Imagine 1920s Birmingham, AL — a bustling steel town named Avondale. A cool, blue dusk lazily settles on the well-worn, red dirt streets, and the warm illumination of gas lamps glows forth from the windows of row houses, saloons, a service station and a firehouse. As the stars fall on Alabama, a lumbering pachyderm and her keeper emerge from a lush, idyllic park and zoo at the end of Main Street for an evening walkabout. The two gentle souls exist on the fringes as a daytime amusement but come into their own cloaked in the solitude of their nocturnal strolls. The enchanting elephant bellows her freedom-filled delight on the emptied streets as she explores the sleepy town, her keeper following along behind. She lumbers near a row house and her large, soulful elephant eye peers into the window of a bedroom, where a young Southern girl’s eyes widen in wonderment at the sight of her. “Hey, Miss Fancy,” whispers the little girl against the glass.
This was not an unusual occurrence in the eclectic town of Avondale nearly 100 years ago. Miss Fancy the elephant, a former circus performer also known as the Queen of Avondale, was bought by the city as its “crowd gatherer” for the zoo, which opened in Avondale Park in 1914. She had a famously affectional relationship with the children of Avondale, who were known to pass by the park after school, hoping that her trainer, Mr. Todd, would hoist them onto the gentle giant’s back for a ride.
Stand under the Avondale Park entrance, and you’ll be staring straight down the main artery of Avondale — 41st Street. It was formerly known as Spring Street because a spring of water runs forth from the underground river in Avondale Cave. This cool, clean, spring water and underground caverns have drawn people to the area for centuries — from Native Americans to pioneer families, followed by throngs of working families during the industrial boom and railroad construction. In its heyday, the city boasted a library built with Carnegie funds and the nearby site of the first Iron Bowl in 1893. At a hopping hangout in the ’50s and ’60s called the Sky Castle, Avondale teenagers would go “cruising” and park in front of a glassed-in booth where the legendary local disc jockey of WSGN radio piped out the rock ‘n’ roll tunes of the era.
After the ’60s, neglect, crime and kudzu swept over Avondale’s former beauty, and it became a desolate steel town with a forgotten past. However, the Friends of Avondale Park came together to restore the historic park to its former beauty, and in the past 10 years, Avondale has exploded with a youthful, entrepreneurial spirit that has brought the neighborhood back to life. It now embodies the New South, a place where local cuisine, art, music and, most importantly, entrepreneurial camaraderie are king.
Let’s explore the creative corners and lively eateries along Avondale’s 41st Street.
Saturn owner Brian Teasley and local artist, Merrilee Challis, opened Bottletree, Birmingham’s well-respected music venue, in 2005. The location of the beloved hangout, right at the edge of Avondale, opened the floodgates for the neighborhood’s meteoric growth. “We just thought we might be able to help make a little difference and that other people would hopefully follow,” says Brian. “Being a resident here myself for 15 years, I really believe in helping Avondale grow in an exciting, new way that pays respect to my fellow residents and business owners.”
After Brian left Bottletree, he realized that viewing smiles on people’s faces who are seeing a band they never thought they would get to see in Birmingham was what fulfilled him most, so he dove into building another wildly creative music venue: Saturn. “We like to say that our interior designer was NASA,” says Brian. “As far as the culture, it’s all over the map, depending on what we have going on for a specific night. That’s the way we like it though: diverse and unpredictable.”
Domestique Satellite is Saturn’s coffee shop, featuring local Domestique Coffee‘s ethically sourced and handcrafted beans and delicious bites from Birmingham-based Hero Doughnuts. The bars in Satellite and Saturn offer local brews and inventive cocktail recipes.
MAKEbhm is a makers’ space for artists and makers of all kinds. MAKEbhm provides space, access to equipment and tools, power, Wi-Fi and coffee, so that local creatives can bring their art and design ideas to life. “We rent workspace to woodworkers, ceramicists, graphic designers, architects and more. We also teach classes in ceramics, woodworking, metalworking, screen printing, and beyond,” says Chris Izor, MAKEbhm Director of Operations, of the 100+ creatives and artists who use the building. “It’s a great environment where everyone is friendly, but still focused on work, and because it’s not just a bunch of laptops, you get to see so much work in progress. Many of our makers live in the neighborhood or close by, and all of our makers are customers of the Avondale businesses.” Makers and artists interested in securing a space of their own can arrange a tour by appointment here.
Nestled in the MAKEbhm building, this uber-cool boutique perfectly captures a stylish throwback vibe. Manitou Supply offers casual vintage pieces, focusing on the 70s through the 90s, including vintage graphic tees, wild patterns, classic plaids, vintage denim garments, wools, track jackets, as well as retro accessories and modern designer toys and bags. In addition to hunting down their unique pieces, husband-and-wife owners David Brown and Luciana Giovinazzo feature a different artist every month and do pop-up shops.
