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Category: Woodlawn

Modern Dreams at Public Office Woodlawn

public office woodlawn

public office woodlawn

Are you ever drawn in by the siren song of pale wood and natural light that appears so often in Dwell Magazine? It’s lovely to look at, of course, but sometimes you also want to visit. And possibly get a style souvenir. You can now do both at the Public Office in Woodlawn.

Another project of Armand Margjeka, Public Office extends his artistic eye from Open Shop to a neighboring corner. It also offers an unlikely mix of skincare, candles, camping mugs, and cutting-edge coffee brewing. It is, in a word, unique. In a way we can’t help but love.

There’s something about this little corner of Woodlawn that’s like shopping or eating in someone’s very stylish home. In a way we’d almost expect to go with the loft-y atmosphere and creative minds downtown. Instead, it’s in Woodlawn that folks like Margjeka and the Johnsons of Club Duquette have carved out public homes to purvey some of their personal favorites.

It’s a new take on specialty shop, defined, as we’ve mentioned before, as much by personality as product mission. And it works in part because of Woodlawn’s location adjacent to arts-minded communities in Avondale and Crestwood.

Visiting Public Office, though, feels like a design moment. As though you should take notes for your next home project. And maybe you should. (We might have.) It’s an exercise in modern character, not just scarcity, like the European approach to overhauling an older building.

Instead of reclaimed and industrial, it’s natural and bright. It feels finished, which is a different sort of complement to older architectural styles and a nice alternative to rustic reclaimed trends. We’ve rarely met walls of shelving we didn’t love, and Public Office’s are no exception.

There’s a movement afoot in Woodlawn. One less rooted in reclaiming a grand past and more in imagining a small-batch future. Not an either/or proposition, mind, but a well-crafted addition.


This is part III of our weekend in Woodlawn series. Check out Monday’s post on Woodlawn Cycle Cafe brunch, and Wednesday’s post on Open Shop

Open Shop Woodlawn’s Artistic Development Vision

open shop woodlawn

open shop woodlawn

If Winslet & Rhys is like shopping an art museum, Open Shop Woodlawn is retail as modern art installation. From the irony of its exterior design to the studied androgyny of its wares, there’s something incredibly cerebral about the Open Shop shopping experience.

Owner Armand Margjeka also owns personal care/coffee supply offshoot Public Office and co-owns Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, yet he’s opted against an obvious common brand. Where the cafe’s interior is a window-lined white, Open Shop’s is deliberately dark and devoid of natural light.

But instead of a goth-inspired den of depression, the darkness is an interesting shift in focus. Like shopping an artist’s closet rather than a standard boutique. It also adds an air of gritty masculinity to the atmosphere.

Items range from minimalist backpacks to art books, collarless blazers to chunky wool sweaters. It’s technically menswear, but the simple lines and classic motifs of the button downs and sweaters could just as easily attract female customers. In fact, that was the conversation we overheard at the cash register–that female customers end up with some of the store’s thick wool sweaters.

And it’d be hard not to envy the wonderfully sculptural approach to clothing display. There’s no making your way through strategically scattered clothing racks. Instead, large oriental rugs and a sofa in the perfect shade of chartreuse occupy the shop’s center. The hanging racks and shelving along the walls are so stripped down you can’t help but focus on an individual item’s artistry.

If anything’s emblematic of Woodlawn’s hip business energy, it might be Open Shop. Because this burgeoning district is about a shift in focus. About a viscerally different, yet wonderfully charming, idea of how development can look. In a way, in might be the most personally artistic neighborhood in the city, because it’s so full of individually unique visions.


This is part II of our weekend in Woodlawn series. Check out Monday’s post on Woodlawn Cycle Cafe brunch, and check back Saturday for our final post on Public Office. 


Understated Arts at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe Brunch

woodlawn cycle cafe brunch

woodlawn cycle cafe brunch

Our love of brunch is well-documented, but as a meal, sometimes it’s frankly too time-limited. If nothing says weekend quite like brunch, why do most restaurants serve it only one day per week? Clearly simpatico, Woodlawn Cycle Cafe brunch is an all-weekend affair.

