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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.



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.  



Our Team: Matt Neal

Realtor and HOA manager Matt Neal is a Colorado native who’s built a life here in Birmingham. And frankly, he thinks you should to. Read on to find out more about Matt, and give him a shout for help finding your perfect Birmingham residence.

H2 realtor and HOA manager Matt Neal

How long have you been here, and how did you make your way to H2?

I have been with H2 for two and a half years.  I was referred by a friend to contact one of the owners to express my interest in joining a boutique real estate firm.  The rest is history.

What does an average day at work look like?

I usually come into the office and take care of any managerial duties related to HOA first, then either take clients to view prospective properties or visit our current single-family developments to monitor progress for my clients.  I spend the afternoons updating marketing and current H2 offerings on several online platforms.  Every day is different but it’s important for me to keep structure, which helps me stay organized.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The ability to create my own brand through an already awesome brand.  H2 employees are encouraged to be unique in what we do and offer, which helps us stand out in our prospective markets.  Not many people have the opportunity to wear their job on their sleeve.  I enjoy every aspect of my job and am genuinely excited to come to H2 everyday and work with bright and creative people.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off time?

If I’m not working, I’m usually on my bike.  I am an avid snow skier and try and ski as much as possible in the winter.  I also love exploring new places, whether it’s a new restaurant in Birmingham or a new country.

What’s your top Birmingham neighborhood? Why?

Highland Park.  I’ve been a Highland Park homeowner for five years and love every aspect of the neighborhood.  I feel like Highland Park is Birmingham’s most diverse and cultural neighborhood. The combination of historic and new homes, eclectic residents, and ample green space and parks makes it hard to beat.

You’re eating your last meal in Birmingham. What is it and where?

Of all the amazing restaurants in Birmingham,  I’d likely go to Hotbox food truck at Parkside Bar and get the Green Curried Smoked Brisket.  It’s simple and awesome.

Anything else about yourself folks might like to know?

The first time I ever stepped foot Birmingham was for a college visit to Birmingham-Southern College.  Growing up in Colorado, I was nervous about such a drastic transition, but immediately fell in love with the size and culture of the city and have been here ever since.

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



Chez Fon Fon

Galley & Garden




Downtown/Loft District:

Bistro 218

Brava Rotisserie Grill


Continental Bakery Downtown

John’s City Diner

Oscar’s at the Museum

Rogue Tavern

The Summit Club

The Wine Loft

Urban Standard


Highland Park:








On Tap



Forest Park:

Little Savannah


Why Rojo Brunch Is a Neighborhood Anchor


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?

Best of Birmingham: The Views

cityscape_model_village-XLThere are lots of factors that go into choosing your home. There terms ubiquitous to real estate listings like location, amenities, and high-end finishes. Then there are the more subtle charms like perfect afternoon light or a layout that unfolds in a natural flow. Ourselves, we’ve always been swayed by the view.

As a gaggle of real estate agents and property managers, we’ve seen our share of Birmingham views. You might even call us experts. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but when we thought about our favorite vistas, these are the spots that came to mind:

Downtown: City Federal

We love how the view from within downtown’s skyline reminds us of Birmingham’s post-industrial revival. After all, the resurgence of foot traffic and new signs of life within old buildings are what set this city apart from the one we grew up with. City Federal’s east side sight lines to Sloss Furnaces, the New South Federal Savings sign, and the St. Paul’s spires aren’t bad, either.

Crestwood: 12th Avenue South

Not surprisingly, the crest of a hill is a good vantage point. A friend of ours lives here and has the best backyard for a gathering of friends. There are no particular features to it, besides the usual grass and paving stones, but it has a wide view of the city framed in trees. It’s beautiful and charming, and moments from the convenience of Crestwood Boulevard or Montclair Road.

Highland Park: High Rises

Another friend used to rent on the east side of the Sheraton. What was great about her view, besides the insider’s perspective on Rojo crowds, was the sheer scope of greenery. In our heads, the ultimate Birmingham view is one of city lights and/or Vulcan, but this place proved us happily wrong. It also reminded us just how lush much of the city can be.

Red Mountain: The Abbey

We’ve said it before, but we can’t resist: The Abbey has the quintessential Birmingham view. The next best thing to a Vulcan visit, it includes UAB, the new Children’s of Alabama building, and the downtown skyline. It’s basically a postcard perspective.

Those are our favorites. Chime in with yours!