Wedged between the Public Parking Deck #3 expansion and the former Regions Bank headquarters (which replaced the original Tutwiler Hotel) is a small, older building whose marquee still proclaims “La Paree Steaks/Seafood”. For roughly 60 years La Paree was considered one of the better downtown restaurants, until finally closing in 2003.
Most recently, when the former Regions Bank was slated for a Marriott Renaissance Hotel, the old La Paree was to be demolished to make room for a new steak house associated with the hotel. Now that the larger building has instead been sold to West Second Street Associates out of Flint, MI (for office or mixed-use), the future of the La Paree building is uncertain.
Above is a shot of the restaurant soon after it first opened; notice the Tutwiler Hotel to the right. The impressive neon marquee survives in a later incarnation. It’s important to realize that, until the last few decades, Americans did not eat out very often; when they did in a medium-sized city there were few choices–a handful of well-known steak or seafood places like La Paree; an ethnic restaurant or two; or cafeterias. So the fact that La Paree had white tablecloths on the tables instantly made it one of the “best”, although it was by no means fancy or inventive. The current influx of restaurants into downtown is not a renaissance as much as a new thing–downtown’s restaurants were always perfunctory (with the exception of Joy Young perhaps), rather than noteworthy.
While we should be concerned about the future of La Paree and the historic building that houses it (as well as the future of our transit system, as we are reminded in the pic above), we should also be happy about two things: 1. while the Regions Building won’t be a Marriott, perhaps it will soon be filled with offices and even a boutique hotel; 2. we expect an announcement about a very, very cool new restaurant that will open downtown soon, and hope to report on it shortly. As usual, stay tuned.
[thanks to Birmingham Public Library for the historic pic]