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Category: Highland Park

The Garage Take on Neighborhood Character

garage birmingham

garage birmingham

Nothing quite captures the borderlands between Highland Park and Five Points South like the Garage. On an orphaned block behind an apartment building, it’s a bar you head to rather than stumble upon. Not anxious for outsiders, despite GQ’s travel recommendation. But it’s the ultimate neighborhood hangout for folks who love the eclecticism of Five Points South and the restful air of Highland Park.

To get there, park on 10th Terrace South (or walk from your Highland Park home). Then walk past scattered garden urns and reclaimed doors accented with holiday lights and neon beer signs. Inside, you’ll find a dimly lit, cash-only bar surrounded by simple wooden booths. It’s perfect in its bare-bones appeal, where the fanciest cocktail you’re prepared to order is a Bloody Mary (which Southern Living recommends, by the way).

But the real magic is out back, which looks like the domain of a twentieth century Miss Havisham. Filled with the detritus of another age, it’s now the perfect host for an evening with friends. Particularly ones you’re inclined to reminisce with.

Accented by fairy lights and studded with slightly uncomfortable seating, the patio may be the most authentic space in town. Some perfect amalgamation of Dave’s Pub, Rojo, and the Donnelly House, the Garage could only exist right where it is.

Main Street America says that downtowns are attractive because they’ve aged in a way that suburban communities haven’t. Yet the organization also recommends the kind of creative rehabilitation we’ve seen (and loved) in downtown Birmingham.

But the Garage suggests an alternative approach to celebrating an area’s age. The French way, at least as the New York Times describes it, which involves quality products, perhaps a treatment or three, but no harsh remodeling. That’s generally been the story of places in Highland Park and Five Points South, where things wear their age with grace but also comfort. In the way of tile honed by decades with a hairline crack for character.

 

 

Birmingham for Everyman at Bottega & Bottega Café

Bottega Café

Bottega Café

We’ve been known to describe Bottega Café as Bottega’s more affordable option. Which is true–entree prices average a good $10 lower on the café side–but almost missing the point. Where Bottega is a tailored fine dining experience, Bottega Café is the everyday foodie option.

Still, the magic of Frank Stitt’s fine dining is that he’s also carved out entry points. Like the blend of historic apartments and grand homes in the Five Points South and Highland Park neighborhoods surrounding Bottega and Bottega Café, there’s something for everyone. Wherever you are on your professional course, there’s a version of the Stitt experience you can (and really should) manage.

The café menu is eclectic, covering your dining needs from light snacks with wines by-the-glass to a multi-course meal with a bottle of bubbly. Or, as the café website describes it, a “relaxed spot where you can come for lunch and stay for dinner with a menu celebrating the warm spirit of Italian cuisine, while honoring the purest seasonal ingredients of the American South.”

It’s the easy fun of Five Points mixed with the grand influences of Highland Park. It’s also emblematic of the way Frank Stitt has helped define the Birmingham food scene and, with it, the city. He’s famous for his fine dining, but, as the Birmingham Business Journal reported in 2013, Stitt also helped lay the track for our city’s accessible foodie finds. The big flavors and easy atmosphere of places like Trattoria Centrale are rooted in Stitt’s food culture.

Then there’s the building, Bottega Favorita, for which the restaurants are named. “The overall structural form, massing and building materials reflect historic associations with the Italian Renaissance,” noted the building’s application to the National Register of Historic Places, “but the architectural detailing is typical of the popular 1920s trend toward the precision streamlined appearance of the modern machine age.”

Like so many Birmingham buildings of its era, there’s a reverence for the old coupled with ideas of its age (see also: the John Hand Building). And Bottega’s food, described on the restaurant website as a blend of Italian traditions and Southern foodstuffs, is the ultimate example of revival style on a plate.

 

 

Foodie Necessities at Western on Highland

Western on Highland

Western on Highland

Quick Quiz: Where can you get a sewing kit, local organic milk and a rotisserie chicken at midnight? The answer: Western Market on Highland Avenue. Long before the downtown Publix was a twinkle in a (much loved) developer’s eye, the Western on Highland was plying Five Points South and Highland Park residents with grocery essentials on their own scheduling terms.

The Western’s selection is abbreviated but solid. And it’s open all the time. Literally. It has the snack selection you’d expect plus plenty of prepared foods — sushi, sandwiches, even a Mexican food bar at times — but some local foodie treats that belie its gas station hours.

There’s a case of Heavenly Donut Co. near the cash registers, and Working Cow Dairy products in the milk case. Besides the expected Starbuck’s packs, Western on Highland offers Red Bike, Fairhope Roasting, and O’Henry’s blends.

