I recently celebrated another birthday. No, I won’t mention which one. I will mention that I was reminded of one of favorite birthdays and first attempts at writing a Journal entry. The Redmont Hotel holds a special place in my heat. It is now part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, but it was a little wilder back then…..
[ Editorial note. When I refer to certain politicians in the entry as “great” I am referring to their historical impact (be it good or ill) not their character.]
I have this tradition. I try to do at least one new thing on or around my birthday; so last year my creative director, Sam (short for Samantha), and I decided to visit the famous, sometimes infamous, Redmont Hotel in Birmingham. The Redmont Hotel was among the many grand hotels nestled around one of the largest train depots in the Southeast. It witnessed the extravagant economic and cultural boom of a Magic City fueled by iron furnaces. From housing the gubernatorial campaigns of political greats such as Big Jim Folsom and George Wallace, to hosting Hank Williams’ last night on earth (as some rumors may suggests), the Redmont is steeped in Alabama history. Needless to say, Sam and I were excited about our trip.
Today the Redmont is the oldest of the remaining grand hotels in the area and has seen its share of owners including a consortium of NBA players including Alabama native Charles Barkley (as some rumors may suggest). We weren’t quite sure what to expect. We booked a room anyway and hit the road anticipating our night’s stay at a venue now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Upon arrival we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a suite. In fact, it was the nicest room in the house. I could not help but wonder if Hank, Jim or George had stayed in that very room. Our only complaint thus far was that our tub lacked a stopper. But almost instantly a neat gentleman in jeans and a baseball cap arrived at our door with said stopper. We had noticed him earlier, carrying in cases of beer and wine for a likely party later that evening. As it turned out our new friend, Jack (names have been changed to protect the innocent), was bellhop, maintenance man, and all-around concierge for the Redmont Hotel.
After some conversation, Jack let us in on a little secret. The door caddy-corner to ours accessed the back stairway to the rooftop bar. This roof top bar, the only one in Birmingham at the time, was formed from what was formerly a penthouse built in 1947 by then owner Clifford Stiles.
Jack was about to go up and take a look around and invited us along. How do you accept an invitation to a roof top bar via a secret stain case that only Jack knows about? “Are you !#*%*! kidding me?” came to mind. We finished our been-on-the-road-all-day-and-were-just-relaxing tequilas, grabbed Sam’s camera, and followed Jack into the black. The stair well smelled of stale beer, cigarettes and whatever else a secret back stairwell to a rooftop bar should smell like. The upper door opened into fresh air and a beautiful balcony bathed in late afternoon sun. The view was spectacular. As Jack tended to his business Sam shot some photographs. Then we thanked Jack with a wink and a handshake certain we would revisit our secret entrance later that night.
After a delicious dinner at a great little Italian restaurant in Crestline Village, we found ourselves ascending our hidden stairway to a Birmingham sky full of stars and one of the biggest moons I have ever seen. The music thumped, we danced, made new friends and enjoyed some lovely single malt, then wandered from the fray to catch our breath and enjoy the view.
We were surprised when a boy, shorter than me (fairly difficult for a grown adult) and clearly not yet shaving, politely informed us that these guests (gesture to the left) had paid good money to be there and we needed to return to the crowd. We hadn’t even noticed the small clutch of people huddled behind a wall of champagne buckets. Clearly, they required some space. Neither had we noticed the yellow tape (think crime scene) that separated the common rabble, of which we were a part, from the V.I.P. section. We quickly jumped the tape and order another drink. To recap: on my 43rd birthday Sam and I crashed the V.I.P. section of the rooftop bar at the Redmont and got kicked out, that’s right, I said got kicked out.
Although we enjoyed a few more dances we knew we had seen the best of the night and still got to bed around the crack of 12:30. I will say that partying on a rooftop bar is much more fun than trying to sleep under a rooftop bar.
The next day Sam took more pictures. We had a nice lunch at Chez Lulu, looked under Vulcan’s skirt and came home with the sweet memory of a night at the Redmont burned forever into our personal Alabama history.