please see


SafeRoom Lounge Bar enters next phase with beverage director Stephen Suitts
From the article by Shauna Stuart on

It didn’t take long for SafeRoom Lounge Bar to find its footing when it opened in October. SafeRoom is the first bar from proprietor Jeremy Howard, who was already known in Birmingham’s nightlife scene after years of working in private security. Located in the basement of the Watts building in downtown Birmingham and anchored by a gold-painted safe (hence the name “SafeRoom”), the lounge has attracted a regular list of patrons, as well as the attention of Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Three months after its debut, SafeRoom has started its next phase. The bar is the new stomping grounds for Stephen Suitts, who joined the team as beverage director in December, and has developed the bar’s new cocktail program. Formerly the beverage director at Dread River Distillery, Suitts now splits his time between SafeRoom and Cayo Coco Rum Bar in Founder’s Station.

In the market for a new position after leaving Dread River, Suitts heard that SafeRoom was hiring. After attending a meet and greet with the owners, Suitts says they hit it off.

“I came down here. I loved the venue, the design and everything,” said Suitts. “And I thought it was something that, with my talents and what they’ve already set up here, would be just a perfect fit.”

He says SafeRoom, with its industrial chic design and pops of color, was similar to a bar he’d wanted to open when he was living in Los Angeles.

This is Suitts’ second time living in Alabama. In the early aughts, the Houston native spent a few years waiting tables here before he moved to Los Angeles for school and began bartending. He found his footing working as a barback for one of the bars in sbe, a global hospitality empire of hotels, nightspots, and restaurants that now includes partners Lenny Kravitz and José Andrés.

Suitts later started working for famed Los Angeles bartender Devon Espinosa. The pair worked at Woodley Proper in Encino, Calif., and it was Espinosa, said Suitts, who helped him elevate his bartending craft from “just being able to make other people’s drinks.”

“He told me, ‘You do this really well and you need to start exploring. You have the technique because I see you make drinks for people, but you don’t add to the menu,’” Suitts said. “And he’s the one that pushed me over the limit to start making drinks for everybody.”

After his stint at Woodley Proper, Suitts moved to a restaurant called The Villa in Woodland Hills outside of Calabasas. The site was a frequent film location for the television show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

“It became known as a hot spot where you could people watch and everything like that,” said Suitts.

He continued to make a name for himself in the Los Angeles hospitality scene, winning accolades, including the city’s qualifier for the Bombay Sapphire bartender competition.

Suitts eventually became a roving barman, working as a beverage consultant in California, then expanding his services to restaurants and bars throughout the country, including San Antonio, Charlotte and Tennessee.

“That’s when I decided to move, since I was never home,” said Suitts. “You know, find cheaper rent. And that’s how I got back to Alabama.”

In Birmingham, Suitts stepped behind the bar at Paper Doll in the Loft District. There, he started to gain a following for his layered cocktails. In March 2019, Paper Doll partnered with Kulture City to become the first sensory inclusive bar in the country. To mark the occasion, Suitts crafted the Kulture City cocktail. At the Birmingham qualifier for the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience (his first bartender competition since returning to Alabama) his cocktail “Rockin’ with Ri” —a mix of Woodford Reserve rye with honey lavender syrup and lemon juice, topped with a champagne foam — would nab him the pick for People’s Choice.

Suitts said Paper Doll was his reintroduction to Alabama, where he could observe Birmingham’s burgeoning cocktail scene.

“It was mainly to test the market out. Some of my drinks are very different layered cocktails, not your standard Manhattans or your Old Fashioneds. And I was lucky enough to get the chance to explore that there.”

With his reputation growing in the city, Suitts left Paper Doll to become the beverage director for the massive 5,000-square-foot tasting room at Dread River Distillery on the Southside. Since Dread River’s liquor license only allows the distillery to serve the alcohol it produces, Suitts had to create a cocktail menu without the array of spirits, vermouths, or liqueurs normally at his disposal. He fully embraced the challenge, building an extensive cocktail program for the distillery’s whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum, while training a team of bartenders to use foams, syrups and cordials in lieu of secondary spirits.

At SafeRoom, Suitts is facing a new challenge. While he’s no longer limited to five base spirits, he’s also not working with the expansive liquor selections of his previous bars. His mission: Bring SafeRoom’s beverage program more in line with neighboring bars in the Loft District, such as Paper Doll or the Collins. He plans to remove the bar’s draft tower and streamline the beer selection, swapping big brand brews for local offerings. For the distilled spirits, he wants to highlight SafeRoom’s scotches, such as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.

“A lot of people don’t know that we carry scotch,” said Suitts. “We don’t have the all of greatest scotches yet, but we do have the basics.”

For SafeRoom’s new cocktail program, Suitts’ goal is to expand the libations from a mostly spirit/mixer menu to include a selection of craft cocktails. To be clear, he doesn’t want to stop patrons from ordering simpler mixed drinks, if that’s what they prefer.

“You can drink what you want,” Suitts explains. “But on that premise, and within that group, people want to try new things.”

But aside from a few vermouths, Suitts isn’t rushing to bring in an entirely new selection of spirits, liqueurs and garnishes. He’s working with the spirits already on hand.