Located in its own little restaurant row — Galley & Garden, Hot & Hot, and both Bottegas are within two blocks — its foodie bona fides make a little more sense. Even after a fancy dinner, there’s still tomorrow’s eating to deal with, after all. And filling up on a “chicken fried steak” doesn’t save you from needing a quart of milk or a bunch of bananas for morning. Or perhaps just a nightcap.

Beer lovers will find plenty of local crafted cans from Good People, Cahaba, and the like. There are also pithy Monday Night Brewing titles and New Belgium bottles. Even 22-ounce bottles of Miss Fancy’s Tripel and Scrumpy’s Hard Cider, for something a little different. 

We’re most likely to raid the frozen food section, which includes plenty of pizza options and a healthy ice cream selection. Plastic spoons next to the pints of Haagen Das make us wonder if the Western on Highland knows us too well.

But who among us hasn’t had an ice cream emergency? And more often than not, it happens just as larger grocery stores are shutting their doors. Our diets may give it the stink-eye, but our hungry hearts are forever grateful.

 

 

Stately Bohemian Style at Rojo in Highland Park

Rojo in Highland Park

Rojo in Highland Park

It’s no secret we love this neighborhood gem. We included it in both our neighborhood roundup and an ode to its weekend-long brunch service. But we also love the feel of it, the way its tree-lined location, full bar, and interior stylings create an excuse to linger. So, how do those interiors create help create the Rojo in Highland Park we know and love? And more importantly, what lessons can they offer for your home, in Highland Park or elsewhere?

When we first considered a post on Rojo’s style, we thought artsy, eclectic, almost Five Points South in feel. But when we revisited photos of the restaurant’s actual interiors, we realized parts of it are downright stately. What we came away with is an approach for making even the grandest homes feel relaxed and fun based on Rojo in Highland Park.

 

Deep impact

There are two things that stand out most about the restaurant: its deep red interiors and its large-scale gunslinger mural. Fortunately, both those things are replicable, at least to a degree, while carving out your own casual style attitude.

Red may be a bit dramatic for your own home space, and so long as your name doesn’t literally translate to “red,” no pressure. Think about other deep tones — a rich navy, a flirty emerald, a cozy charcoal — all still on point for interior colors, especially in high-ceilinged historic homes. Just don’t leave those ceilings white if you’re looking to replicate Rojo’s cozy feel. Houzz has a compelling argument for black ceilings (like Rojo’s), but there are plenty of Pinterest options involving a single deep wall, ceiling, and trim paint color.

Then there’s that mural. The combination of bold color and standout art defines the feel of the space, even while keeping the rest of it pretty low key. Large local art won’t be your cheapest accessorizing option. But there are few splurges we feel better about than buying a nice piece during Art Crawl or one of Rojo’s side-room showings.

 

Built-in definition

The built-in elements are what make this space most compellingly Highland Park. That iconic gunslinger? He’s surrounded by a wall of built-in bookcases with a simple dark stain. The best trick is how the built-ins frame the art so that it owns the room without occupying all that much of it.

Built-ins are the kind of detail that’s expensive to replicated but that well may exist in a historic Highland Park home. In fact, it’s one of the things we love most about them. And while Rojo’s shelves store their extensive collection of libations, yours could just as easily hold books. Perhaps offset with sculptural bookends or the odd accessory piece. Though carving out space for Redmont bottles and small-batch bourbon would be a classy alternative to a bar cart.  

 

 

Emily and Lee’s Historic Hybrid in Highland Park

highland park clients emily and lee

We love the way our blog space helps us showcase Birmingham’s great and varied neighborhoods. We think it’s an invaluable tool to help our clients settle on the right location. But sometimes it’s helpful to hear about other people’s decisions, too. Our client spotlight series takes you behind the scenes of local real estate searches to help you find your own idea of home.

highland park clients emily and lee

Emily and Lee spend a lot of time in downtown Birmingham. It’s where they work. And with the thriving entertainment scene, it’s also where they like to hang out. They wanted to stay close by with their home purchase but still get some space. Working with friend Betsy Reamer, our very own H2 realtor, they quickly zeroed in on two neighborhoods: Highland Park and Forest Park.

Part of what drew them to those neighborhoods was the idea of a home with character. They wanted the details you only find in older homes, but not the full project load of an emerging neighborhood fixer upper. The parks are historic neighborhoods that started regaining popularity decades ago — check out our post on Forest Park’s history — so they tend to offer the right mix of charming details and modern updates.

After a whirlwind tour of five homes in a single day, Emily and Lee decided that the last one Betsy showed them was the one they truly loved. They closed on their new home in April.

