Walking into 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar is like entering a futuristic biergarten. Smells of slow-braised meats and the hiss of the skillet intermingle with the hot curls of light in bare Edison bulbs, casting a warm glow on the modern-industrial space. Reclaimed wood, vintage doors and a retro fridge are reimagined as wall panels, sliding partitions and a hostess stand. Their worn patina lends an inviting, unpretentious atmosphere that beckons you to stay a while in this cozy eatery, nestled in historic Five Points South in Southside. The concrete bar bears the proud, hand-painted slogan, “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham!” along its belly. One might assume this bar’s “belly” is filled with beer, but there’s a delightful surprise in the ecofriendly kegs of wine on tap, which flow into laboratory-style beakers. This playful approach of taking simple elements and reinventing them as something new, yet equally beautiful, is also reflected in the menu.
“My restaurant 26 had been open in this space for nine years, and I wanted to freshen the look and have more fun with the menu. We want people to be really comfortable in the space,” says Executive Chef George Reis, who not only designed and built the restaurant’s inviting interiors, but also crafted the restaurant’s creative and forward-thinking dishes. The reinvented restaurant opened in July 2015, much to the delight of Birmingham’s diehard foodies. The menu is the adventurous epicure’s dream, featuring items like alligator tail tacos, 5 Point fried piggy tails, grilled fish Reuben and Brussels sprouts pork belly hash with farm egg.
“The concept of a public house and oyster bar gives me the option to play with a lot of different cuts of meat that people don’t really normally see, as well as long, slow-braised items, which develop that rich flavor, and our great oyster bar focusing on Southeastern waters. We get to be creative with our dishes and figure out what aspects we can bring into each dish that will make them unique. So you get this wonderful crossover,” the chef says. Other popular menu items include the shrimp and grits, the 5 Point Public House burger, the Pub Rub beef brisket sandwich and the Poutine—a generous serving of the house Parmesan black pepper fries topped with pulled pork, beef gravy and cheese curds—a Canadian dish familiar to George from his youth in upstate New York.
One of George’s earliest memories is cutting mushrooms to be sautéed and topped on steak. “I can remember, as a kid, 10 or 11 years old, we had two woks in my house and dried lotus flowers, tofu and black wood ear mushrooms in the cupboard because my dad loved Asian cuisine. And if it was going to be an Asian dinner, we were all in the kitchen doing prep. Dinner was always a production at my house,” he says. “My parents were big ‘foodies’ before it was a term. My dad actually took cooking classes from James Beard. So I have a cookbook, American Cookery, in my house, and it’s kind of my prized possession because it is signed by James Beard to my mom and dad.”
After a brief stint in college for business, George found his way to culinary school at Paul Smith’s College, an hour from Canada in the Adirondacks, followed by work in the restaurant industry. “I always felt like a round peg in a square hole,” he says. “I could do the job and do it well, but it always felt like there was something missing.” He would find the right fit after moving to the South, where the eventual opportunity to drive his own culinary ship became a possibility in his current space in Five Points South. “I always wanted to have this, but I never knew if I was going to get it, so I just feel really lucky. I love what I do,” he says. He also loves oysters, and although he claims not to know much about them, he can talk at length about the methods of modern oyster farming and why Alabama’s 13 oyster farms are gaining national recognition.
“Alabama is really kind of crushing it on the Gulf Coast. They are really putting their oysters on the map. People are talking about them, and they’re being shipped away. The oyster quality, the shape, the meat, the salinity, everything about them is great,” says George. “And the amount of oysters we’re doing is crazy. Over 50 percent of them are from Alabama. They’re great oysters.”
And George has been all about supporting everything local since 2002, when he cofounded Birmingham Originals, an organization uniting local restaurants and ultimately supporting Birmingham’s economy and cultural fabric. “Our belief was that we employ local people; so our money should stay in Birmingham’s communities. The stuff we do makes the area better, such as supporting local charities and adding to what the city has to offer, so we’d rather have the customer support us, because that, in turn, supports them.” George is incredibly giving of his time and talents for Birmingham charities. And although he was born a Yankee, he’s lived longer in the South, where he’s raised his two boys and likes to hang out on Smith Lake with the best of the good ol’ boys. “I love the South, and I love our Southside neighborhood. I love that it is eclectic and original. The buildings have been here since the ’30s,” says George, whose similarly eclectic and original restaurant is garnering attention in its namesake Five Points South.
“I love the response! We’re something kind of different for Five Points, and people are really digging it, and saying ‘This is a really cool space and I like the food.’ So I am kind of getting, like, two pats on the back,” says George with a smile.
5 Point Public House Oyster Bar is located at 1210 20th St. S. in Birmingham. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. To learn more, call (205) 918-0726 or visit 5pointpublichouse.com.