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Category: Forest Park

Forest Park’s Growing Restaurant Scene

  
With its single-street layout and proximity to stately homes, Forest Park’s business district feels like a quieter, quirkier cousin to English Village. What the park has sometimes missed is an atmosphere for lingering, but restaurant changes announced this year signal a new neighborhood era. Building on the goofily fabulous momentum of the Tour de Loo, Forest Park is set to become a more social neighborhood any night of the week.

The shift began in February, when AL.com reported that Mac Russell, the culinary chops behind Shindigs would be opening “a fast-casual restaurant and bar that will also include a produce and meat market and a kitchen for his catering business.” So while we stand behind our ideas for small business occupants of the space, we’re really pleased to be wrong on the final result.

Russell’s business concept — named DMac’s after himself and his aspiring restaurateur grandfather, according to AL.com — doesn’t sound too far off from the V. Richard’s model. The difference, it seems, is a shift in focus: the AL.com description emphasizes restaurant and bar elements, while market goods appeared to be more of a bonus feature. It’s a sound business strategy, given that there will soon be two Publix options (Montclair and 20 Midtown) within a short drive.

Even more recently, AL.com reported a reworking of the Little Savannah menu. “For years, we’ve sort of had this theme, if you will, of fine dining or trying to be a little more upscale,” Cliff Holt, the restaurant’s chef and owner, told the site. “I really want to get back in touch with the neighborhood, to be more of a neighborhood bar and restaurant.”

Holt also mentioned adding a burger option to the menu, and the currently posted sample menu does include the BHMBurger, served with roasted jalapeno goat cheese and “truck-stop” fries. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on snacks and sides than some older menus. Little Savannah’s still not a budget option, but it now seems much more drinks-and-snacks friendly.

All told, the changes suggest Forest Park will have the culinary appeal of the loft district a few years ago — a combination of Birmingham institutions and fresh start-ups. It will have the genteel neighborhood feel of English Village but close proximity to Avondale’s lively 41st Street district. In other words, Forest Park is looking better and better.

Forest Park/Avondale Spotlight: Free Wifi at Local Businesses

forest park

 

We’re used to wifi options at big box stores, the kind that to lure us into downloading specialty coupon apps but also speed comparison shopping. Then we’ve heard of entire cities providing free public wifi as a progressive move to create universal high-speed access. The recent debut of free wifi networks in the Forest Park and South Avondale business districts is somewhere in between, a combination of convenient neighborhood service and clever marketing that makes us excited to see what the area’s forward-thinking merchant group comes up with next. But first, we checked in with Forest Park South Avondale Business Association President Marco Morosini to find out more about the rationale behind the network and the impact it’s had so far.

A big part of the service, Morosini told us, is creating a kind of instant neighborhood directory for wifi network users. So many interactions and information searches happen on our handheld devices, Morosini said, “what we created is a way for businesses, part of the merchant association, to be put in front of the customer, even before the customer looks for the business.” Users who accept the terms and conditions for online access will be instantly redirected to a landing page that lists participating businesses, he explained.

In essence, visitors to the neighborhood can get a fairly instant picture of what’s available nearby, even if they’re unfamiliar with the area. Asked if businesses are seeing an uptick in foot traffic with the wifi addition, Morosini said it’s “too early to tell” but that the network had seen roughly 800-1200 new users per week since its debut.

This is only the latest move from a neighborhood business association that’s helped drive local renewal. Even before the association reached the participation levels it sees today, it was still active in the move to renovate Avondale Park, Morosini said. These days organization materials outline a clear set of goals — which include attracting both visitors and investors to the area — and its partnership with REV Birmingham to achieve them. Morosini particularly credits Richard Stewart, the association’s vice president, with helping “truly rally the merchant association” and attract new businesspeople like Avondale Brewing Co.’s Coby Lake.

After all, an area with local businesses is part of the urban neighborhood charm. But not all businesses are created equal. Some will struggle to find an audience within the neighborhood, let alone attracting new customers and new energy. The Forest Park South Avondale Business Association, in contrast, feels like the very best of what advocates like localist Carrie Rollwagen say small businesses offer – reinvestment in the neighborhood, support of local charities, and a general sense of community. In fact, Morosini said the association has plans for a capital project at the 41st Street and Clairmont Avenue corridors, but details are still under wraps.

