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The NYLON Guide To Birmingham, Alabama

Culture

What to do, what to eat, where to shop

Smack in the center of the Bible Belt's buckle is the exact opposite of where you would expect to find a thriving cultural hub, but that's exactly what Birmingham, Alabama, is becoming. Talk about the Deep South, and you're bound to draw mixed emotions from pretty much everyone, even those who were born and raised there—including me. Sure, there’s that adorable, if antiquated, notion of Southern charm, but there's still a lot of negativity associated with those living in areas south of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi. Well, it’s time to change those perceptions, because Birmingham is actually... cool. I grew up in this city, and I'm not sure whether its cultural activity is new or if it's just new to me, but it's definitely a welcome surprise every time I visit.

And it's not just me who's surprised. Even those people who have lived in this city forever are finding new things to enjoy, which is why it's my pleasure to let you in on Birmingham's secrets. Sharing is caring after all, and I still have a little Southern hospitality left in me (even after living amongst Yankees for almost five years).

So though the South has long been (erroneously) regarded as devoid of cultural cachet, there are many pockets where artists flock and build their communities. We’ve already shown you around Nashville and Charleston, so read on to find out an insider’s perspective on the best places to eat, drink, stay, and shop in the ‘Ham (yeah, I said it).

Photo courtesy of the Redmont Hotel

WHERE TO STAY
Redmont Hotel: Redmont is the oldest hotel in Birmingham, but that in no way means it's outdated. If you find that you prefer a night in, you can still grab a meal at Harvest or a nightcap at The Roof, both of which are located inside the hotel. Take it from me, you won’t want to miss the views from that rooftop bar.

Elyton HotelWhat used to be the Empire building, one of Alabama’s most celebrated architectural landmarks, is now the Elyton Hotel, and it has an elegant and structured aesthetic you'd expect from a building of such historical caliber. Even though it’s located in the heart of Downtown (and you'll definitely want to explore the area), you can have an adventurous night in at this hotel, too. It has its own rooftop bar, Moon Shine (again, views!), and a restaurant called The Yard. 

Grand Bohemian HotelThis hotel is located in posh Mountain Brook area, so you know you'll be in good hands here. Case in point: There's an on-site spa that you won't want to ever leave. This area has its own attractions, but it's also just minutes from Downtown.

She considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth"

Dani Okon, NYLON's associate creative director of video, sat down with her great-aunt, May Okon, to talk about their shared experiences—despite vastly different time frames—living as queer women in New York City. Prior to retirement, May was a journalist for the New York Daily News, having first entered the male-dominated workforce when "the boys were all at war." And, of course, she absolutely killed it. Her only regret? "Retiring at 55," she tells Dani, joking, "Who the hell knew I was gonna live to 100?"

Upon retiring, she moved out to the Hamptons with her partner and bought a home. If she had to do it all over, May says "there are a lot of things I wouldn't do," but she still considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth." Get to know May in the video, above.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Marlene Colburn and Naima Green
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by: Alexandra Hsie
Camera: Gretta Wilson + Katie Sadler
Edited by: Madeline Stedman

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Here's how they're making sure it doesn't happen

Lauren Morelli, the showrunner and executive producer for the new Netflix show Tales of the City, is fostering a space where multiple queer realities can be shown on-screen. She spoke with one of the cast members, trans actor Garcia (who plays Jake Rodriguez on the show), and, in the video above, they explore why it's wrong to treat queer stories as representative of the entire community. Tokenization is something that they both want to avoid at all costs, and they're on the right track.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Gretta Wilson + Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson

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"Nothing is truly a binary"

We put non-binary activist Eddie Jarrel Jones and The Phluid Project founder Rob Smith in conversation with each other, and the two spoke some powerful truths about the continued gendering of products like makeup and clothing. Smith recalls that 30 years ago, the only way that he was able to experience the joys of playing with makeup was to work at a beauty counter. Even today, Jones notes that it's hard for non-binary femmes like them, or even trans women, to get that experience in stores.

In the video above, get a sense of why Smith created a genderless store, and see how important it is for people like Jones to have a space where they don't feel criticized for dressing like they want.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Charlotte Prager + Dani Okon
Edited by Gretta Wilson

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We put the two activists in conversation

Marlene Colburn, one of the founders of the Dyke March, and Naima Green, an artist currently working on a project and archive called Pur·suit, which will document queer people of all identities, agree that it's really hard to find lesbian spaces that aren't bars. Just as hard, it seems, is to find lesbian representation that isn't white. In the video above, the two talk about how they are creating space for queer people and what that looks like within two different generations.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Dani Okon + Charlotte Prager
Edited by Charlotte Prager

Illustrated by Sarah Lutkenhaus

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