Their home has Highland Park’s signature historic accents plus the modern amenities that feel like home today. It has a deep front porch, tons of natural light, plus a fireplace and window seat in the master bedroom. Thick trim and gorgeous old hardwoods abound, and the entryway opens into the living room through a wide, columned doorway. Slate floors and white kitchen cabinets feel appropriate to both the home’s age and its modern stainless steel appliances.

Now Emily and Lee spend their days alternating between the vibrant energy downtown and the quiet, tree-lined streets of their Highland Park neighborhood. We’d already dubbed this neighborhood “the suburb for people who aren’t suburban,” and these active professionals are the perfect fit.

 

Check out more photos of Emily and Lee’s home on our Facebook page, and check out our first client spotlight post with the Loft District’s Clay Loveless.

Bham Eats: Vegetarian in the City

urban standard food
Image via Urban Standard

Remember when eating out as a vegetarian meant ordering grilled cheese and fries or a sad side salad? Those days weren’t that long ago, but thankfully, they’re no longer. The new Birmingham dining scene may celebrate the pork arts and other meat-loving specialties, but it offers delicious meat-free choices as well. Here’s our roundup of menu picks by neighborhood for a food-loving vegetarian in the city.

Loft District

Urban Standard is a standout option, offering the broadest array of non-meat entrees, including a veggie reuben, hippie gumbo, and a veggie burger of mushrooms and barley. And despite our complaint about the grilled cheese as a default option, you’ll very much want their grilled cheese.

El Barrio offers guacamole, chile rellenos, veggie quesadillas, and enough delicious meat-free sides to craft a meal of your choosing. We highly recommend either the sopa seca or the oaxacan donuts for brunch, depending on your sweet or savory preference.

Continental Bakery Downtown has a solid veggie option in every menu section, including peasant garlic soup, a salad featuring stone’s hollow goat cheese, a roasted eggplant sandwich, and red pepper farci.

Other neighborhood choices are the tofu base at Tau Poco, fill-you-up falafel at Pita Loco, veggie-filled mac ‘n cheese at John’s City Diner, and meat-free pizzas and pastas at Trattoria Centrale.

Avondale

Post Office Pies not only has a classic margherita pizza with house-made mozzarella but also seasonal salads like the roasted corn and tomato.

Melt is another grilled cheese feature, but it’s not relegated to the kids menu. Other options include pimento cheese, fried pickles, the mac melt (mac ‘n cheese grilled cheese), and tomato basil soup.

Hotbox has a small menu, but they’ve made room for five spice tofu and spicy soba noodles. Try a side of marinated edamame or cucumber kimchi while you’re at it.

Lakeview

Slice Pizza & Brew offers baked feta (!), raw kale salad, and an impressive array of veggie pizzas, not to mention the build-your-own option.

Babalu boasts tableside guacamole, a black bean burger, veggie tacos, and a host of meat-free small plates.

Cantina‘s molletes (basically a spanish bean sandwich), vegetarian tacos, and cheese enchiladas cover your entree base, along with great sides like saffron rice and beans and corn in a cup.

Five Points

Surin West is your place for vegetarian noodle dishes and tofu-based stir fries at varying degrees of spiciness, along with tofu coconut soup.

The Garage Cafe has loaded veggie sandwiches of your own design, served warm or cold on hearty Big Sky bread.

Other neighborhood favorites are pizza options galore (Cosmo’s, Mellow Mushroom, Little Italy’s), Golden Temple’s menu of meat substitutes and latin-inspired bean plates, and the falafel and seasoned fry arts at Mediterranean staples (Al’s, Purple Onion, Makario’s).

Highland Park

Rojo‘s veggie choices like black bean burgers, summer burritos, Kate’s salad, and totchos (tater tot nachos) are tempting even for meat eaters. The menu’s broad enough you could probably eat here weekly and still want to come back.

There you have it. If you’re a vegetarian who fancies living within walking distance of great local food, consider this your neighborhood cheat sheet.

 

Bham Eats: Birmingham Restaurant Week

Image via Birmingham Restaurant Week

If you love food the way we do, Birmingham Restaurant Week is basically another holiday season. As big believers in our local food scene, we support restaurant week’s goal “to encourage residents and tourists alike to get a taste of Birmingham’s culinary scene and to fill the seats of the city’s eating and drinking establishments.” This year will be its sixth year of operation, and we’re looking forward to it like kids to Christmas.

The week kicks off with a preview party on August 12th, offering a taste of multiple restaurant week vendors, not to mention some of the city’s best views. If you’re having trouble singling out restaurants to try, this may be your best option. It also brings a range of options from around the metro area to the city center, an arrangement we can always get behind. And since ticket sales support REV Birmingham’s Urban Food Project, there’s even more reason to get a jump on the Restaurant Week action.

