With a nickname like The Magic City, you would expect there to be many magical places in the Birmingham area. And there definitely are – the top of Vulcan, The Patio at The Club, Argyle Road overlooking the city at night, and Sloss Furnaces, to name a few.
But my pick for the most magical place in the metro area can be found right outside of Birmingham in the city of Bessemer – The Bright Star.
Owner Jimmy Koikos and niece Stacey Craig
There’s no other way to describe the experience of The Bright Star other than magical, because something transporting happens to me when I walk through the door – I literally feel like I stepped back into time – into a much more glamorous, romantic, and formal era.
The Bright Star has been in the same location since 1915 (and has been open since 1907, making it the oldest restaurant in Alabama), and still has the same murals on the walls that were painted that year by transient European Artists. The many dining rooms are all beautifully antique in gorgeous hardwood paneling, mirrors, and stained glass.
The amazing setting, plus the music playing softly as I walk into the restaurant immediately takes me somewhere else in my mind – an elegant, cultured, and sophisticated world that only exists in novels and movies.
But, despite the fact that it is a Greek-owned restaurant and I have family ties to it (My great-grandfather worked at The Bright Star after immigrating from Greece), I almost missed it.
I had always thought of it as too far out of town and “just another old Birmingham restaurant”. It wasn’t until our precious former neighbors, Darrel and Julie, gave us a gift certificate for The Bright Star for Christmas several years ago that we experienced it for ourselves, and learned about the magical place that it was.
And there’s definitely more to it than just the atmosphere – the food can literally be called the best in the state, as it is the only restaurant in Alabama to have won a Prestigious James Beard Award. Their Beef Tenderloin and Greek Style Fresh Snapper (Both of which they cut and prepare themselves) are dreamlike – I almost always get one of the combination platters so that I can have them both. But everything I’ve ever had there has been absolutely shockingly delicious!
I talked to co-owner Jimmy Koikos about his experiences at the restaurant. His Great-Great Uncle opened it in 1907, and then sold it to Jimmy’s Dad in the 1920’s. Jimmy started working at the restaurant when he was 13 years old, because his Father went on a three month trip to Greece and left Jimmy and his brother Nicky in charge. And, except for his time at The University, Jimmy has been working here ever since.
Jimmy and his brother and co-owner, Nicky, can always be seen in the restaurant, and make an amazing effort to know their customers. I asked Jimmy what percentage of their clientele were regulars, and he said that of the 4,000 people they serve a week, he knew 35-40% of them by name.
And besides the amazing way they treat their customers, their employees are just as happy. They have employees that have been working for them for 27, 32, and 45 years!
Many celebrities have frequented the restaurant over the years, including one that got his favorite private booth named after him, Bear Bryant:
(And yes, if you really want a magical night, you can reserve any of their private booths for your dinner.)
Although our trips to The Bright Star are usually reserved for dates, I went for lunch last week and took my Mom and Ali along. It was Ali’s first visit – and I swear she felt the magic, too.
Disclosure: I was not compensated nor asked to write this post. I simply wanted to share the most magical place in our city with all of you, and hope that if you live nearby, you will experience the magic for yourself.
p.s. – When you go to The Bright Star, ask to be seated in Darla’s section. She’s the best waitress in town – you won’t regret it!!
Where do you find to be the most magical place in your city, restaurant or not?
17 thoughts on “Pure Magic – The Bright Star”
our favorite restaurant has got to be Satterfield’s in Cahaba Heights. It’s not that old, but such an enjoyable place to eat! Beware, you’re gonna want to save a bit for a meal there (we usually only make it once, maybe twice a year) but it is so worth what we take out of the kids’ college fund for ourselves. My favorite aspects? the daily menu, awesome wine selection, courteous and non-pretentious servers, and being able to take our time and enjoy our meal.
We haven’t been there yet but need to go!
I love the Bright Star also. I have only been once though and its about time Sweet Hubby took me back! It is a great place and the staff were so nice and kind. A very friendly, but elegant place.
Yes, you do!! Especially as close as you live! I’d be tempted to go to lunch at least once a week at The Bright Star if I lived where you do!! ;)
I don’t know how magical it is for anyone else, but there is an all night diner near my first apartment that I’m kind of partial to. My husband and I went there at two in the morning after we finished photocopying our wedding invitations and reply cards at the 24 hour Kinko’s. It’s pretty typical greasy spoon kind of stuff, but bacon and eggs at 2am is the best thing in the world. Especially since the normally packed-with-a-line diner is pretty empty at that time and we had the whole place to ourselves.
oh – and please tell me – what on earth is a “Sloss Furnace”??
LOL! It’s a National Landmark here in Birmingham – it was formerly an Iron Plant, but now is used for events and stuff – a really cool place. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sloss_Furnaces
Looks like a wonderful place! We hardly ever eat out so as a result I’m pretty easily impressed. Well, as long as the restaurant doesn’t poison me with wheat that is!
Love the post. I did not know about the special rooms and history. Thanks for telling me.
I have never eaten there, but I’ve been meaning to for about 7 years. I really should get around to it, don’t you think?
For me, when you put magic and Birmingham in the same sentence, I just assume that you’re going to be talking about Hot and Hot Fish Club. We only go there once a year, and I spend 11 months eagerly anticipating the next visit. I love to sit at the chef’s counter and watch the magic as it happens. I love the atmosphere, I love sharing the experience with my husband, and the local, fresh food is…ineffable.
I have family in B’ham and know where Bessemer is, but I have never heard of this restaurant. The next time that we are in town, we have to check it out!
You need to come to my town and find all these cool places for me! I can’t think of anywhere especially magical here but there are a few places I love to go. You’d think that after living here for almost 20 years I would know some cool spots. :P
What a cool post! I love those good ol’ classics! Ok, so here are a few, a couple from Nashville, and one from back home:
1- It’s typical, I know, but the Melting Pot in downtown Nashville is so very romantic! I went there with my husband (then-fiancee) for a lovely dinner, and then on to hear Jim Brickman play at T-PAC, for one magical evening!
2- Ok, not-so-typical place would be our favorite little “hole in the wall” “Dreamland Barbecue of Japanese Restaurants” called Sonobana – the sweet people that work there know us by name, and we swap phone photos of our pets regularly!
3- My favorite little place from back home would be the Palace restaurant in Tuscumbia, AL – they are in historic downtown (home of Helen Keller) in a converted old drug store, and you’d swear you were in Mayberry when you walk in! Wonderful lunches, yummy ice cream, and all served on real plates, with real tablecloths, and glass ice cream dishes- simply dainty!
Awesome post! I’ve only been the Bright Star once, but I loved it. It was neat to read about it’s history. A few magical places for me are the following:
1) Near Marietta (where I live now) — the top of Kennesaw Mountain. I love being “rewarded” for the trek up the mountain with an awesome view that includes Stone Mountain and the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta
2) Palisades Park in Blount County, AL — I love the view from the top of the mountain, the swings, the old buildings, and the hiking trails.
3) Cecil’s Place in Jacksonville, AL — This is my all-time favorite burger joint. It’s definitely a hole-in-the-wall, but they have the best burgers and ice cream ever. I have so many wonderful childhood memories there, and it’s near the town square with its historic buildings.
We’ll have to try this place out soon!
We haven’t found a magical place here yet, but our magical place in Atlanta is our French restaurant, Le Cafe Crepe…so sad we only get to go there once or twice a year now.
One more bit of history about the Bright Star… Grandmother Pete said it was on a table in the back of the restaurant that your grandfather took his first steps!