The merchant association may well be one of the biggest sells for making your home in South Avondale or Forest Park, since you’ll know you’re not alone in wanting to create something special. Existing stakeholders have already laid the hard groundwork; all you have to do is show up.

If you’re ready to test the waters, Morosini reminded us to mark our calendars for the following spring and summer events:

  • April 24th: Alabama Symphony Orchestra at Avondale Park
  • June and July: Movies in Avondale Park
  • July 16th: Park in the Park

 

Forest Park: Birmingham's Original Comeback Neighborhood

Since it is only two miles from the center of the city, it is actually an inner-city neighborhood. It is also a thriving neighborhood of families who take pride in their homes and their setting. Forest Park residents don’t hesitate to say their neighborhood is a prime example of the good things that can happen when people are determined to save a neighborhood.

-Elma Bell, ”Take a walking tour of Forest Park.”  

 

Beginning in 1906, Birmingham’s elite set out to create a scenic neighborhood close to the city center, explained Birmingham News writer Elma Bell, who wrote a series of feature articles on Forest Park around 1980. They founded a lush residential enclave with custom architecture and streets that could be walked from end to end, according to Bell. But the most interesting part of Bell’s articles is her description of a neighborhood reborn, a history that sounds wonderfully prescient for the Birmingham of today.

The Forest Park of Bell’s era was a hotbed of restoration, at the time a nationwide trend which Bell partly attributed to the lack of undeveloped land in city neighborhoods. So while Forest Park wasn’t the only neighborhood set on saving its old houses, it may well have been a trendsetter for the metro area. “Most people agree that the recycling of older homes began here in Forest Park,” Bell wrote. And why not, given its many examples of architecture worth saving?

“The housing ranges from typical Birmingham bungalows (one-story, single-family wood frame with twin-columned front porch) to baronial mansions, from Federal architecture to modern, from rolling lawns to postage-stamp yards,” wrote Birmingham Post-Herald reporter Mitch Mendelson in 1982. “Some of the grander homes were built by Birmingham’s leading early-20th-century architects such as Charles McCauley and the firm of Warren, Knight and Davis.”

Between 1900 and 1928, Forest Park “was THE place to live,” Forest Park Historic Committee Chair Catherine Browne told Mendelson. But by the 1950s, Browne said, the siren call of the suburbs drew many residents to sell. A spate of apartment building took the place of some of those homes. The tide turned toward historic preservation by the late sixties, bringing a wave of new and youthful buyers into the neighborhood, Browne explained. Sometimes they were even the suburban descendants of the area’s original residents, Mendelson wrote.

The area developed a close-knit neighborhood identity, with collaborative efforts first to fight off a disruptive airport expressway route and later to seek historic status, according to Mendelson. That status created regulatory and tax structures that would help protect Forest Park’s historic character, Mendelson wrote.

The neighborhood’s involved residents drove a tremendous turnaround, according to Bell, including new energy for the local Avondale Elementary school. She also described a contagion effect as the attractiveness of old Birmingham homes spread from Forest Park to neighboring areas like Highland Park and beyond.

The model Bell described is not unlike what we’re seeing today: the residual effect of one neighborhood exploding and attracting folks to live nearby. An evolving pattern of the next big thing. It also demonstrates the power of an active community to shape its own future for the better.

Whether you find yourself purchasing in the established Forest Park, or choosing a neighborhood before the boom — Woodlawn and Norwood come to mind — we like Forest Park’s model for Birmingham’s future. It’s a model closely aligned with the past, injected with a democratic energy that bodes well for the future.

After V. Richard's, What's Next for Forest Park?

v richards

Months after V. Richard’s sudden closure, the Birmingham Business Journal reports a new owner for the space. The now-vacant V. Richard’s property had a decade-long stint as specialty grocer and before that as a payless drugs, according to the BBJ. It’s surrounded by Naked Art, Silvertron Cafe and Little Savannah, Full Circle event space, Zoe’s, and soon a healthy eating restaurant. Naturally, that got us thinking, what else does Forest Park Village need?