We can’t say what exactly they’ll offer when you go. That’s the beauty of a rotating menu, after all. But there will likely always be some variation on the toastie and salad combo, in keeping with their understated arts. On a visit in early November, we fell hard for a fried egg, cheese, and bacon version built around a sweet potato biscuit and topped with pepper jelly.

The biscuit was tender beyond measure and flaky only where it needed to be. Basically, it’s a biscuit sandwich you’ll want to eat with a knife and fork. And we say that for informational purposes only, not as a complaint. A hit of heat from the pepper jelly offset any added sweetness from the biscuit or any heaviness from bacon and cheese. It was a nearly perfect breakfast bite.

Add in some bright sunlight in a whitewashed space plus one of our all-time favorite lattes, and getting out of bed on the weekend starts to look appealing. The crowd ebbs and flows, so don’t be alarmed if it seems busy when you arrive. It’ll settle out and leave plenty of room for a leisurely meal.

But what would brunch be without a bit of walking around afterward? A handful of small shops in the same block–Open Shop Woodlawn, Public Office, and Club Duquette–offer post-meal options. Their related aesthetic and unique product lines make brunch at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe not just a meal but an event. And if your Saturday doesn’t come together the way you’d planned, you can always try again Sunday. That’s the beauty of Woodlawn’s brunch weekend.


Check back Wednesday and Saturday for posts on Open Shop and Public Office, so you can plan your weekend in Woodlawn.


Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016: A Year in Posts

One of the big questions we ask ourselves for each blog post is “What does this say about the neighborhood?” It’s the guiding editorial principle we use on the spots everyone’s talking about as well as the ones sometimes overlooked. As we round out the year, it seemed fitting to look through our posts by neighborhood and pick the single most representative one. These are the posts we think tell you most about eight major Birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 and, just maybe, where they’re headed in the new year.

From game-changing openings to quieter expressions of community, here are the highlights.


Avondale’s Live/Work Expansion

birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 avondale

“We’re so used to thinking about Avondale in terms of its food and entertainment options that we forget the ways it’s also increasingly becoming a business district. Already there are some retail options and small business locations, but we can’t help thinking the new MAKEbhm space is Avondale’s defining business moment.”


Crestwood’s Community Character

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestwood

“It’s that community atmosphere that stands out most in Crestwood’s neighborhood branding. Crestwood is less associated with hip amenities than places like Avondale, or downtown’s Loft District. Instead, it’s a great community with close access to other great parts of the city.”


Crestline’s Choice Location

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestline

Crestline is a best-of-both worlds kind of area, and that’s what we’ve tried to capture in siting our newest community development. The Gladstone location — 4447 Montevallo Road — lies between the neat single-family streets of Crestline Park and the everyday essentials available in the neighboring Crestwood/Irondale corridor. It’s convenient to the big-box resources of the Montclair Road Publix and the independent gems of Dunston Avenue.”


Downtown Loft District’s Landmark Re-Openings

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Downtown Loft District

Commentary on the Redmont suggests this renovation is more than just an exciting commercial project in the city center. It’s a clue to the city Birmingham once was and, we hope, an omen for what it’s becoming again.’The Redmont Hotel is important because it tells us what a particular era, the ’20s, was like in our city,’ Patricia King, then serving as a preservation consultant and as development coordinator for Operation New Birmingham, told the Birmingham Business Journal in 2000. ‘We know it was a boom time, and the richness of the hotel supports that.’ ”


Five Points’s Easy Patio Vibe

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Five Points South

With its casual vibe and blues soundtrack, Delta Blues seems destined to be a neighborhood hangout, like the ultra-Southern version of everything we love about neighboring J. Clyde. We can imagine more than a few warm evenings spent on their patio, catching up with friends over baskets of hot tamales and bottles of cold beer. ”


Lakeview’s Retro Future

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Lakeview

“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.”


