Avondale’s business district has built its reputation on a strong sense of place. Parkside, Avondale Brewing Co., and Fancy’s on Fifth all reference Avondale Park, while Rowe’s and Post Office Pies nod at the former occupants of their spaces. It’s a new Birmingham place that owes its ambience to the past. Lakeview’s entertainment district, in contrast, has long time businesses but a less present history. Until Sky Castle Gastro Lounge, the newest venture for the Bajalieh restauranteurs and chef Haller Magee.
The original Sky Castle was a forward-looking radio studio, the restaurant’s website notes, conveniently situated above Ed Salem’s Drive-In. Drive-in customers stayed around to see radio happen in real time, according to the site, creating an early combination of food and entertainment. The restaurant describes itself as a place “giving a nod to the past while shaping the future,” and we’re inclined to agree. With its throwback name and place in Lakeview’s premiere mixed-use development — 29 Seven — it has feet firmly planted in both local lore and present progress.
Like its name, the styling is nostalgic without being full-on retro. It’s the set of Mad Men filtered through a CB2 layout. Burnt orange chairs and formica-inspired tables line an olive-toned banquette, effecting a classic diner gone chic. Coordinating couches and chairs form a low-slung lounge zone along the front windows. Dramatic waterfall wood paneling, Lakeview photo murals, and a copper bar backsplash create a solid visual brand: the sleek modernism of 29 Seven tempered with the palette of a former age.
But all that style and story would be worthless without a menu that could stand on its own. Sky Castle’s is full of delightfully hard choices — Pimento cheese or poutine? Tagliatelle carbonara or chicken and waffles? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to develop a strategic plan for your gastronomical approach, phased in over a series of regular visits. For now, we can recommend the pimento cheese fritters or roasted cauliflower appetizers, along with the Sky Castle burger or oyster & bacon sandwich entrees.
We could wax on about the subtle creaminess of tahini sauce or the sweet tang of caramelized onions and tomato jam. What really stands out, though, is the overall lightness of some truly heavy menu selections. We’re not saying fried pimento cheese offers any health benefits, of course, but by rights we should have struggled with the weight of excess. Instead, we left feeling delighted (albeit not hungry for a very long time).
The gastropub (lounge) has come to mean casual fare with a serious foodie attitude. Or, put another way, comfortable favorites through a fine dining lens. It’s a highly calibrated balance that Sky Castle achieves from branding to styling to the food itself. Head here for its new retro vibe and its heavy food favorites cooked with a light hand.
Want more? Check out our Sky Castle-inspired styling tips.