Alabama football games are an event. However, you can have fun at the game and then face a long commute back to places throughout the region. People routinely drive from Tuscaloosa back to Atlanta or Nashville after a game. I no longer possess the constitution for such a late night drive—and let us be honest, most football games have become night games under the new SEC television package. Traffic returning to Birmingham ranged from good following San Jose State to tolerable after Mississippi State to intolerable following Penn State. The drive to Birmingham was more than enough to exhaust me after a long day. So, most of the places around Tuscaloosa are snapped up early, what about places to stay in Birmingham? This year, I made the effort to stay at places around Birmingham just to help Alabama fans in search of the best hotels. (Next year I may stay in Tuscaloosa to do a few reviews, but the Birmingham locations provided the best meeting points for carpools, etc this year.)
Aloft in Homewood
The Aloft hotel boasts a sleek, modern look with an outstanding view of Vulcan—well if you enjoy a giant metal ass. And who doesn’t? Right? Seriously, the view is really good. During the last football season, we stayed at Aloft twice to get a feel for the place with and without the nice view. Even without the view, the room is comfortable and the hotel fun. One important element for a comfortable stay is the quality of the pillows. Too soft and the pillow provides no support—and this can make for a rough night’s sleep. Fortunately, Aloft provides the best mix of support and cushion. It was a great night’s rest. If you like the water, the hotel has an indoor pool. The big television made for a nice Sunday morning watching Sportscenter and NFL previews in bed. Some friends from out-of-town also stayed at Aloft on one of our stays, so it provided a convenient meeting spot for the carpool to the game.
Michael’s provides a nice dining experience right in the hotel. We enjoyed a pre-game lunch on one occasion and a dinner on our other visit. The lunch burger was enormous and tasty. For dinner, the food was good, but the highlight had to be a Cabernet Sauvignon by Liberty School. It was exceptional.
Embassy Suites in Hoover
The Embassy Suites in Hoover is one of the best choices in the area. The price is reasonable when you combine the manager’s reception and the superb free breakfast. In the South, you judge breakfast either by grandma’s or Cracker Barrel (I would say the Another Broken Egg, but while good I still prefer Cracker Barrel); Embassy Suites in Hoover provides a quality breakfast with an array of options. The meal is good. The staff is friendly. The room was everything you could want. Large enough so that you do not feel cramped, and you get the added benefit of the suite area for watching late night or early morning television without disturbing anyone. If you like the water, the hotel has an indoor pool.
The location in Hoover is a bonus too. You can enjoy shopping and many area restaurants. If you like Mexican then Cantina is one option with very good margaritas. The grilled salmon was a delight and the garlic-mashed potatoes complemented it nicely. If you enjoy more a more American meal, then J. Alexander’s is right there too. One night prior to the game, we enjoyed dinner at the restaurant and happened upon a friendly couple from Gadsden who were down for the Mississippi State game. While sipping wine at the bar and waiting for our table, the conversation turned to the Saturday game schedule and that we both were attending the game. If you need a suggestion for something to enjoy at J. Alexander’s, then try the Prime Rib. You will not be disappointed.
Hyatt Place Birmingham/Inverness
The Hyatt Place was nice experience. The room was comfortable with a nice television and bed. The lobby area was equipped with a nice selection of cookies, and a warm chocolate chip cookie made for the perfect check-in and late-night snack. (What can I say; I’m a sucker for chocolate chip cookies.) The HDTV is good for getting up Sunday and watching a few NFL games.
A great thing about the location of this hotel is the number and quality of the surrounding restaurants. You can enjoy Mexican at Superior Grill (this works for lunch or dinner.) The enchiladas are very good and tacos too. If you prefer another experience or you are getting into Birmingham very late there are two choices at the Summit that you could try—P.F. Chang’s and Cheesecake Factory. Both are open late and that is helpful when you are stuck in traffic trying to get out of Tuscaloosa. The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is exhaustive; you are bound to find something you will like. When in doubt try the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and corn succotash. As for P.F. Chang’s, the four-course meal for two is a good choice and you can get it with the Orange Peel Chicken, or you could order separately and try the Chengdu Lamb if you want something a little different. My favorite though is the Orange Peel Chicken.
Courtyard by Marriot at the Colonnade
Without a doubt the worst hotel stay of the season was at the Courtyard by Marriott right off I-459 and Highway 280 at the Colonnade. The room possessed an odd smell that caused sinus issues. We had to open the window to allow fresh air in during the night to get any type of restful sleep. The toilet flush chain broke too. It made for a miserable evening following a miserable drive to Birmingham. We couldn’t wait for the next morning so we could leave.
Two restaurants close are worth trying. Taziki’s at the Colonnade is a nice stop for a pregame lunch. For a nice lunch or dinner then Carrabba’s is a good choice. I never claimed to be imaginative, but I do enjoy the lasagna. The Chianti Riserva, Ducarosso paired nicely with the lasagna and the Zucchini Fritte—this friend zucchini just might be the best food ever. Instead of the glass of Chianti, try the quartino instead.
The great thing with hotels like Aloft and Embassy Suites is that the hotels work for football weekends, or romantic getaways when you leave responsibility behind and escape to focus on more important things.
So, what are some other options for pre or post-game stays? Next year any suggestions for stays in Tuscaloosa that should be reviewed?