8:30 am: Wake up in your comfy bed at the Renaissance Hotel & Spa downtown and take in the view of this capital city’s recently re-energized center. First thing on the agenda? Breakfast. Fond memories of last night’s eating adventures in the hip, historic Cloverdale neighborhood—like dinner at A&P Social, where you filled up on Chef Randy Gresham’s creative seasonal and locally sourced cuisine, and your time at local hangout Pine Bar next door, where you downed a couple of Alabama-made beers—are making your mouth water, so you hurry to Shashy’s Bakery. This local favorite serves morning-meal standards plus a few specialties like Beef Tenderloin Eggs Benedict. Eat it all up with one cup of coffee (maybe one mimosa too?), and you’re good to go.
10:00 am: You head back downtown and burn off some of that beef with a stroll at Riverfront Park which is, you guessed it, right on the banks of the Alabama River and includes an amphitheater and splash pad and is the home dock for Montgomery’s riverboat, The Harriott II. The boat rolls on down the river on a set schedule and offers scenic lunch and dinner cruises. SandBAR, a laidback al-fresco lounge on a bluff facing the water is a favorite spot for sunset drinks, but since it’s not even noon—
11:00 am: Enough of the great outdoors. Iconic country crooner Hank Williams got his start in Montgomery on a local radio show, and the city is his final resting place. Thousands of fans visit his grave in Oakwood Cemetery on the edge of downtown each year, so you do too. Legend says that his ghost comes calling at midnight; contemporary country music superstar Alan Jackson even penned a hit song about it. But you don’t have that long to wait. You find his true spirit circulating at the Hank Williams Museum, a 6,000-square-foot celebration of his life and legacy housing the largest collection of Hank memorabilia in existence, including the Cadillac in which he took his last ride.
11:45 am: Next you set out to see the spots where some of the most pivotal moments in America’s history took place. Montgomery has more significant Civil War and Civil Rights historic sites in a few blocks than many Southern cities have inside their entire borders. You start at the State Capitol building on Dexter Avenue and search for the bronze star on the marble steps that marks the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America in 1861. Further down Dexter, toward the Court Square Fountain, you check out the Winter Building, where the orders to fire the shot that started the Civil War were signed and sent by telegram.
Almost a century later, in 1955, at a stop beside the fountain, Rosa Parks boarded a bus, took a seat and refused to give it up to a white man, resulting in her arrest. Her simple act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Back toward the capitol, in 1960, a passionate young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking out from the pulpit at the church that now bears his name, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. He emerged as the leader of the Movement and in 1965, led the march of more than 20,000 people all the way from Selma, Alabama, to the capitol steps. It was a seminal moment in the struggle for equality and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial Center are right nearby, so you give them a look-see too.
1:00 pm: Soaking up the city’s rich and turbulent past makes you hungry, so you grab a booth at Chris’s Hot Dogs (also on Dexter Avenue), a diner that’s been serving its stuff since 1917 and is still owned and operated by its founding family. You go for two wieners done “all the way,” which include the spot’s tangy sauce that’s just thin enough to slide right through your fingers and onto your lap. But even though your snappy waitress will give you one, eating a hot dog with a fork here is sure sign you’re a novice, so you keep it hands-on. Ol’ Hank didn’t use a fork. He often sat on a stool at the main counter and wrote song lyrics on piles of paper napkins. And why did he have so many napkins? Because he was prepared to eat his hot dog like a man.
2:00 pm: While those dogs sit like lead in your stomach, it’s best to take it easy, so you see a matinee show at The Alabama Shakespeare Festival. This cultural gem is the official state theatre and boasts way more than the bard’s works each season. Its Southern Writers Project routinely discovers and nurtures some of the most talented playwrights in the region. If you are up for some of Will’s serious tragedy or farcical comedy, you couldn’t pick a better place. ASF is world-renowned for all of its productions.
5:00 pm: You head back toward your hotel, and you’re drawn by a ringing bell to the hotel’s Exchange Bar, which sits on the site of one of the city’s original gathering and drinking establishments, Freeney’s Bell Tavern. A replica of the old bell hangs at the bar and rings daily at 5 pm inviting you to wash the day’s history lessons and culture immersion down with a drink, like a fruity Bellringer cocktail.
6:30 pm: Your tummy is rumbling, so you head around the corner for dinner at Central, a laidback eatery combining white-table-cloth offerings and service with casual style in a restored 1890’s grocery warehouse. Chef Brandon Burleson is at the helm in the kitchen and whips up dishes full of fresh, seasonal ingredients procured from local producers.
8:30 pm . . . until? Your hearty dinner fuels you with the energy to go out, so you walk out the back of Central into The Alley, the hub of downtown’s entertainment district. You hit AlleyBAR first and throw back a few ounces of some electric blue liquid in the frozen shot room and then listen to some live music. At approximately 11:55 pm, you’re struck with the burning desire to go back to Hank’s grave and see if the stories are true. At approximately 11:58, you forget all about that and follow some newfound friends to downtown’s oldest nightlife haunt, Sous la Terre, a jazz and blues club that only opens when the clock strikes twelve to turn out smooth sounds and strong drinks. At this point your “best day” is officially over, since it is, in fact, the next day. But you’re not done, and that’s just fine. Sous la Terre is still open for a few hours yet.
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