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Alcove International Tavern

Those of you who have read my reviews of other bars in town know that I prefer my drinking holes a little off the beaten path. I’ll take a few drinks with friends in a quiet bar with a ballgame on over a crowded joint with a crappy band any day. The only problem is that quiet bars can be hard to find in Tuscaloosa, especially on a Thursday-Saturday night. Solution: The Alcove (which was recently named to Men’s Health’sBest College Beer Bars in America” list).

First, when I say the Alcove is “quiet,” I mean “quiet compared to other bars in college towns.” On afternoons and weeknights, the place is usually pretty empty (which I find refreshing, of course), but the place fills up nicely on the usual going-out nights. There are two distinct differences however between a crowded Alcove and almost any other crowded bar in Tuscaloosa: 1) It’s a 21+ only bar and is a little out of the way, so the patrons tend to be a little older, a little more sober, and a little less rowdy; 2) It’s Tuscaloosa’s only non-smoking bar (smoking IS allowed on the front and back patios though), so non-smokers like myself don’t have to worry about watching our clothes and sheets the next morning.

The more mature crowd is complemented by a fairly roomy interior—it used to be rather small, but they bought the vacant suite next door and expanded what was a shotgun-style layout into a broader two-room space. The Alcove has four TVs (if I remember correctly): two decent-sized flat screens over the bar, one huge TV in the second room, and another flat screen on the back patio—all of which tend to be on sports, especially if there’s any kind of UA Athletics event going on that day. The back patio is enclosed and also has some tower heaters to keep things comfortable even on chilly nights.

The bar itself is impressively stocked in both the beer and wine department. Perhaps the best thing about the alcove is its twelve ever-changing beer taps. Personally, I think beer tastes funny out of the bottle, so I love the Alcove’s variety of draught beer. Some are local (I see Birmingham’s own brewery, Good People, on tap there a lot), some are imports, and some I’ve never heard of (the bartenders are excellent about making recommendations and letting you try samples if you want to try something new). The season, of course, affects which kinds of beers they keep the most of, but they do a good job of keeping a little bit of everything available. Even in the middle of winter, for example, when there are more porter/stout taps than anything, I can always find a wheat or an ale for myself.  The taps rotate fairly regularly, and they use their facebook page to let people know what’s getting phased in and out.

The Alcove’s cooler of bottled beers is also rather extensive. Their website includes an extensive menu of their bottled beers, liquors, and mixed drinks (they have a special listing of unique “Island Drinks” made with fruit juices and liquors, lemonades, lemon-lime soda). Tuesday nights are Jazz Night with a little ensemble that sets up by the front door. They used to do a Gourmet Monday night as well featuring fruit drinks made/garnished with fresh fruit from Snow’s Bend Farm in Coker. I hope Gourmet Mondays return now that spring is here.

One thing worth noting about the liquor/mixed drinks at The Alcove is that they’re the biggest pour in town. Most bars serve drinks with 1 ¼ ounces, and I’ve seen a few with 1 ½. There’s a full 2 ounces in the drinks at The Alcove, and I remember having to ask for a little more coke in my rum on at least one occasion. The prices on beer and liquor tend to be a little high, but when you’re getting the quality and quantity that the Alcove is dishing out, it’s hard (for me, at least) to complain. It’s also worth noting that it’s worth carrying some cash when you go to the Alcove, as they add $1 to all credit/debit charges. If you’re having several rounds, you probably won’t even miss it, but if you just want a beer and are already disappointed about having to pay $5 or $6 bucks for it (plus tip), that extra dollar on your tab might sting a bit.

Yes, I can drink for cheaper at a couple of my other favorite spots in town (The Downtown Pub and Egan’s, namely), but the quality of the atmosphere and the drinks at the Alcove often allow me to overlook the few extra bucks I’m going to spend there. I’m thrilled that they received some national recognition from Men’s Health because the Alcove has been trying hard for several years now to give Tuscaloosans something they can’t get anywhere else: a relaxing, smoke-free place to drink that’s invested in promoting local talent and businesses.

[natalie]

The Alcove is located at 730 22nd Ave, which is at the intersection of 22nd Ave and 8th St. It’s 2 blocks behind Tuscaloosa City Hall and directly behind the courtyard/clock tower/fountain of what’s apparently called Government Plaza.

Monday-Thursday: 4pm-2am
Friday: 3pm-3am
Saturday: 3pm-2am

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The Downtown Pub

There’s an old brick building on University boulevard, down by the Lurleen Wallace bridges. On the side of this building is a sign that reads “The Downtown Pub: Where Old Friends Gather and New Ones Meet” with a picture of a giant martini. My friends and I are pretty sure that no one’s ever actually ordered a martini at the Pub though. It’s not that kind of place. It’s also not the kind of place that lets a table full of girls sing along to “Don’t Stop Believin'” (Bear turned off the jukebox until they agreed to stop), and that’s why I love it.

The Pub is where you go when you want cheap beer and a low-key atmosphere. I won’t lie: the men’s bathroom tends to flood, the selection of beers on tap is limited (though they have plenty of variety in bottles), and the pool tables have seen better days, but everyone who’s been to the Pub more than a few times knows it grows on you. The pool is cheap, the drinks are strong, and the digital jukebox in the corner can play just about anything (seriously–it can search the web to find songs if they aren’t already on it), but the best thing about the pub is the people. And by people I mean bartenders. Visit the Downtown Pub with any kind of frequency and the bartenders get to know you by name. They’ve even been known to have my drink waiting by the time I reach the counter.

Like all but one of Tuscaloosa’s bars (the Alcove), the Pub is a smoking establishment, which may or may not suit your fancy. The place is big and ventilated enough that you can usually escape the smoke pretty easily though. If I get there early enough, I like to sit in a booth, but there’s plenty of tables and bar seating too. If you’re looking for happening college bar, look elsewhere (it’s is far enough away from campus to keep most of the undergrads away). If, however, you want to relax with a cheap pitcher of whatever’s on tap (usually some combination of Miller Lite, Sweetwater Blue, Sweetwater 420, Southern Pecan, and Yuengling), watch the game, and shoot some pool, the  Downtown Pub is for you. It’s not the fanciest bar in town, but it’s one of a select few I find worth visiting.

[natalie]

The Downtown Pub is located at 2427 University Blvd, at the intersection of University and the Lurleen Wallace/Hwy 69 North bridge. (205) 750-0008