First, we considered the basic requirements for the area. The shop should be a locally-owned, independent-type place, since that’s a critical part of the village ethos. It should also be neighborly enough to participate in the Third Friday Tour de Loo, and we don’t know how well corporate types take to bathroom art installations. Finally, it should be small enough in scale to avoid major traffic and parking problems on Clairmont. It needs to attract a steady business to be viable, obviously, but this isn’t the location for a high-traffic retailer or a heavy drive-through crowd.

Then there’s the Forest Park audience to consider. It’s a relatively well-heeled community, so there’s room to go a little bit upscale. On the other hand, the area’s fair share of reasonably-priced apartments and homes for the young professional crowd suggest that a degree of affordability matters.

With those things in mind, here are our ideas:

Bakery/coffee shop

Both are neighborhood staples, and neither really exist in Forest Park Village. Why not change that, perhaps with a Birmingham outpost of Church Street Coffee and Books?

Ice cream shop

Local startups like Big Spoon Creamery and Pixie Ice Cream Company will always have our votes and attract our sweet tooths.

Latin food

The Loft District has El Barrio, Lakeview has Cantina and Babalu, but we can’t think of a Nuevo Latino joint in Forest Park. It might be time to change that.

Specialty tailor

With Zoe’s in the next block and the inevitable alterations needed on professional attire, we think there’s room for a neighborhood tailor, perhaps even one who specializes in upcycling vintage items.

Pop up boutique

Now that Full Circle has become exclusively an event space, there’s room for a boutique-style offering. Why not one that blends the constantly-shifting inventory of neighboring Zoe’s with the handcrafted vibe of Naked Art and the traveling exhibition ethos of Third Friday? The pop-up model has shown staying power in Pepper Place; why not Forest Park as its next outpost?

And in truth, the space is probably big enough to house more than one of our ideas. So the ball’s in your court, local entrepreneurs. We can’t wait to see what’s coming.

 

Bham Design: Bungalow Porch Life

bungalow porch

You know that summer is for enjoying outdoor living, but not all settings are created equal. Our recommendation: the deep bungalow porches that dot neighborhoods like South Avondale/Forest Park, Glen Iris and Five Points South. These historic gems take porch sitting from warm weather practicality to true Southern art.

They’re deep and wide, welcoming folks in or allowing easy sociability with street life from a (relatively) cool perch. They can be big enough to host a rustic-chic dinner party or to accommodate a porch swing daybed for napping. Deep enough to fight mosquitos naturally with a steady ceiling fan breeze, or to watch a summer thunderstorm with a glass of dry wine.

And while we love a bungalow porch anywhere, Birmingham features a local style that we really love. Architecture student Thomas Shelby explains:

In the case of Birmingham, the hilly and rocky land around the city supplied an abundance of chert rock and fieldstone for Craftsman homes, which further reinforced the notion of relating the home to the land. More often than not the stone would be collected and split on-site, and local masons would develop their own style of laying the stone, often using board-forms to hold them in place.

bungalow porch 2

There’s plenty of design talk these days about indoor-outdoor living, but it tends to focus on the backyard. Magazines and internet alike are full of open kitchen and dining areas with seamless access out back. But we think there’s something delightful about an old-school, porch version of seasonal living, and it’s all about the front.

Part of the appeal of Birmingham’s older neighborhoods is the focus on sidewalks. These communities were built before cars were a way of life and assumed folks would pass each other on the street, or at least wave from the front porch. We think the renewed focus on city living is a chance to rediscover close-knit communities, and the porch is a key part of that.

We may be partial, but a porch always feels like home.

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

YP Tips: Collect Art Without Breaking the Bank

“Almost nothing makes a home feel more finished and considered than art hung neatly on the walls, but achieving that is often easier said than done.” – Jill Singer for Refinery 29

Image via Naked Art Gallery

You know you can’t live with blank home or office walls forever, and that a clearance canvas from Bed, Bath, & Beyond is a total cop-out. But you also have limited luxury dollars and zero degrees in art history, so you end up stuck in your own style inertia. You can do better, though, and Naked Art Gallery can help.

