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Tag: forest park birmingham

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 Spotlight: Full Circle

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Full Circle specializes in all of life’s little accessories. They’re not technically necessities, but they’re essential for the life well lived.

For instance, we find there’s always someone in our lives who needs a genuine Certificate of Awesome card. Full Circle also stocks a library checkout card-styled option that lets you check by the purpose of your greeting, which makes it our go-to emergency, all occasion card. (Unless you’ve received one from us, in which case, it was definitely calibrated to your specific tastes.)

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Much of the shop feels like someone with style similar to ours has gathered up the very best items so they would be waiting for us next time we need a thoughtful gift, or a bit of retail therapy. The shop interior, with its warm woods and oriental rugs, has a luxe homey vibe suggestive of high quality goods that lean cozy rather than fancy.

The small women’s clothing section showcases soft fabrics and easy draping, equally appropriate with structured pieces at work and organic cotton leggings at home. The handbag selection of cute, carry everything totes and slouchy clutches are perfect for effortless street style, the kind that looks cute but still has to carry cash, keys, and a smartphone. Which is to say our female team members are eyeing presents for themselves there too.

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Full Circle is a gift shop in the best sense of the word, stocking charming items that you’d be proud to give and delighted to receive. They’re things with a practical purpose – cloth children’s books and Bavarian felted coasters – that are too cute to be fully utilitarian. They’re the kind of things we don’t always think to buy ourselves but that make the absolute perfect present.

Welcome to Forest Park. It’s thoughtful and lovely here.

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.

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

Bham Events: Third Friday in Forest Park

Image via Allan Woodall

We don’t typically associate bathrooms with art, but the Forest Park South Avondale Business Association has just about changed our minds: Their Tour de Loo is turning restrooms into our preferred gallery spaces.

Part of the monthly Third Friday in Forest Park event, the loo shows anchor a neighborhood-wide evening out with extended hours and special goodies at each business in Forest Park Village:

V. Richards Market will boast two installations by Artes Hicks,- one of which requests audience participation. Come prepared with a secret to share (anonymously), then stick around for a wine and cheese tasting while Under the Red Umbrella provides a live soundtrack.

Zoe Forest Park will complement its usual great vintage items and greeter cat with art by Courtney Osborne and a 25% discount on coats. We have our eye on the red beauty the mannequin’s been sporting lately.

Full Circle will offer deals on their collection of ethically-produced items plus snacks.

Paperworkers Local will be decked out in ornaments created by member artists, but they’ll let the rest of us play too. Make a donation, and they’ll let you make an ornament at this studio/gallery space.

Little Savannah has art by Shelleigh McVicker Buckingham and their usual collection of happy cocktails. We have our eye on the Johnny Apple Rose (apple jack, house grenadine, lemon, and organic bourbon-infused cider)

Silvertron Cafe will have a chicken pot pie special just as you’re getting hungry for dinner, with vegetables sourced at the Avondale Elementary School farmers market. They’ll also have “Fly me to the Loo” by Deirdre Lewis Mason on display.

Image via Forest Park South Avondale Business Association

Naked Art Gallery is open till 9 p.m. with “Kitschmas” gifts on sale made from recycled goods. Pam Hamby will display a new glass-based installation, and Lorraine Singh’s “Sprawl” still snakes around the bathroom. Lillis Taylor will be tending bar for tips toward the Bib & Tucker Sew-Op, an organization designed to build sewing community and eventual income opportunities for local women.

With art, food, shopping, music, and a cause, Forest Park has all your Friday night bases covered. We’ll see y’all there.