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Tag: 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.

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.

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Highland Park

Highland Park is the suburb for people who aren’t suburban.  Green, leafy and residential, its point was to be a place where people lived rather than worked.

Highland Avenue 0S1A0864

What sets it apart from the over-the-mountain suburban set is its immediate proximity to all the serious stuff and entertainment areas we think of as “the city.” It’s quirky, established, friendly. It may also be the most traditionally neighborhood-y of Birmingham’s trending residential areas. And with good reason: It’s had plenty of time to develop its identity.

“Highland Park is a thriving historic urban neighborhood dating from the turn of the century,” notes the Highland Park Neighborhood Association. “Its central feature is the long, winding Highland Avenue, which stretches from Five Points South all the way to Highland Golf Course and Clairmont Avenue.”

Historically, it’s been a popular place to be, and the association points out that “most of Birmingham’s prominent families lived here at one time.” We’re not saying place of residence was the reason for their success, but it sure couldn’t have hurt.

The area between Rushton and Rhodes parks is, arguably, the heart of the neighborhood. It anchors the broader residential areas with a hub of all your daily semi-emergency needs like coffee, food, and a nail salon. There’s even a 24-hour gym on the next block.

Students, young professionals, families, retirees, and everyone in-between can all be found within the same two or three-block radius in Highland. It hits that sweet spot: enough trees and sidewalks to feel kid-appropriate but enough bar and restaurant access that kids aren’t required. We’d venture a guess that the number of canine residents rivals the number of people.

0S1A0814 0S1A0809

Highland has such a relaxed, sleeping porch kind of vibe that it always feels like the weekend to us (we’re blaming it on the parks.) So, here’s our recipe for how to spend the perfect Saturday there:

Rojo O'Henry's

— Get your brunch on at Rojo (open at 11 a.m.). You’re going to want a Bloody Mary. We’re also fans of the breakfast burrito, but man does the brunch sandwich (jalapeno bacon! avocado!) look promising. Be sure to give the gunslinger mural a wave for us.

Rhodes Park 0S1A0795

— Bring a book/frisbee/friend and lounge in one of the parks. Bonus points if you bring a dog. Rhodes Park tends to be more off-leash (though that’s definitely not an official policy), while Caldwell is the largest and probably the best for napping under a tree. Rushton Park boasts basketball and volleyball courts.


— Recharge with your caffeinated beverage of choice at O’Henry’s. The newest location for this local chain is steps away from Rojo and directly across from Rushton Park. Sit outside to people-watch and marvel at our recent respite from the stinkin’ hot weather.


— Grab a pre-theater supper and beverage at The Garage. You had a big brunch, so you’re good with a hearty sandwich this go-round. The Garage isn’t technically Highland Park – it just misses the cutoff – but with its antiques displays and plantation patio furniture, it feels like it should be.  GQ once dubbed it travel-worthy, and we’re inclined to agree. But bring cash, or pony up for off-brand ATM fees. They’ve also been known to rock a fire pit on chilly nights.


— Catch the 7:30 showing of Dracula at the Virginia Samford Theatre. It’s Halloween weekend, after all. Tickets are $25-30.


— If it feels too early to head home, remember you’re around the corner from The Nick. Again, just past the Highland Park boundary but really closer to Highland than anywhere else. Six bucks buys you entrance to catch some of the next best up-and-coming bands. More importantly, it lets you in on “Birmingham’s dirty little secret,” or “the dive bar of all dive bars.” With its 24-hour weekend schedule, you can literally stay as long as you like.

When you get home, likely sometime Sunday, let us know how it went.