On March 25, 1965, thousands stood below the gleaming dome of Alabama’s capitol building in Montgomery and listened as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a soul-stirring speech. It was the conclusion of the final Selma-to-Montgomery March, the traveling peaceful protest that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
This year’s commemoration of the event’s 50th anniversary is a good reason to visit Montgomery, where new restaurants, lounges and a thriving music scene add to the capital city’s deep sense of history and give travelers modern reasons to explore.
A visit to Montgomery should begin with its revitalized downtown. The heart of the city was barely beating only 12 years ago, before both public and private resuscitation efforts paid off, creating a hub of activity that’s brought the city back to life.
Start with a free tour of the Alabama State Capitol building, led by informative and entertaining guides who highlight things you might miss on your own: the dizzying twists and turns of the massive double spiral staircase designed by a former slave; the bronze star on its marble steps identifying where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy; and the spot in front of those same steps, where Civil Rights marchers sent a message to Governor George Wallace and the world.
Next, check out the Rosa Parks Library & Museum honoring the icon who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Her quiet act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the modern Civil Rights Movement. A replica of the bus where it all went down invites you to think about the difference one moment can make.
Rosa Parks Library & Museum
Photo courtesy of Montgomery Convention & Visitor Bureau
Since history can make you hungry, stop by Scott Street Deli, where a cheery striped awning and the shoulder-length earrings and mischief-laced, mile-wide smile of local character Ham A. Holic greet you. The skilled sandwich maker will build you The Frencheletta, a fat, flavorful mix of mortadella, salami, ham, Swiss, pickles and olive relish barely contained by French bread.
Montgomery’s musical heritage is chronicled at the Hank Williams Museum, a tribute to the crooner whose hits like “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” made him a country music legend. Check out the museum’s huge collection of personal effects like the snappy dresser’s custom suits and boots, sheet music, his Gibson guitar and the sky-blue Cadillac, in the songwriting icon took his final ride. His final resting place, visited by thousands of fans each year, is in nearby Oakwood Cemetery Annex.
Next, if you’re visiting spring through fall, indulge in a late-afternoon cocktail at SandBAR. The outdoor watering hole sits atop a bluff overlooking the Alabama River as it rolls along the edge of downtown.
Snag a booth at Central for an early dinner. Housed in a 1880’s grocery warehouse in the downtown’s entertainment district, holdovers from its industrial days like soaring ceilings and concrete floors are made warm and welcoming by flickering gas lanterns. Chef Leonardo Maurelli’s commitment to seasonal, local ingredients and his Italian-Panamanian heritage combine for a refreshing take on Southern favorites. Dishes like earthy roasted beet salad and black-eyed pea hummus take advantage of Alabama’s agricultural bounty, and in spring and summer, Central’s Friday night dinners feature a menu created on the fly, based on whatever was ripe and ready that afternoon at the city’s downtown urban farm. Don’t miss the hickory duck quarters, crisped in a wood-burning oven and served with sweet potato hash and a drizzle of sugary-stout bourbon syrup. But don’t linger too long over dinner; you’ve got a baseball game to catch.
The Hickory-crisped Duck Quarters at Central
Photo by Carter Photography & Design, courtesy of Central
The Montgomery Biscuits AA baseball team came to the city in 2004 and has won many games, a couple league championships and hoards of fans in the decade since. Even if you’re not really into our national pastime, Riverwalk Stadium is worth a visit. Built into an old railway station, it features modern ballpark amenities while retaining a yesteryear charm with exposed beams and original brick. Trains still run on the tracks behind left field, tooting their horns as they chug past games in play. The between-inning antics of the “Biscuit Bunch” include launching hot biscuits into the stands. Reach up, grab one, visit the concession stand to drown it in Montgomery’s own Alaga syrup, and then eat the treat that earned a spot on the Travel Channel’s “top-five ballpark foods” list.
A rousing game and sugar-covered carbs can make you sleepy, but before you head to bed, hit AlleyBAR around the corner and down a nightcap in the frozen shot room. If you’re still up when the clock strikes 12, make your way to Sous La Terre, a dark basement haunt where live blues and jazz spill from its small stage.