“Whether you are hanging out at one of our art events or browsing through our curated collection of vintage wears, we want you to enjoy yourself and feel welcome in our space,” says Luciana. “Manitou Supply is about embracing the uniqueness in everyone.” And David adds that Avondale is filled with unique personalities, saying, “We love the diversity! There are so many walks of life in and around Avondale. Go grab a beer and a bite to eat, then get your ice cream fix, then stop in and see us!”
For years, Morgan Mondy, owner of Morgan Ashley Salon (down 280 on Hwy 119), wanted to open a second salon in downtown Birmingham, closer to her community of friends. “I really wanted to be a part of revitalizing Birmingham and providing a space for community and for people to feel welcomed and comfortable and have a curated experience,” she says. She recently found that in the light-filled space formerly home to The Nest. The space mixes lush textures and elegant lighting with modern, minimalist touches for a result that Morgan describes as a “Parisian-inspired studio.”
MAE studio offers all hair services, including facial waxing, and they use the most natural and environmentally healthy products. They also carry Darling magazine, Appointed notebooks and hairpins, with more lifestyle products to come over the next few months. “My favorite thing about MAE is the process of creating for each soul who walks through our door. I like that it is artistry and crafting a specific look and style, even brand, for a person — all while keeping the process feeling like it is a time to take life a little slower,” she says. “Our belief is that today is beautiful, and the moments we share are what make up this incredible life.”
Rosegolden started with Holly Carlisle taking the leap from hair and makeup to her passion and undeniable talent for floral design. Her fine arts education in fibers and mixed media is apparent in her work — each arrangement is like a work of art. She has worked with brides across the country, award-winning restaurants and more, growing her business into what she describes as “a client-focused event design and planning studio known for creating unique experiences inspired by the natural world, thoughtful flowers and a killer candle game.” Her studio in Avondale plays host to occasional pop-up shops, and Holly offers seasonal design classes, as well private individual and group instruction. Says Holly, “I love working with people in the studio, because it is such and open, warm and inspiring space that seems to bring a lot of creative energy out of both student and teacher alike.”
Sozo Trading Co. houses 18,000 square feet of upscale thrift store items, brand-new boutique style clothing, jewelry & accessories, vendor booth items and global handmade goods. Sozo Trading Co. provides sustainability for Sozo Children, a faith-based 501(c)3 nonprofit supporting more than 120 vulnerable children in need in Kampala, Uganda.
“Sozo’s vision is to see all children thriving, all communities transformed,” says store manager Barbara Phillips. “Shopping or donating your gently used items to our thrift store directly impacts the lives of Sozo’s children in Uganda and enables us to partner with local ministries in the Avondale community to help the underserved.”
Restaurants & Bars
Housed in the MAKEbhm building, Big Spoon Creamery is the only ice cream shop in Birmingham that makes ice cream completely from scratch, using as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible, as well as high-quality specialty ingredients. The shop was the dream of Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara, who met while working as chefs at Bottega. The two got married in 2014, and three months later, they took the leap towards their dream. The artisan ice cream shop signature “Big Spoon” sundae is a customer favorite, as is their ice cream flight, which is six small scoops of any six flavors. They carry the mainstay flavors but are renowned for their inventive, locally sourced seasonal flavors, like the Goat Cheese Caramel Apple Pie and Poached Pear Sorbet that incorporate local goat cheese from Stone Hollow Farmstead and local apples and pears from Petals from the Past. “Avondale has an incredible community feel, and everyone supports one another and helps each other,” says Ryan. “We love being a part of such a vibrant and energetic culture here.”
Taco Morro Loco
Unassumingly housed in the same building as Munchie’s Food Store and Gas Station at the corner of 41st Street and 5th Avenue, Taco Morro Loco is not to be overlooked. We walked into this spot on a Friday for a late lunch, expecting it to be relatively empty, but all walks of life were crowded in the entryway waiting for their to-go orders, and there were only two tables left in the adjacent dining room. We tried the highly recommended tamales, green and red, and they were outstanding — generously filled with perfectly spiced pork or chicken and packed in a fluffy tamale, topped with cilantro and Cotija cheese. We also tried their authentic tacos, served in a corn tortilla with fresh cilantro, white onions, a lime wedge, radishes and some spicy hot sauce on the side — Yum!
Avondale Brewery’s beer is proudly served up and down 41st Street. There is a palpable respect for Avondale’s rich history in the brewery, with brews named after snippets of Avondale folklore. Enjoy a Spring Street Saison, Miss Fancy’s Tripel or another of their seasonal brews. Sit under the twinkle lights on the sprawling back patio and open-air bar area, where you can also catch acts such as Portugal. The Man and St. Paul and The Broken Bones. They also host fundraisers in this beloved beer garden, and their upstairs space has become a popular wedding venue. Stop by and taste the hops of Avondale!