Located in charming Forest Park Village, Naked Art isn’t is dedicated to making art collecting a hobby for everyone, not just a high society crowd. “The name ‘Naked Art’ was chosen because we want you to understand and appreciate all of the artists’ work with the ‘naked eye’, without intimidating, ‘hi-brow’ hidden meanings,” the gallery website explains. “We also make a real effort to keep the prices reasonable because we strongly feel that art should be within everyone’s reach.”  

Everyday art fits well with Forest Park Village’s genteel Bohemian atmosphere. After all, it’s the neighborhood of vintage sequins at Zoe’s consignment and garden cocktails at Little Savannah. That bohemian vibe is what allows affordable apartments to coexist with historic brick condos and Forest Park’s grand detached homes. Like art you love, it’s a neighborhood that can grow with you. And Naked Art is a great source at any life stage.

Still not convinced? Consider what owning local art says about you as a young professional: It says that you’re paying attention. It says that you’re driven by value, not status. There’s an authenticity to local art, a commitment to community that folks look well on here. Most importantly, local art is a low-key way to personalize your space without the pressure of big money collecting. It’s a worthwhile investment that doesn’t have to be a large one.

To help speed your shopping, some favorite Naked Art artists who produce affordable work:

Scott Thigpen –  digital prints ranging from cute to ever so slightly weird, but not so much so that it’ll cost you clients.

Chad Moore – a play on scale and action figures at local Birmingham scenes, or what Naked Art calls, “Photography with a twisted sense of humor.”

Veronique Vanblaere – record sleeve doodles, which steps your collection up a notch from interesting cover art.

Shawna Ross – charming acrylic canvases for soft color and a touch of cute; we dare your visitors to ignore the ocelot eyes.

Eric Johnson – metal art of local landmarks, perfect for adding shape and texture with rustic materials that work in most any space.

Jill Marlar – intaglio prints offer nearly photographic views of Birmingham sites, with prominent clouds for a touch of whimsy.

YP Tips: Budget-Friendly Style

As the official sponsor of YP Birmingham, we’re invested in helping up-and-coming professionals build community. Our series of YP Tips will help put your best foot forward as you “get out, get social.”

You know you’re supposed to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Trouble is, the job you want comes with a much higher clothing budget, and you have a hard time justifying credit card debt for a tangential means of professional development.

You could sigh about the impossibility of your predicament. You could do your best to combine Forever 21 finds with Banana Republic Factory Store staples. You could spend all your off-hours in search of thrift store treasures.

Or you could do your wallet and your sanity a favor by becoming a regular at Zoe’s Forest Park. It’s cheaper than the mall and happier than a thrift store. There are dressing rooms with curtains and an extensive vintage collection. Also, there’s a shop cat, which is a million kinds of cute.

Besides helping you craft a personal style that’s more individual than the mall, Zoe’s can also give you a modest ROI on any wardrobe items that aren’t quite working. And there are few things more satisfying than buying fun new pieces from an existing store credit.

Image via Zoe Shop

To help you on your hunt, we have a few Zoe’s shopping tips:

  • Pay attention to the tag. It has not only the initial sale price but also the markdown schedule. If the original consignment price feels too rich for your blood, you’ll know exactly when to check back.
  • Follow the store’s facebook page. You’ll know when big sales are happening — like the recent half-off winter clearance — and what kinds of items they’re seeking from would-be consignors.
  • Focus on big-ticket items. The deals are far better on coats/blazers, nice dresses, and designer denim than they are on simple tops.
  • Schedule your shopping during Third Friday in Forest Park. The regular neighborhood event is a great way to score special deals and sneak in some community networking.

After all, Zoe’s isn’t just a smart shopping destination for YP folks. It’s a business that’s iconically Forest Park. It’s neither the trending new renovations in the Loft District nor as transitional as Avondale and Crestwood North’s historic charmers. Instead, it’s an area of affordable character set off by some real stunners. Perfect for the rising young professional.