Parkside’s Public Symbols

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016

In so many ways the Parkside area defines Birmingham right now, from its new construction to its existing transformation, its corporate conveniences and Smallbox startups. Baseball season at Regions Field is the epitome of Birmingham in the summer, and now Railroad Park is offering a quintessential winter balance.”


Woodlawn’s Modest Transformation

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Woodlawn

There’s also something very European about the idea of a modest cafe offering truly interesting food. That’s what we see as the cafe’s real strength. And it feels at home in the artsy, up-and-coming area around REV Birmingham’s office. There’s something a little under-the-radar about Woodlawn, where truly exciting things — mixed-income housing, musical hubs, an urban farm — are quietly boosting the area.”

Creative Essentials at Woodlawn’s Club Duquette

woodlawn's club duquette

woodlawn's club duquette

What do you get when you put a musician-plus-artist, husband-and-wife team Duquette and Morgan Johnston together creating a small boutique in Woodlawn? Club Duquette brings you creatives’ essentials for everyday living.

There have been a series of slick new offerings in Woodlawn, from the food and drink at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe to the unexpected combination of hair care and coffee products at Public Office. Club Duquette is in that latter vein, crafting a business model out of an owner’s unique set of product interests. And that just might be Woodlawn’s genius development.

Sample the Ursa Major products at Club Duquette, for instance, and you’ll get first-hand advice on how to use them. Not to mention Duquette’s urban minimalist tip that the product line is wholly unisex. (That makes for handy lightweight travel when a couple can share all liquids, he noted.)

With Duquette’s background as a touring musician, it’s no surprise that store clothes lean toward classic casual Americana. There are tee shirts and denim, field jackets and plaid, in hues that work onstage and in real life. And at Club Duquette, a basic tee shirt has a bigger story: Duquette said part of the proceeds from their Woodlawn High tees support the school’s music program.

Our favorite part of the experience, though, was the scents. Whether it’s the unexpected but light fragrance of Ursa Major skin care or the comforting clove scent of Great Bear Wax Co beard oil, these are smells we want to come back to.

The Dragon’s Blood candle was a particular favorite, and Duquette described the scent as a combination of patchouli and blood orange and some other things we can’t remember. But the smell continues to haunt us in a good way. We’re usually quick to write off patchouli, but this version is deeply hippie chic. Not unlike the shop’s “supplies and vibes” tagline.

Avondale’s been lauded as “Birmingham’s Brooklyn“–and we’re inclined to agree–but that makes us wonder what the pop culture avatar is for Woodlawn. With its combination of historic charm, new ideas, and thoughtful development, it may be its own changemaking symbol.

Affordable Upgrades Define Woodlawn Development

Woodlawn development at 55th Place

Woodlawn development at 55th place

We love the excitement of lightning-speed revitalization, but modest pacing also has its merits. Smaller waves of people and businesses can bring new community energy without drowning a neighborhood’s past. We’ve talked before about the slower, quieter Woodlawn development process, and our own Matt Neal pegged it as a neighborhood to watch. But what are you watching for? Potentially Birmingham’s crowning revitalization achievement.

The neighborhood is no stranger to affordability-minded upgrades. Mixed-income housing is a Woodlawn Foundation priority, Executive Director Sallie Mackin told Weld last year. But a recent announcement by Washington D.C.-based Smart Growth America promises even more resources for inclusive development. The organization will work with REV Birmingham in Woodlawn “for economic revitalization without displacement,” the Birmingham Business Journal reported in June.

The Woodlawn neighborhood will be one of three sites participating in the Planning for Successful and Equitable Revitalization program. It’s designed to “help communities revitalize successfully and capture benefits from the revitalization process for families of all income levels,” according to Smart Growth’s blog post on the program.

“We’ll work with REV Birmingham to help independent retailers and small businesses in the Woodlawn neighborhood remain in their existing locations and expand their offerings as the area grows,” the post explained. Besides an analysis of the community’s business potential, the program will “develop marketing materials to help recruit diverse and complementary businesses that will serve the community.”

