Little Savoy Cafe

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1940s photo of a Beech-Nut Gum Girl in front of the Little Savoy Cafe

The Little Savoy Cafe (sometimes called The Savoy, Bob's Savoy Cafe or Bob's Little Savoy) was a restaurant, bar, and dance hall located at 411 17th Street North or 1710-1712 4th Avenue North in the black business district centered around 18th Street at 4th Avenue.

The business was owned by Bob Williams, who moved to Birmingham from New York City in 1932 and drew on the fame of Harlem's Savoy Ballroom for the new venture he opened here in 1937 with Alvin Alexander. Oliver Marcus managed the business and the head chef was A. B. Bettis. The upstairs restaurant served chicken and steaks, along with dinner specials and short orders. The bar downstairs was a gathering place for many of the African-American elite, including musicians, Birmingham Black Barons players, and out-of-town visitors.

Nightly band performances went on until the early hours of the morning. Nationally-known performers booked at larger ballrooms in the city would often stop by the Little Savoy to play for smaller crowds. A few of those included Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway. Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson were some of the visiting stars who frequented the club. Local luminaries like Kitty Cat Mays and, later, his son Willie were regulars.

Williams was an early proponent of ending segregation and helped raise a defense fund to challenge Birmingham's race-based zoning laws. The club closed following a fire in 1958. The site is now used for parking for the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse.

The Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival features a re-creation of the Little Savoy.