100 Years of History at Birmingham's Tutwiler Hotel
Spend the night in the epitome of Southern elegance at The Magic City’s first modern hotel.
In 1914, two of Birmingham’s prominent businessmen — Robert Jemison Jr. and George Crawford — came together to build The Tutwiler Hotel. Much of the funding and inspiration for the name came from Major Tutwiler of Tutwiler Coal and Coke with the reason for the hotel cited as a lack of adequate modern hotels in the city. Today, there’s no lack of places to spend the night in The Magic City, but 100 years later, The Tutwiler is still the spot to stay downtown.
Originally built on the corner of 20th Street and 5th Avenue North, The Tutwiler was known for hosting such high-profile events as Tallulah Bankhead’s post-wedding bash and a press conference for Charles Lindbergh. In 1974, the hotel was imploded and replaced by the First Alabama Bank, causing a 12-year absence of its presence. The hotel reopened for business in 1986, taking over the Ridgely Apartments a few blocks over on Park Place. In 2005, The Tutwiler underwent a complete renovation at the hands of a new owner, resulting in a fitness center, business center, signature restaurant and modern guest rooms.
Now this Hampton property’s neighbors include the Birmingham Public Library across the street, whose staff will tell you the hotel still has a reputation for housing dignitaries and celebrities. Whether they enter from the grand marble entrance in front or what was historically a “ladies” entrance in back, guests of The Tutwiler these days are invited to make themselves at home. In keeping with the hotel’s history of offering guest rooms with a view, all of the rooms feature expansive windows that show off the cityscape. (For an even better view, hit the gym on the top floor and take in downtown from the treadmill or elliptical.)
The Tutwiler also does a wonderful job of blending old and new. Exterior marble and mahogany furniture inside mix with modern amenities such as a snack shop in the lobby, full complimentary breakfast, room service and wireless Internet. About the only thing this hotel is missing is a pool, but you won’t miss it while you’re exploring the streets of downtown or having a drink at the in-house bar.
Century Restaurant & Bar is no ordinary hotel restaurant. This one could stand on its own, with contemporary decor, streetside access and a menu of locally sourced Southern flavors. The Century Burger with bacon, a fried green tomato, grilled onions, mixed greens and smoked Gouda is a local favorite, along with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and Fried Oysters. Don’t feel like getting out of your pajamas? Just order room service, which features Century’s menu.
You’ll probably want to venture down to the bar at some point though if just to get the scoop on The Tutwiler’s resident ghost. The story goes that Major Tutwiler stuck around after living in the Ridgely Apartments. His ghost has the habit of knocking on doors late at night and has been blamed for mischief in the restaurant. Hotel lore says that a few years ago a bartender kept getting in trouble for leaving the lights and stoves on after closing. This happened several nights in a row, until the manager came in one morning to find someone had prepared a large meal and taken out a bottle of wine. The staff began addressing the ghost of Major Tutwiler every night at closing with the words: “Good night Major!” and asking him to please turn the lights and stove off and not make a mess.
I can’t say I heard a knock from the Major during my recent stay at The Tutwiler, but that may be because the bed in my suite was so comfortable and the room so quiet that I slept soundly for eight nights. The hotel and restaurant staff were also a pleasure, and I highly recommend the afternoon cookies near the reservation desk in the lobby. For a home away from home in Birmingham, The Tutwiler is still a modern choice overflowing with hospitality.
The Tutwiler Hotel is located at 2012 Park Place in Birmingham, Alabama, right off of 6th Avenue North and Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard North. Starting December 12, rates will run as low as $105 a night. Valet parking is $19 a day, but street parking in downtown is free on weekends.