TUSCALOOSA’S SHIFTING NIGHTLIFE //CHANGING SCENES

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. At 26, I don’t look for the same things in a bar I did when I just turned 21 (or before, but we won’t get into that). However, I can’t help but feel there’s been a shift in the tone and branding of the nightlife scene in Tuscaloosa. Again, I have no statistics or studies to back this up, it’s just an observation. But it almost feels that as I (hopefully) mature, the bar scene in this town has as well. This really came to my attention with the opening of Loosa Brews. More of a store than an actual bar, this hangout highlights the ever-expanding craft beer market in both Alabama and the United States as a whole. The major brewers of the state are represented, as are beers from around the world. And as I look at the taps at other watering holes in this town, I can’t help but notice that craft beers are becoming more and more common.
Let me state that I love Loosa Brews. It’s not my everyday hangout, but it’s a terrific spot with great selection and a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. And as a craft beer fan, I’m very supportive of the growth I’ve seen in the market, especially from local brewers like Druid City Brewing Company and Black Warrior Brewing Company. We’re still not producing what I tasted in London, but it’s so much better than Budweiser being the darkest beer available.
But it isn’t just the beer taps that have changed. Going back to Loosa Brews, the entire store represents a change I’ve noticed in town. The interior is dimly lit and low key. Music is playing but not blaring. There’s only one television. There’s even a lounge area. It’s a place that wants you to relax. It’s mature. And that’s something I’ve noticed around town. Look at Loosa Brews’ sister bar Alcove International Tavern for example. The Alcove is in a horrible location that was almost cut off from the rest of downtown by construction for a long time. And yet, it’s always busy. The lure of a relaxing atmosphere at a bar that specializes in selection has become quite popular.
College towns are generally known for bars that cater almost exclusively to student populations, and when I was 21, that described Tuscaloosa to a tee. However, look at some of the changes that have occurred recently. Harry’s, once notorious for serving underage customers, no longer allows anyone under 21 to enter. The same has occurred at Filling Station, one of the most popular bars downtown. 1831, which was once a grimy hangout that featured cheap drinks and used arcade games, underwent a major renovation that has made it one of the nicer bars in Temmerson Square. The same can be said about Red Shed on the Strip, which has become much nicer after its renovation.
But while I appreciate the classier changes in the scene, there are others that make me pine for older days. When I turned 21, the Mellow Mushroom’s upstairs bar used to bring in great music acts on a weekly basis. That bar is only used for special events now. What really upsets me though is the loss of the Jupiter. Once the premier bar venue in town, the Jupiter closed its doors near the end of 2014. I have no idea what led to the close or what will be done with the property. The Jupiter hosted an impressive range of artists from all over the country and was a great place to see local acts to play to larger crowds. While Green Bar, Rhythm and Brews and Rounders still bring in quality acts, losing the Jupiter really stings, at least to this lifelong Tuscaloosan.
The last five years have seen a lot of change in the nightlife scene in Tuscaloosa. Of course, this is just my perspective. I’m sure those who remember the original Booth, Cheap Shots and the Library have entirely different perspectives. But I can’t help but notice a different direction in the scene as a whole. Is it progress or just a fad? Only time will tell.

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