Avondale Common House & Distillery owners Ellen and William Rogers are not new to the restaurant scene. “William and I both have a long history in fine dining, but neither one of us wanted to do that anymore,” says Ellen of the laid-back vibe and accessible menu. “The food reflects that training, however, all locally sourced from the area using local farms. And I think people really appreciate that.” Get a mouthwatering burger for a solid epicurean win. Or go for something more creative like the uber-popular Kung Pao cauliflower appetizer and the Reuben Rangoon. “They are both incredible,” says Ellen.
And while Ellen is also proud of the craft cocktail menu, which boasts great drinks priced at $5 to $6, her favorite thing about the restaurant is its large covered front patio. “At capacity, it holds 50 people comfortably and is a great place to people-watch, enjoy a rainy afternoon or lunch with the girls,” she says, adding, “I love the ambiance, the colors, the music. We try to keep things young and casual — we want our dining room to feel like home, and we have gotten numerous compliments that it feels that way.” This casual and inviting neighborhood spot is sure to be an Avondale staple.
Paget Pizitz and her business partner, Harriet Despinakis, launched the MELT food truck in 2011. They were looking for the right neighborhood for their first brick-and-mortar location when they saw what was once Stephen’s Garage, and “we just knew — we saw our future here,” says Paget. “The history is so rich in this neighborhood that each street, house, storefront seems to tell a different story.” Harriet and Paget pride themselves on the crowd-pleasing quality of their woman-owned business. “It appeals to all walks of life, young and old,” says Paget, adding, “That actually describes the atmosphere of Avondale, too.”
Paget brought one of her childhood board games to the restaurant, and she and Harriet were delighted to see that people really loved it. Now, there are a variety of board games and fun diversions, such as hula hoops and sidewalk chalk, for people to enjoy while they wait for their favorite cheesy, melted dish to arrive. The duo is so dedicated to the area that they subsequently opened their oyster dive and burger bar, Fancy’s on Fifth; their speakeasy, The Marble Ring with Zelda’s Lounge; and a hot-dog joint, Hot Diggity Dogs, co-owned by Paget with Tom Bagby — all across the street.
“Fancy name, casual space,” says Paget Pizitz of the oyster dive and burger bar she co-owns with Harriet Despinakis “Fancy’s on 5th has something for everyone. A round of cold Canadian oysters and a blue-collar burger? Sure. Fresh seafood flown in daily with burgers and specials that will literally blow your mind. Yes!” Head to Fancy’s covered patio on Tuesday nights and enjoy live music or Thursday nights when Chef Joey cooks on the outdoor grill. “I love seeing regular faces who have become like family,” says Paget. “I live here, so Avondale means everything to me. It has become so special that folks who would never have given this part of town a second thought, have now become our regulars. Harriet and I truly love what we do here. This is our home.”
Named for one of Zelda Fitzgerald’s most eccentric sayings — “I hope you die in the marble ring” (believed to be said in reference to the State Capital’s rotunda in Montgomery) — this speakeasy-style lounge invites visitors to take a step back into the Roaring Twenties. “The Marble Ring takes you back to yesteryear, emitting a lush, rich and sensual atmosphere,” says this speakeasy’s general manager Michelle Willard. “Our sections, equipped with soft couches and armchairs, allow our guests an opportunity to unwind in comfort and elegance. While The Marble Ring transports you to the quiet conversation and more serious-minded element of the Roaring Twenties, Zelda’s Lounge is where you let loose and dance, drink champagne out of a high heel and meet new friends.” SB Tip: To get into this hot spot, you have to enter through the speakeasy’s “cover,” Hot Diggity Dogs. Once up the stairs, head towards the blue phone booth labeled “Police Phone Call Box.” Tell them StyleBlueprint sent you!
Above Fancy’s on 5th and serving as the “cover” for The Marble Ring, Hot Diggity Dogs serves up some delicious dogs. This menu is as clever as it is global. Created by co-owner and hot dog genius and kitchen manager Tom Bagby, each dog on the menu serves to represent a different culture, such as the Oh Canadog!, which mimics Canada’s famous poutine dish and is loaded with fries, gravy, cheese and onions. “We also offer hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and a host of other novelties like poutine and pork skin nachos,” adds Tom. Co-owner Paget Pizitz attributes the high-quality 100% kosher beef dogs, unique ingredients and Tom’s love of hot dogs to the success of the hot dog joint. “The love Tom Bagby feels for a hot dog — seriously, the man thinks in terms of hot dog combinations,” Paget says. “With that kind of love being put into the food, it has to be delicious.”
