The Bright Star, Bessemer, Alabama

While we’re talking about Bessemer, voting rights, Willie Mays, and Bo Jackson’s Momma (here), I have to mention the Bright Star.

The Bright Star opened in 1907, and has been in the Koikos family since 1920.  (The founder was a cousin, and at least one Koikos was a waiter.)   The Bright Star is the subject of a Southern Foodways Alliance film, and is on various national lists of restaurants to visited; and it has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation.  It’s the oldest restaurant in Alabama, a lovely place,

brightstar interior

They’re restoring the original murals.  There are private booths for private dining, such as for one of my negotiation sessions with the city’s attorneysin my voving rights lawsuit against Bessemer.  At least one private booth has inspirational art.

bryant-booth elvis

Most important, they have really good food.  We used to go there when I was a kid.  It was a real trek out to Bessemer before the interstate bowled through town — either a good 20 miles of uncoordinated traffic lights, or a circuitous route through the country on narrow, unlighted two-lane roads –a 45-60 minute drive, but it was well worth it.  To avoid the traffic lights, people south of town, like us, would drive south to the rural Bessemer cut-off, then west, and then north to Bessemer.***  The Bright Star had excellent gumbo, and very fresh fish, trucked up every morning from the Gulf.  I generally got the red snapper, either almandine or Greek Style, or the fried snapper throats.  Wonderful.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

You really ought to visit the Bright Star.  Elvis did.

bright starelvis


An isolated rural section of the interstate was completed from just west of Bessemer to Tuscaloosa before the portion through the city, and at that time hardly anyone used it.  My father had a psychiatrist friend who sometimes worked with patients at the state mental hospitals, Bryce and Partlow, in Tuscaloosa.  A car dealer told the psychiatrist, when he was purchasing a new car, that the car would go 55 miles per hour in reverse.  That certainly wasn’t a selling point, but it was – is the sort of thing that sticks in your mind.  Early one morning, as he got onto the empty interstate segment on his way to Tuscaloosa with no other cars in sight, he turned his car around and started driving down the interstate in reverse.  As his speed increased, he noticed flashing lights, and he pulled over.  A state trooper sauntered up as only a state trooper can saunter, and asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”  The psychiatrist said, “Bryce.”  The trooper said, “You’re damned right, and I’m taking you there,” and proceeded to escort the good doctor to the state mental hospital.


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