By Andrea Fanning
Photos by Kelsey Freeman
This story appears in Birmingham magazine's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
Since February is the month we celebrate love, we wanted to share some love stories from around the city. Birmingham is full of iconic, romantic spots, so we asked our readers to submit their narratives about which Birmingham places mean the most to their love story. Here, six couples share the spots they met, went on their first date, got engaged, and got married. Love is all around us in the Magic City!
Cinematic Romance | Sri & Stephanie
Photo by Amanda Summerlin
Birmingham native Stephanie, a writer and administrator, went out with Sri for the first time on a hot August evening. The destination: Rojo, "which I would totally recommend as first date spot," she says. "He was cute and thoughtful and clever enough to ask me out on a second date before we said good night."
On their third date, Sri cooked for Stephanie at his downtown loft, and then they went to the opening night of Sidewalk Film Festival. The two spent most of the weekend together, enjoying films, eating at Urban Standard, and getting to know one another while exploring the area. Soon after, another date was planned, this time at Vestavia Bowl. Stephanie had fond memories of going there as a child, so a bit of nostalgia was already at play, and for the date, the couple decided a competition was in order to see which of them was the worse bowler. Stephanie says, "I won, and he had made a little trophy by coloring clothes on a figure mannequin with Expo marker, taping a marble to its hand, and labeling it 'Worst Bowler Ever' across the base. I still have it. I dare you not to fall in love with someone who puts in that level of creative effort."
The couple's love story continued with an engagement, and they made sure to include the city in their celebration. "When we were planning our February 2014 wedding, we wanted it to feel very local and personal, so we focused on venues within Birmingham proper. We decided on the Hill Event Center, part of the Alabama Theatre complex, which had also been a screening venue at our first Sidewalk together. We each walked to the venue, which meant plenty of great photos of us in our own neighborhood on our wedding day. Our names were on the theater marquee, and one of my favorite photos is of us outside the theatre being cheered on by the crowd for Johnny Mathis and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra."
Their love has grown over the past few years and now includes a daughter. "We take turns getting up with our baby, which is the most romantic thing you can do for a person. (I'm only about 20 percent kidding)," Stephanie says with a smile. Though their schedules are a different kind of full these days, they still make time for great dates, often on Friday afternoons for a meal at Feast & Forest, Trattoria Centrale, or El Barrio. Says the wife and mother, "My husband is truly my partner. In life, travel, and now parenting. He's the person I'm grateful to have at my side."
Endless Love | Joe & Faye
At age 29, Birmingham resident Dakota Nichols bears witness to the love story of his grandparents, Joe and Faye--"Papa Joe and Memaw" as he calls them. As a junior at Florence State Teacher's College (now The University of North Alabama), Joe married Faye, a senior at Hatton High School, on August 21, 1958 in their hometown of Hatton, Ala. Their honeymoon destination: Birmingham.
"At that time, there was no Interstate 65, and AL Highway 157 was a two-lane road," explains Dakota, "So the trip to Birmingham from Hatton wasn't the quick 75-minute trip that it is today. In Birmingham, they visited the Vulcan statue where they counted the steps to the top. They purchased a wooden trinket box from the Vulcan gift store that they still have today (the 'Vulcan Park, Birmingham, AL' writing is mostly faded now). After visiting Vulcan, they stayed at the Paradise Motel in the Bridal Suite. The Paradise Motel was located in the shadow of Vulcan at 1024 N 26th Street, but was demolished when US 280/31 was built."
Joe and Faye celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary in August 2016. Says their grandson, "While I go to Vulcan Park fairly often, I made it a point to visit on August 21st in their honor. I snapped a sunset picture of Vulcan and sent it to Memaw's phone wishing them a Happy Anniversary. And last year, I found a mini Vulcan Statue replica at an estate sale and an older mini bell from the Vulcan gift shop at What's on 2nd? that I gave to Memaw for Christmas, along with a 'Someone in Birmingham Loves Me' t-shirt."
Though most of Dakota's family lives in other places, the Magic City continues to play an important part in their story. Dakota's cousin Zeke, also a grandson to Joe and Faye, proposed to his now-wife Victoria atop Vulcan. They were married in April 2016, carrying on a legacy of love at the iconic location.
Chance Meeting | Mitri & Ivana
Ivana was out of high school and preparing to start college at UAB when friends suggested a night on the town. At Zydeco, a mutual friend introduced her to Mitri, a student at UAB. The night went on, and at closing time Ivana found herself in a difficult situation. "All of my friends left me," she says. "I had no way to get home. Two drunk guys approached me, and said they would take me home."
