Many restaurateurs have tried to operate at the downtown Tuscaloosa’s L&N Station over the decades, with sporadic success. Its grand expanse make the space a challenging business proposition, but the old-school opulence keeps folks coming back.
For 2021, anyone can own a piece of the station, as represented in the gilded Christmas ornament being sold by Easterseals West Alabama as a fundraiser. They’re $20 each, and can be purchased through the service organization’s website at eswaweb.org, or at Hudson Poole Fine Jewelers, the Bryant Bank branch near Indian Hills Country Club, or the Easterseals West Alabama offices, 1400 James Harrison Parkway E.
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Funds raised will benefit Easterseals West Alabama’s transportation services, which provides rides to work for its consumers. Even during the 2020 pandemic year, Easterseals provided 4,265 trips, and with its other functions served 1,055 people across 10 counties in West Alabama.
“Transportation and childcare are the two biggest barriers to employment, so we really want to keep this program running,” said Ronny Johnston, executive director of Easterseals West Alabama.
As with so many others in the midst of a pandemic, the organization has seen costs rise, for further sanitation and safety procedures, and acquiring the materials necessary to conduct some of its services virtually. A grant with the Alabama Department of Transportation, funding part of the transportation program, ended, so ornament sales will go to bolster that.
Each holiday season since 1995, the local branch of the nationwide service organization has chosen mostly local icons to emblazon, including the Old Tavern, City Cafe, Rusty the big red dog at Kentuck, the University Club, and Tuska the elephant statue.
Its 2019 ornament celebrated Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial, and the 2020 version pulled back to envision planet Earth encircled by Peace, Joy, Love, Compassion, Kindness and other virtues and hopeful feelings, over a season in which many suffered.
Johnston chose the L&N Station as “a beautiful example of the workmanship we used to put into our public buildings,” he said.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad line was the third to reach Tuscaloosa in the early 20th century, but stamped an impression on the Druid City by constructing its grand passenger station at 301 Greensboro Ave.
Compiling yellow pressed bricks, steel and marble, the edifice was built to last, as more than a century after construction, it’s still in standing and in operation today, as Druid City Social.
The L&N station originally consisted of a domed ceiling soaring above decorative plaster scrollwork, with fanlights of leaded glass, walls lined in marble and mosaic tile floors.
It served the railroad from 1912 into the 1940s, then became a Trailways bus station between 1950 and 1967. After that, for about a decade, it fell into disrepair. Furnishings were stolen, vandalized, or sold as scrap.
Then in 1977, a group of investors began restoration, eventually opening a restaurant that they “hadda call” something: HaddaCall Station.
Though that and subsequent operations eventually ran out of steam, the L&N has hosted bands and barbecues, cocktails and wedding receptions, parties, festivals and more over the decades, as it chugged through various owner-operators.
The L&N has lived on as restaurants, bars and event venues including McQue Station, The L&N Club, The Cotton Club, The Old Train Station, The Station, J.R.’s Crystal Palace, Hooterville, and 301 Bistro Bar and Beer Garden.
In 2005, restaurateur Bill Lloyd took over, turning the L&N into a private event and catering space. After a decade of operation, he undertook the building’s second major renovation, its first since 1978.
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After seven months of painstaking efforts to not only restore the grandeur, including relighting the old gasolier (now wired for electricity), and bringing functions up to code and comfort, Lloyd and his wife Bebe Barefoot Lloyd opened it again in 2015, as 301 Bistro Bar and Beer Garden.
Though the station’s restored beauty, and the blend of New Orleans and German cuisines enticed patrons, 2020’s pandemic bled the business. Lloyd teamed with Brandon Hanks of Downtown Entertainment to created Druid City Social, which utilizes some of 301’s more popular cocktails and cuisine, and added and expanded on the biergarten, including more widescreen TVs and more.
For more on Easterseals West Alabama’s services, see www.eswaweb.org.