What does that look like in Birmingham terms? We imagine something a little like Five Points South, where high-profile developments share blocks with family-owned stores. Certainly the blend of older homes for renovation and newer multi-family housing might mirror it. Or perhaps like neighboring Crestwood, whose main shops remain relatively modest.

Either way, it won’t be the neighborhood to see an instant return. But continued affordability attracts creative communities and early-career professionals. We’re unlikely to see overnight growth with Woodlawn’s long-term goals. But it’s a neighborhood with a vision, and that has value too.

Bham Design: Modern Charm at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe


There’s a lot to love about Woodlawn Cycle Cafe — its coffee, for instance — but one of our favorites is its design. The cafe manages to be sleek and modern but full of crafted details that suggest historic charm. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, necessarily, so we’ve spent some time thinking about how they did it, why it works, and what would translate well into our clients’ living spaces.

The biggest statement is the high-contrast color palette, which combines the bright whites and moody charcoals that have held strong for the last few years. The combo works especially well here to juxtapose a dark, intimate bar space against a wider, brighter dining area. It’s reminiscent of distinct rooms without throwing out a modern open plan. It’s also a play on the way shadows and light would normally fill the space, as though you’d run its natural look through a punchy Instagram filter.

Beyond the color difference, there’s also a subtle styling variation between the bar and the cafe spaces. The area where the coffee magic happens is lined entirely in beadboard, with symmetrical — but not entirely identical — built-in shelves and a mounted library ladder. The result is an old school space, in keeping with the handcrafted coffee drinks produced there.

The bright white cafe blends classic materials like shiplap wall cladding and white hex floor tiles with large orb lights and squared-off built-ins for a cool spin on transitional style. Like this newfangled Victorian example in Houzz, the cycle cafe doesn’t try to bridge the modern/traditional divide in each piece. Instead, both spaces blend elements from each camp for an overall transitional balance. Or, as Houzz puts it, “a cohesive union.”

To achieve a similar tone, here’s what we recommend:

  • Opt for one wall color throughout a space. Houzz recommends monochromatic walls as a way to modernize period architecture and emphasize its depth.
  • Blend bar stools into the woodwork for an easy flow between dining and prep areas.
  • Dress up simple built-in shelving with a library ladder. It’s a fancy way to make vertical storage more accessible.
  • Don’t limit your idea of character elements to reclaimed wood. Home improvement stores offer traditionalist materials like beadboard, hex tile, and even shiplap that can soften a modern space.

Neighborhood Highlights with Hero Doughnuts

hero doughnuts


Just when we thought we’d found the one doughnut type to make us believers, we went and found another that also makes us giddy. But our new doughnut crush offers more than a singular take on a classic sweet. With pop-ups around the city, Hero Doughnuts offers a delightful neighborhood tour.

They’ve shown up with Parkside views and brews at Good People. They’ve kitted out a shipping container in Woodlawn – fitting for a neighborhood honored as “most progressive” at the 2016 Hammy’s – and they’ve had a regular-ish run at Crestwood’s Seasick Records. That’s where we tried them, sitting outside over a Crestwood Coffee while we plowed through our pile of dough.

We had trouble settling on a favorite doughnut profile. Initially, it was the Brown Butter Crumb, with the perfect hint of saltiness and the highest rise. There’s something charming about a doughnut you can barely bite into. The Chocolate Crunch, though, has a semi-sweet topping studded with delightful chocolate crunch bits. Then there’s the Vanilla Glazed, a sly favorite. It flies under the radar, but the brioche dough makes a standard special.

But be warned, you’ll want to get show up on time for these. And plan on standing in a long line as well, because you won’t be the only one hungry for a hero. Don’t worry, though, it’s worth it. And there’s something fun about the experience, almost like lining up for concert tickets. A tense excitement, given the zero certainty you’ll walk away with the doughnut you want. Hero has, however, worked to ramp up their supply in the face of enthusiastic demand.

We’re still rooting for them to make a home in the downtown loft district, but we’re enjoying the ride in the meantime. They can be counted on to show up near new Birmingham gems, and that alone is worth celebrating. There’s also a case to be made for defining Birmingham neighborhoods through Hero flavors, and we’re ready for the field research.