Mitri saw what was happening and interceded. "I'm taking you home," he said.
"You don't know those guys.""Well, I don't really know you either," replied Ivana. But Mitri's charm and sobriety, combined with their connection through that mutual friend, finally won her over. So they got in his truck, he took her home and then, she says, "He asked me to marry him."
The joke proposal was the start of a relationship that has grown over the years for these two Birmingham natives. Now finished with school, they're navigating new challenges and careers: he as a lead investigator for Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys and she as a reporter for AL.com. Says Ivana, "We still go to Zydeco (Mit more than me!)."
"She's means the world to me," says Mitri. "We keep our love story going by loving and supporting one another." Even if it means going to Surin West--Mitri's favorite--three times a week. Years later, it's clear his charm still wins her over--and Ivana wouldn't have it any other way.
Falling in Love | Vann & Susan
When Vann picked Susan up for their first date, he was driving a new MGB white convertible. A Birmingham resident and student at the University of Montevallo at the time, Susan had spent the better part of an hour straightening her naturally curly hair that was down to her waist, a poster girl for '70s chic. Vann opened the door for her, and she noticed the top was up but that the back window was zipped out, "allowing some air to circulate," said Vann. He asked Susan if it would be too much wind; she assured him it would be fine.
They sped down the highway to their dinner destination, Sailmaker Restaurant in Vestavia Hills. Says Susan, "The wind mixed with the Alabama humidity would soon make my hair a hot mess." She laughs, recalling the reflection that faced her in the ladies' room mirror. "I looked like I had been stuck in a wind tunnel!" She did her best to tame her tresses and returned to the table. Nervous, she fiddled with the ruby ring on her finger; it had once belonged to her grandmother. The ring flew off her finger and disappeared on the floor. Horrified at the thought of losing it, she enlisted Vann to help find it. They crawled around on hands and knees under the table, and eventually, they found it.
"I couldn't believe he asked me out on a second date," Susan says. For their second date, they went to the ballet, and she wore a pair of new high-heel sandals. They enjoyed the show, and upon returning to the car, which was parked alongside a curb, Vann opened the door for Susan. She wanted to elegantly glide into the low-riding vehicle, but instead her heel caught on the curb, and she fell on top of the convertible hood. "You aren't going to believe this," she said to Vann, "but my foot is wedged, and I can't move!" The both laughed, and he proceeded to kneel down and free her foot.
The two drove to Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor at Brookwood Mall, laughing about the calamities. They stopped to look at perfume in the windows of a department store, and Susan hit her head on the glass. Again laughter, followed by a love that has endured many a mishap and challenge for more than 20 years. The couple moved away from Birmingham, but recently returned. Vann, the executive director of Rwanda Children, and Susan, a project manager at United Cerebral Palsy, still enjoy adventures together. "We love Moss Rock," Susan says, "and going to the $1.50 movies at Carmike Cinemas. And Arc Stories is a must-do for us."
To keep the love going, Susan says, "We treat each other with respect and look for ways to honor each other in public and private--that isn't so hard when you married up like I did. And, of course, we love to laugh."
Life Like This | Matt & Joy
Theirs is a story of love lost and found again, and it definitely has a soundtrack. Matt met Joy online; both attorneys, both single parents, both music lovers. "We attend a lot of concerts and festivals, so we're regulars at Iron City, Saturn, the Alabama Theatere, WorkPlay, etc. We've been to Sloss Fest, Secret Stages, Cask & Drum. But we probably consider Saturn 'our place,'" Joy says.
After meeting, Matt and Joy dated for more than a year but broke up in the fall of 2015. "We reconnected at the Kurt Vile show at Saturn this past March. (I'm pretty sure Matt saw my RSVP on Facebook and came to the show to 'run into' me.) We wound up talking for ages when we ran into each other in Satellite [Saturn's coffee shop] on a bathroom break. It was very '90s rom-drama: think Singles or High Fidelity."
The two soon reunited and were married on December 17, 2016 at Joy's church downtown, and the reception was in Avondale. Coffee afterward at Satellite was a must. "I know it sounds cliche, but Matt is my best friend," Joy says. "He makes me laugh and he has unfailing patience. He possesses many of the traits I wish I possessed. He's loyal, calm, and steady. He's a better person than I am, but he'd argue that point, and that's what makes him exceptional to me. He's also a loving dad to his son, and has a great relationship with my daughter.
"Having been married before, we both know how much effort a long-term relationship takes," she says. "With age and experience comes wisdom. We will continue to cultivate the pastimes we enjoy together, like going to lots and lots of shows, spending time with our kids, and exploring new restaurants around the city. And I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to Birmingham Mountain Radio. We went to dozens of shows in the two and a half years we dated, and we won tickets to most of them from BMR." She laughs and says, "They make our rockin' lifestyle possible."