Mike Wilson opened SAW’s first BBQ joint in Homewood. Not too long after, Mike and his friend, Chef Brandon Cain, decided to venture into Avondale’s rapidly growing scene with a barbecue-meets-soul-food fusion restaurant. The tiny kitchen with big soul opened its doors in 2012. SAW’s Soul Kitchen is famous for their pork and greens plate, a humble Styrofoam tray of creamy cheese grits, topped with greens, pulled pork and thin onion ring curls. With his background in fine dining, Chef Brandon is constantly inspired to create new twists on Southern soul food. Drop in early for lunch to try one of his haute country specials, because they usually sell out.
Post Office Pies is the brainchild of Chef John Hall, who was living in New York City, delivering pizzas out of his apartment, when his friends from SAW’s Soul Kitchen, Mike Wilson and Brandon Cain, came to him with the opportunity to open a pizza joint in the old U.S. Post Office in his Avondale hometown. The pizza ovens fired up and the doors opened in March 2014.
Chef John’s hickory-fired pizzas are authentic from dough to toppings. The wood-fired ovens, handcrafted specifically for the type of dough the kitchen uses, remain between 700 and 800 degrees. The pizzas are out-of-this-world delicious, and the salads also come highly recommended.
Parkside Cafe is a neighborhood bar that opened about nine years ago when owner and creator Michael Dykes saw that the historic building was available. Having been a 15-year resident of nearby Crestwood, Michael was very familiar with Avondale, which was essentially unknown at the time. He loves Avondale’s diversity, saying, “All walks of life, young and old, support newly sprouted businesses started by small business owners living here, too.”
The bohemian interiors feature artwork and oddities that Michael has collected from his global travels, and the bar always has a great selection of local craft beers. The eclectic watering hole boasts one of the area’s best patios, where peckish patrons can enjoy a bite from Hotbox, an eatery housed in an old Airstream in the back patio.
Hotbox is an Airstream-turned-kitchen located on the back patio of Parkside Cafe, featuring a diverse, yet straightforward, menu of internationally influenced dishes, such as the lemongrass fried chicken, shrimp ceviche tostada or the drunken noodle. Chef Ryan Champion spent years in fine dining kitchens and wanted to do something different. “I wanted to cook food I like for my friends and neighbors without the formalities,” says Ryan. “A lot of the menu is simply the types of things we would like to eat as chefs after a long day at work.” Ryan says Avondale seems to be a healthy cross-section of what Birmingham is about, adding, “I live in the neighborhood, and it’s nice to see the same people in the morning while walking my dog that I do at night ordering our food.”
“The Abbey is a mission of the Episcopal Church in Alabama,” says The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers. “We run a coffee shop that seeks to welcome all people — from young professionals to our Avondale neighbors to our brothers and sisters who call the street home. For folks in need, we offer a free cup of coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich or cup of soup every day.” The shop offers a variety of pastries, soups and sandwiches, all made in-house, as well as offering Red Bike Coffee and Piper & Leaf teas. The baristas strive to know people by name, and, as a result, the cafe has a feel-good, community vibe. “My favorite thing about Avondale is that it seems to be legitimately trying to balance redevelopment with diversity.” And The Abbey is not only a reflection of that rich cultural diversity but moreover, it cultivates those neighborhood friendships through fellowship, camaraderie and collegiality in an easygoing cafe setting.
Looking for a watering hole where you can play shuffleboard and hang up your very own engraved copper Moscow Mule mug?! Look no further than 41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales — “Aircraft Sales” being a nod to co-owner Cliff Atkins’ other career as a professional pilot. This Avondale bar has the only two shuffleboard tables in Birmingham, as well as a league for shuffleboard die-hards.
Moscow Mules are the signature drink of the house, but they just launched a new draft system, featuring 37 draft beer, wine and cider selections, as well as made-to-order fresh and frozen daiquiris and original cocktails. Customers can enjoy the free fresh popcorn served daily, or they are welcome to bring their own food from neighboring establishments. Rows and rows of personalized Moscow Mule mugs hang at the bar, and a gallery of frames, affectionately dubbed the “How Great I Am” wall, features the regulars’ proudest moments. Patrons are invited to bring in a framed picture of their most awesome moments to be displayed indefinitely, giving one the distinct impression that there is a community here that really supports and celebrates one another.
And be on the lookout for the tenants of the handsome new 400 41st Street Building Development to join this list. Cookie Dough Magic and Sidekicks Sneaker Shop are among the “new kids on the block” set to open their doors soon!
Drop by Avondale, and fall in love with this booming Birmingham neighborhood.
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