Bham Eats: Woodlawn Cycle Cafe


We’d read about the new-ish Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, but we didn’t have a clear picture of how it would look and feel. Yet, the first conversation we had with our lunch buddy was about how this wasn’t at all what we’d pictured. We’d imagined something more rustic, somehow more Avondale. What we got was sleek and surprising and tasty in good measure. What we got was a reason to spend more time in Woodlawn.

Unique is an easy crutch to describe anything that feels fresh and creative, but we think it’s legitimate in this case. The menu is small and eclectic, really unlike any other game in town. And it changes periodically to feature new unexpected offerings. The constant is an emphasis on local ingredients and less common proteins — braised oxtail, fresh anchovies, pate as a main course ingredient.

The empanadas we chose on our first visit were extra crispy, a nice textural contrast with the braised oxtail filling. Slightly bitter local greens and pickled onions gave a pleasant acid offset, while the creme fraiche was the ultimate fat/acid bridge for the dish. Our friend was deeply enthralled by her green papaya salad.

The atmosphere was just as pleasant, styled in a way we think of as an urban take on HGTV’s Fixer Upper aesthetic. “It’s an old European-style cafe mixed wtih an industrial cafe, as far as the design goes,” co-owner Armand Margjeka explained to AL.com. The result is a sleek blend of classic and modern styling.

There’s also something very European about the idea of a modest cafe offering truly interesting food. That’s what we see as the cafe’s real strength. And it feels at home in the artsy, up-and-coming area around REV Birmingham’s office. There’s something a little under-the-radar about Woodlawn, where truly exciting things — mixed-income housing, musical hubs, an urban farm — are quietly boosting the area.

Bham Development: Creating a Bike Culture


Birmingham does not have the most bike-friendly reputation. Dedicated lanes are basically non-existent, and as drivers we’re still learning how to share the road. But if the explosion in bike culture options in recent months is any indication, things are changing quickly. Two recent business startups ⏤ Parkside’s Wheel City Rentals and Woodlawn’s Cycle Cafe ⏤ highlight the potential for bikes in our urban leisure culture.

Wheel City Rentals offers ridiculously adorable vintage-style bikes in cruiser, tandem, or “Adult tricycle” configurations, available by the hour or the day. Operating out of Railroad Park, their location should be even more attractive once the Rotary Trail is ready, allowing renters a lovely and almost car-free ride all the way to Pepper Place.

Even now, though, the Loft District offers a relatively easy bike experience over less congested weekends, and the Wheel City website suggests downtown as a destination for independent renters. For folks less interested in solo cycling, Wheel City also offers tour options, using either cruisers or a 14-seat “party bike.” It looks unwieldy, but the novelty of a party bike is hard to resist. Either option seems like a good fit with the young, active Parkside branding.

Cycle Cafe has yet to open, but the Birmingham Design Review Committee gave owners the go-ahead in August, reported AL.com. The cafe will be a combination of coffee shop and cycling community hangout, according to AL.com, with co-owner Armand Margjeka telling the site he envisioned hosting screenings of the Tour de France. REV Birmingham will be the cafe’s landlord, AL.com reported, which seems like a nice tie-in with its imminent Zyp BikeShare launch, as well as the millenial-friendly work/event spaces at neighboring SocialVenture.

And of course, Zyp itself is the big debut we’re still waiting for. Will the coming years be the tipping point for widespread biking in Birmingham? We can only hope so. After all, Woodlawn’s business district is less than 4 miles of relatively level terrain from our Loft District offices. If we can make bike commuting popular enough that motorists have to adjust, Birmingham residents could pretty easily ride between some of our most popular urban areas.

Community rides like the Tour de Ham and Redemptive Cycle’s Trample have worked hard to make bike riding broadly accessible. If Zyp can successfully inject the REV Birmingham momentum into local bike culture ⏤ and lead the charge for more bike-safe traffic patterns ⏤ we might just see a local cycling revolution.