Making Headlines | Greg & Jessica
In 2009, Jessica was a senior at UAB and wanted to bring in a guest speaker for her journalism class. She called on Greg, a reporter for AL.com and The Birmingham News. Says Greg, "We met at O'Henry's in Homewood to plan a presentation. She got an 'A,' graduated, and we stayed in touch. In 2010, we started dating."
"DeVinci's is the first place I had dinner with him," Jessica says. "The parking lot of Rogue Tavern is the first place we kissed. We said our vows at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and spent our wedding night at the Tutwiler--that's a Birmingham love story to me."
Their list of things they enjoy doing together reads like a special edition travel guide for the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama. "We enjoy hikes at Ruffner Mountain and Moss Rock," they say. "We climb rocks at Horse Pens 40, Mt. Cheaha, and Palisades Park. We dip our toes in the water at Turkey Creek and Tannehill State Park, and visit waterfalls at Little River Falls and DeSoto Falls. We love walking in the sand and on the piers on the Gulf.
"Of our most recent romantic nearby getaways, we took a jazz cruise aboard a riverboat on the Alabama River in Montgomery. We watched bald eagles feed their young at Guntersville Lake from the woods below. We visited lighthouses along the Gulf Coast."
This dynamic duo also loves to frequent international restaurants in town, including Bayleaf, The Pita Hut, Mandarin House, and El Cazador. "We relish German food at festivals, too," Greg says. "Our favorite dates include samplings at Ozan Winery, martinis at Blue Monkey, strolls through Birmingham Botanical Gardens, coffee at O'Henry's Coffee, and delicious Italian dining at DeVinci's, of course!"
When asked about the secret to their relationship success, they both point back to their mutual love for one another and for the rich experiences they share together. Greg sums it up this way: "Life is an adventure, and so is love."
Ideas for great dates in Birmingham
1. Outdoor AdventureFrom Ruffner Mountain to Oak Mountain, Birmingham has plenty of spots where you and your significant other can explore the great outdoors. Ideal for a Saturday date, select a trail that suits your partner's preference, and don't forget to bring a daypack with water and a few other essentials to show you cared enough to think ahead. Then opt for lunch at your favorite food truck, followed by a frozen treat from Big Spoon Creamery or Steel City Pops.
2. Modern MixtapePut a personal spin on the Friday night date, and surprise your sweetheart with a soundtrack for the scheduled stops. No matter your preferred genre, you're likely to find a decent whiskey-themed song--the perfect setup for a beverage at Dram. Or shake things up with some old school "Gin and Juice" and a stop at The Collins Bar. Pump up the volume and the fun factor by soaking up the sounds of a live show at Iron City, WorkPlay, or Moonlight on the Mountain, and wrap things up with your favorite slow jam and a visit to the Vulcan overlook.
3. All that JazzShow your sweetheart that you think he or she is the bee's knees with a date dedicated to having a roaring good time--Twenties style. Get dolled up and catch a show at The Lyric or The Alabama Theatre, both rich in history and atmosphere. Shell out for some delicious eats at 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar or Fancy's on 5th, and then keep the celebration going with speakeasy vibes and coupe-glass delights at The Marble Ring.
Single in the City
Ready to see sparks fly? Try striking up a conversation at one of these local hot spots.
1. Coffee TalkLattes and love connections? We think so. Some of Birmingham's best and brightest can be found with a cup in hand at Church Street Coffee & Books, O'Henry's, Octane, and Satellite. Take a chance, and offer to buy a cappuccino for the cutie behind you in line.
2. Fun and GamesAn organized activity takes some of the pressure off when it comes to meeting new people. Finally, you have something to do with your hands--or your feet, if you're playing kickball, one of the city's most popular recreational sport leagues (gokickball.com). Or try a running group, many of which meet at Trak Shak in Homewood (see birminghamtrackclub.com for more). The YMCA also offers a variety of classes, tournaments, etc. (ymcabham.org), so find something that interests you, and give it a go.
3. City SceneRailroad Park, Avondale Brewery, Art on the Rocks, and the Preserve Jazz Festival at Moss Rock--local destinations, breweries, and events are a great place to meet people. Check out bhammag.com for upcoming events, and mark your calendar for the ones that pique your interest. Getting out and about is half the battle, and it's highly likely you'll have a good time and make some new friends--maybe even a love connection--as you experience all The Magic City has to offer.
More places to fall in love with (or at!):Bottega Cafe Carrigan's Public HouseThe Collins BarDram