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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tuscaloosa Roadtrip

So we traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., over the weekend for the first time to see Band of Horses and The Avett Brothers. Not only was it a fabulous concert but also a very impressive overnight trip to T-Town, otherwise known as the home of the University of Alabama. We decided to buy tickets for this concert, the first in the history of the beautiful, new Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, because my wife and I both are really into Band of Horses and had been growing into fans of The Avett Brothers. We made it to town two hours before the show, just enough time to quickly check into our motel purchased pretty cheaply off Priceline followed by a quick visit to Hooligan's, a little Greek restaurant in Downtown, about six blocks from the venue. I had found it through my usual pre-trip research and when I discovered it had been recommended to my wife by a colleague familiar with Tuscaloosa, I decided it was definitely worth considering. Ideally, we would have arrived to town much earlier with plenty of time for a meal and pre-show drinks. But because we were so pushed for time we opted for Hooligan's because reviews on Yelp mentioned how quick it was. Of course arriving after 6:30 p.m. found us waiting in a decently long line (akin to Central Barbecue in Memphis before a U of M football game). Let me just say if you ever make it to Tuscaloosa and are looking for a quick meal, a cheap meal or a Greek meal, head over to Hooligan's on University Avenue. It is fabulous. We shared the Falafel wrap and Gyro plate. Was it as good as the Greek food I had a couple of years ago at this all-night diner in Brooklyn? No, don't be stupid, but man this was good. Especially considering it came at a college dive of a restaurant. So after a very quick dinner we walked quickly to the amphitheater where, as we stood waiting in line at security to enter, Band of Horses started their set, five minutes early. But hey, at least we could hear them while quickly moving inside. I won't bore you with reviews of the shows other than to say that truly, this was the best concert I can remember. Band of Horses didn't waste any time, getting through a very solid, loud and entertaining set before moving aside for The Avett Brothers, an energetic and fun show. Let me just give a few thoughts on the facility. You would think that sometimes the first event at a facility would provide some hiccups but I didn't see any. One of my favorite parts about this facility is that no matter where you are there is a huge video screen showing the stage. Want to go get in line for a beer or something from the impressive concession stand? There is a screen just behind you while you wait in line. All in all, it was an awesome experience for a live show. Afterwards we walked back to the car, strolling by several lively bars that all seemed to have live bands, cover charges and crowds of college kids. Not really our scene. But I had high hopes for what I had found to be billed as a solid beer bar for the town, Alcove. We pulled up and found a crowd outside, but it was a low-key gathering of non-students sitting on the bar's front patio. We went inside the narrow bar where there was no cover. It was full of beer drinkers and, probably more importantly, no smokers. It was smoke-free on the inside. And, as a visitor to a major SEC college town it was very refreshing to find that at 34, I was definitely not the oldest patron there. Sure, there were college students there. But plenty of people in their 20s, 30s and beyond. You know you've found a beer bar when you look at the chalkboard listing what's currently on tap and it's nothing but regional, obscure and fantastic beers. It's not a wall of taps, but six or seven rotating taps with beers that all sounded intriguing. Better yet, the bartender answered questions about the beers, providing samples of all of them. And, the guy sitting next to us knew his beer as he gave a fabulous recommendation of a Canadian beer with a hint of apple in it for my non-drinking beer wife. She loved it. All in all it was a great 15-hour visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala. Great concert venue, solid affordable meal and fabulous beer bar.