To match the new cocktail program, Suitts brought in new glassware and a host of new bar tools — shakers, bar spoons and muddlers — all suitable for serving and making craft cocktails.

He leads a team of eight bartenders, and conducts weekly staff training and education sessions. Suitts says it took a little over a month to expand the group’s Rolodex of cocktails, as well teach them to make fresh juices and homemade syrups. He anticipates it will take an additional three to four months to teach his new staff more complicated recipes, as well as shaking and stirring techniques. To help teach the SafeRoom staff how to build cocktails with speed on busy nights, Suitts invites his peers, such as Jesus Mendez from The Louis, to guest bartend.

“The greatest thing about it is, they are all very eager,” said Suitts. “It’s exciting to see a group of people who want to learn.”

In late January, SafeRoom debuted eight cocktails on its new menu. The bar’s namesake cocktail, “The SafeRoom” will be a rotating Old Fashioned, and Suitts is starting with a base spirit of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple. The first iteration is a blend of the flavored whiskey, demerara, and orange bitters.

Like at Dread River, some of Suitts creations pay homage to the city— the 20th Ave N is a blend of vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and raspberries. The Cirocojito is Suitts’ take on the classic mojito, with the rum swapped out for Ciroc vodka and topped with sparkling wine instead of soda water. For a bitter cocktail, Suitts created the Joe Pesci: gin, Aperol, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg whites.

“It’s fun introducing everybody down here to egg whites,” said Suitts, smiling. One of the things I love most is educating people. Introducing them to a new light, just like the beer scene has done here.”

He also has another project in the works. Suitts has long been wanting to experiment with Hennessey. At SafeRoom, he plans to center the cognac in a number of cocktails, encouraging patrons to enjoy it beyond the bounds of just neat or with a single mixer (although in France, the spirit tends to be enjoyed plain, or with a dash of sparkling water.)

On the new menu, the 3rd Ave North features the cognac with mango syrup, peach schnapps, pineapple juice and lime juice.

“I like Hennessy because of the story behind it,” notes Suitts. “And why, as a culture, we drink Hennessy.”

Suitts says he encounters a lot of people who think Hennessy — and cognac as a whole— was catapulted to popularity due the spirit’s frequent mentions in rap lyrics. And while Hip Hop and Hennessy’s relationship has gone hand in hand over the past few decades, the brand’s connection to American culture starts much earlier.

Cognac’s history in the United States dates back to the 1800s, where the upper class revered the French spirit for its smooth and refined taste, compared to the “more unaged spirits emerging from the American frontier,” according to Slate.

But the spirit’s appeal to African-American consumers dates back to the first and second World Wars when black soldiers were stationed in France. Cognac was often sold in French nightclubs, venues which celebrated black culture, embracing jazz and blues and booking artists such as Josephine Baker, a headliner of Parisian nightlife.

After they returned home from the war, cognac remained a favorite of African-American soldiers. When scotch entered the French market and started to displace cognac, the spirit’s distributors doubled down on marketing in America.

Maurice Hennessy of the Hennessy family and cognac house would go on to cement a friendship with William Jay Schieffelin, the CEO of Schieffelin and Co., the sole distributor of Hennessy in the United States. Both men were interested in reaching consumers and cultures beyond their own. Direct descendants of John Jay, the first American chief justice, the Schiefflin family had a longstanding history supporting social justice initiatives. Bothered by the particularly deplorable conditions for black people in American factories, Schieffelin co-founded a social justice non-profit that would eventually become the National Urban League.

An early corporate supporter of W.E.B du Bois and the NAACP, Schieffelin also befriended Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute. He joined the institute’s board of directors and became a lifelong trustee and benefactor.

In 1931, Schieffelin led a national committee to raise funds for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys who were convicted raping of two white women on a freight train in Jackson County, Ala.

Josephine Baker would become a spokesperson for Hennessy in the 1950s, and at a time when luxury brands rarely marketed to African-American consumers, Hennessy was the first spirits company to take out ads in magazines like Ebony and JET.

In the 1960s, the brand also promoted Herb Douglas to one of the first African-American vice presidents in the county. Decades later, Noel Hankin, Hennessy’s former senior vice president of multicultural relations, would secure the company as a sponsor for events dedicated to celebrating African American culture. Fast forward to the late 20th century, Hennessy began to appear in rap lyrics, further cementing the brand into the country’s pop culture lexicon.

“So, that’s why I wanted to focus that spirit,” explained Suitts.

The veteran barman said he plans to expand SafeRoom’s beverage menu as more people try the bar’s style of cocktails. And as he helps the bar distinguish itself in the city, he hopes to prove that testing the palette of a new audience doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel.

“It’s Downtown where people are drinking cocktails, it’s a beautiful venue, it’s a beautiful spot. Everything in that sense is going great,” said Suitts. “I think the only ingredients SafeRoom is missing are the salt and pepper, which is a good cocktail program.”

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Love is in the air! Do you have a special Valentine’s event? Be sure to add it to the Partner portal before the weekend for those last-minute Valentine’s Day planners.

Do it today –


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