For months now, the Redmont Hotel has been shrouded in construction fencing, hosting tradesfolk but no guests, its rooftop bar space silent and dark. That should be changing soon, though, with its re-launch this month. But commentary on the Redmont suggests this renovation is more than just an exciting commercial project in the city center. It’s a clue to the city Birmingham once was and, we hope, an omen for what it’s becoming again.
“The Redmont Hotel is important because it tells us what a particular era, the ’20s, was like in our city,” Patricia King, then serving as a preservation consultant and as development coordinator for Operation New Birmingham, told the Birmingham Business Journal in 2000. “We know it was a boom time, and the richness of the hotel supports that.”
Part of Birmingham’s old “hotel row” along Fifth Avenue North, it was developed during the 1920s when American cities were growing and travel between them was common, noted the Redmont application to the National Register of Historic Places. The application, filed in 1982, offers a wealth of details about the hotel at its peak.
Among them, that the Redmont name was a celebration of Birmingham’s unique resources on Red Mountain. The hotel’s Chicago-style facade framed the building in ornate detail at its street level and peak, with a relatively simple and serviceable middle. “Its 250 rooms brought to Birmingham such luxury features as a private bath, circulating ice water, and pushbutton electric fan for every room,” according to the application.
The hotel also made its mark on Birmingham lore, noted a USA Today profile. It hosted Hank Williams’ final hotel stay (he would die sometime after checkout the next day), and Birmingham power players of the 1930s–the “Knothole Gang”–gathered in its Rainbow Room. “It is the oldest operating hotel in the city,” USA Today reported, which we think demonstrates remarkable staying power.
A major renovation in the mid-80’s, covered by the Birmingham News’ Mitch Mendelson, included a major reworking of the hotel’s interior that dropped the room count to 110. The renovation also converted the mezzanine level into a restaurant space, taking advantage of the balcony for outdoor dining with Fifth Avenue views, Mendelson reported.
However, Mendelson was also comparing the Redmont renovation to the then-new Wynfrey hotel next to a brand new shopping mall in a thriving suburban Hoover. He noted that the Redmont’s “single restaurant and lobby bar are small and quiet, its urban surroundings are rather less than glamorous, and little used after 6 p.m.”
But those days are past, with a nearby Loft District that draws patrons from throughout the metro area along with plenty of permanent residents. The hotel also plans to capitalize on one of new Birmingham’s biggest draws: its food scene.
“With Birmingham now ranked No. 1 on America’s Next Hot Food Cities list by Zagat, the Redmont Hotel Birmingham will feature three separate dining concepts to highlight the best of the city’s culinary experiences — including the only hotel rooftop bar in the state of Alabama,” promises the hotel website. “The restaurant downstairs will offer approachable fine dining with international flair and locally sourced ingredients. A cafe for guests and visitors, meanwhile, will offer coffee, fresh pastries, paninis and salads.”
Local products are another key feature. “I am most excited about the Redmont’s fusion with local partnerships,” said interior designer Natalie Toy in a Redmont facebook post. Crestline Bagels, Revelator Coffee, and Earthborn Studios tableware will all be featured, according to the hotel’s facebook updates. Those partnerships create a high-end feel that make the hotel more than a lodging place for out-of-town visitors, Toy said. “Guests will be able to come and enjoy the Redmont as more than just a hotel, but as the city’s ‘it’ place to be.”