Since opening its doors in November 2017, Rails and Ales has become a fixture in the Leeds community. Owners Chad Anderson, Cary Kennedy, Jamie Blair and Shane St. John didn’t really expect it to grow so quickly, but it soon became a live music hub. Longtime Birmingham musician and Leeds resident Eric Watters played a big part in that.
“I would run the music guys who called me by Eric because he knows practically everyone in the scene,” Anderson said. “And we started booking his multiple bands. I’ll take his opinion on anyone.”
Watters grew up in Homewood, but relocated to Leeds in 2004. He spent years on the road with his bands—Suburban Love Junkies and Caddle—and he was searching for a place that he and his wife could settle into. In Leeds, he found a space where he would eventually move his home studio. That keeps him busy; in April alone, he’s spent time working with several musicians including Steve Wheeler, Robert Abernathy, Stoned Cobra, Cash Back and Stuart Douglas.
In his spare time, he has enjoyed lending a hand to the success of Rails and Ales.
“Cary Kennedy told me he was opening up the bar, and I just mentioned to him that if he ever needed any help with booking to let me know,” Watters said. “I’ve booked Cash Back and Edmonds Butler Band. Chris Simmons. Different things to help introduce them to really good music. So if someone contacts me and it’s someone I think is really great, I’ll tell them they should come out and play.”
Approximately once a month, Watters hosts an open mic on the same stage. The next open mic will be during the day of their Cinco de Mayo celebration on May 5. Steadily, the space has made live music a valuable part of the community.
“People really appreciate it,” Watters said. “And I think people really appreciate that bar because they have quality music and excellent beer choices. There’s an area outside for kids to play. There’s space for food trucks to pull in. They have TVs. You can take your kid with you and it doesn’t feel like a bar. It feels more like you’re at a festival.”
He credits that inviting atmosphere to the success of the bar.
“It’s creating a cool, younger vibe of what you see in downtown Birmingham,” said Watters. “And since that’s so saturated and expensive downtown and Homewood, it’s pushing this direction. I think within four or five years, you’ll be able to spend your time walking around downtown—eating, drinking.
It’s something that has been so successful, Anderson says he and his partners have had numerous requests to open more locations.
“We all have regular jobs, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Anderson said.
When it began, it was four friends turning an old house into a something that they believed could be positive for the city. Anderson assures that it was all kind of a vanity project—a place created just so they could celebrate their own love of live music. Since, it has grown to include an outdoor stage where he hopes to welcome larger acts.
Rails and Ales is open on Tuesday and Wednesday from 4-9 p.m., Thursday from 4-10 p.m., Friday from 4-minight, Saturday from 1-midnight and on Sunday from 3-9 p.m. It’s closed on Monday. As the weather gets warmer, they’ll host a few shrimp and crawfish boils, and on May 11, they’ll be the starting line for their 2ndAnnual 5K. The event raises money for scholarships for the annual trip taken by Leeds Middle School. Last year, they were able to fund trips for four students to Washington, D.C.
To see the weekly schedule of activities and live music, visit railsandales.beer.