When the week starts in earnest, BRW’s website has a location recognition option to help you identify participating restaurants nearby, taking some of the scrolling off your hands if you’re content to focus on your own neighborhood. In case you’re not, we’ve listed participating restaurants by neighborhood below to give you a sense of the flavor profiles available across the city.

Part of the draw in events like this is to try new things, after all. So we’re excited that newcomers like East 59 are participating. We also enjoy the range of price points, with lunches from $5-15 per person and dinners from $10-30. And let’s be honest, $30 per person for a complete fine dining meal is practically the deal of a lifetime. Even if you keep your spending modest, there’s something special about signing up for a fixed menu and seeing what the restaurant itself selects as the perfect representative bites.

So go forth, eat, and enjoy the best of this city.

 

East Lake:

East 59 Vintage & Cafe

 

Southside/Five Points South:

Ted’s Restaurant

5 Point Public House Oyster Bar

Dreamland

Bottega

Chez Fon Fon

Galley & Garden

Highlands

Ocean

 

Downtown/Loft District:

Bistro 218

Brava Rotisserie Grill

Carrigan’s

Continental Bakery Downtown

John’s City Diner

Oscar’s at the Museum

Rogue Tavern

The Summit Club

The Wine Loft

Urban Standard

 

Highland Park:

Rojo

 

Lakeview:

Bettola

BYOB

Cantina

Five

On Tap

Slice

 

Forest Park:

Little Savannah

Silvertron

Why Rojo Brunch Is a Neighborhood Anchor

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Fancy a covered patio meal on leafy green Highland Avenue? Rojo, it is. Looking for a welcoming attitude toward canine meal companions? It works there, too. There are lots of reasons to go to Rojo, after all, but brunch is a very good one.

Brunch is the ultimate weekend signifier, celebrating the fact that you actually have time to linger in the middle of the day. You might even indulge in a drink or two, since you’re not expected back at work. But at most places, brunch is a single day event. At Rojo it’s a weekend affair, and that’s an unfailingly good thing.

The Rojo brunch menu is dedicated to weekend ease. Instead of creative riffs on a classic eggs benedict, there are multiple variations on the breakfast burrito. With lots of scrambled eggs and bacon and potatoes, it’s the kind of brunch that fills you up. Maybe the kind that helps you recover from the night before. It’s almost a neighborhood kitchen, really, and that’s the heart of Rojo’s appeal.

It’s the kind of place you’re best off walking to and one you can afford on the last dregs of your paycheck. And while some places favor couples or family groupings, Rojo is one of the best places to catch up with friends. This casual sociability fits the neighborhood’s range of residents and has made it the quintessential Highland Park gathering spot.

How else do you effectively mingle folks from high-rise apartments and grand old houses, after all? Latin comfort brunch and bloody mary pitchers hold universal appeal. Which makes us wonder: Is Rojo part of the reason Highland Park works? Is there something about an affordable, local brunch spot that tracks closely with neighborhood viability?

We started this series as a way to talk about restaurants beyond their lunch & dinner service. But in the course of it we’ve started wondering: Does brunch make a neighborhood?

Highland Park Events: Do Dah Day

Highland Park Do Dah Day Pet Royalty
Image via Do Dah Day

Do Dah Day combines a festival atmosphere with pet-centric philanthropy in Birmingham’s Highland Park neighborhood. It’s also the year’s best excuse for a dog costume and one of the city’s favorite traditions.

Like many Birmingham favorites, it began in an impromptu way: “In 1979, a small group of friends got together and decided to have a party — or so the story goes — and Do Dah Day was born,” says the Do Dah Day website. “Soon Do Dah Day was no longer a party — it had become an all-out festival.”

These days, the festival’s spread across both Caldwell and Rhodes parks gives it a nicely indigenous feel and a varied experience. Caldwell Park tends to feel more action-packed, but that might just be the giant, blow-up bungee station talking. Neighboring Rhodes Park, meanwhile, is a great spot to grab a beer and share a picnic blanket with your pet. Kid-friendly activities abound, including the aforementioned bungee experience, plus Do Dah organizers promise face painting, McWane Center-led crafting, and more at Rhodes. In other words, it’s your basic fun for all ages.

It always feels like a Saturday in Highland Park, and Do Dah Day takes that feeling to its logical extreme. It’s an actual Saturday in the parks with all the classic weekend entertainment you can imagine. Besides lazing around outdoors, you can hear an entire music line up across two stages and watch a delightfully ridiculous parade. The experience is pretty cute and cuddly all around, so it’s fitting that proceeds benefit furry friends.

It’s fitting, as well, that Do Dah Day shares a neighborhood with Rojo. Best we can recall, Highland Park’s Rojo debuted the bring-your-dog-with-you brand of an afternoon out in polite company. Dog lovers should definitely take this as a sign: You’ll really love Highland Park.