Anchoring the southeast corner of Birmingham’s Loft District, Second Avenue is an enclave of artists, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, lawyers, collectors and curators, teachers, conservationists, writers and residents who frequent each others’ shops and catch up with neighbors as they walk their dogs along the sidewalks. This hip and thriving community embraces creativity, forward motion and diversity, and you can see it in their passion for sharing their culinary creations, innovative cocktails, singular interiors, worldly collections, environmentally conscious solutions and interesting art.
“This area was known as Skid Row. This was a Hill’s Grocery Store since 1911, but when we moved to this spot in ’68, people laughed at us and said, ‘That’s rough up there.’ It wasn’t nothing but pawn shops,” says longtime Second Avenue shop owner Butch Baldone of Baldone Tailors. He has a deep love for the neighborhood and has enjoyed watching its meteoric growth in the past 10 years.
It seems that Butch speaks for the community when he says his favorite thing about Second Avenue is the people. In good times and bad, cultural diversity and a fearless entrepreneurial spirit have always inhabited the historical architecture along these downtown streets.
This once rough-and-tumble neighborhood has matured into a destination with a rich history and a friendly, vibrant atmosphere. Let’s explore the one-of-a-kind shops, watering holes and eateries along Second Avenue and the neighboring southerly streets.
Watering Holes and Eateries
“The concept of not having a drink menu happened by accident,” says Feizal Valli, bar manager of The Collins’ custom-made cocktails. “The morning we opened, I had planned on typing out by hand our cocktail list on our typewriters, but the ribbons were all spent. So we opened without a menu and just started asking people what they like, and it worked.”
They are often asked to spruce up the Old Fashioned. And another popular drink, which uses bourbon, brown sugar, bitters, blackstrap rum and a bitter Italian liqueur called cynar, is so highly requested that it has earned a name—the Sex Panther—a rarity at this craft cocktail bar.
“My favorite thing about The Collins is how diverse it is. On any given night, there’s a wide variety of people—businesspeople, sorority girls, hipsters, people celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, NASCAR dads,” says Feizal. “And, lately, I’ve been hosting pop-ups at the bar on Sundays, mostly with up-and-coming chefs.”
Opened in 2007, Urban Standard is the main coffee shop along Second Avenue. Its breakfast and lunch offerings proudly feature fresh, locally sourced ingredients used in their creative dishes, such as Hippie Gumbo, pulled duck sandwich, scratch biscuits in red-eye gravy with Conecuh sausage and the Nopalito pimiento cheese BLT. Lunch items are accompanied by a bright array of sides like marinated broccoli, balsamic orzo salad, or grilled corn, lima bean and jalapeño salad. And the soft brown “crema” of the espresso is artistically swirled into the gleaming foam of Urban Standard’s lattes and mochas. The neighborhood hub also plays host to an interesting array of events and offers a relaxing spot to enjoy a local brew or glass of wine with friends in the evening.
This bustling lunch and dinner spot’s inviting and eclectic interiors feature reclaimed wood, custom iron work, modern-industrial lighting and an impressive street art-style mural. Inspired by the regional flavors of Mexico, the cuisine—such as duck confit taquitos, citrus-marinated shrimp ceviche and crispy masa cakes—is enhanced with fresh, vibrant accents like Serrano-lime crema, chayote slaw, cojita cheese and pickled onions. The margaritas are dangerously delicious and, in addition to the Tradicional, can be enjoyed in watermelon, grapefruit, mezcal and spicy variations. And don’t forget to visit El Barrio for its very popular brunch!
Bamboo on 2nd is the newest addition to the avenue’s culinary presence. (You’ve read it about it here on StyleBlueprint!) Chef Abhi Sainju’s Asian fusion cuisine already has a loyal foodie fan base. The Kathmandu fried chicken lollipops, Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, melt-in-your-mouth Nepalese dumplings and innovative sushi make this an epicure’s delight. “When we saw this space, we knew we had found a home,” say Bernie Smith and Sam Fallow, co-owners of Bamboo on 2nd with Chef Abhi. “We love what’s happening in downtown Birmingham, especially on 2nd Avenue—what the guys from Trattoria, El Barrio and Paramount have started, everything from Yo Mama’s, Urban Standard, Rogue Tavern, Pale Eddie’s and The Collins, plus Tavern on 1st and The Wine Loft on First Avenue. It’s just a great energy and excitement downtown.”
This unassuming neighborhood pub boasts a large, versatile space with a stage for its nighttime musical guests. At lunch, the center of the room is filled with local businesspeople and loft dwellers, enjoying Rogue’s extensive and accessible lunch menu. The endless choices include hot wings, fried pickles, sesame chicken lettuce wraps, crab cakes, Ahi tuna salad, quesadillas, sandwiches, burgers, buttermilk fried chicken and rib-eye steak, among other mouthwatering items. Rogue Tavern not only hosts great musical acts, but proudly serves as a venue for many parties and fundraisers.
The moniker of this humble watering hole comes from a character known only as Pale Eddie. Legend has it that the outlaw Pale Eddie took on Prohibition with the swashbuckling spirit of Paul Bunyan. “Pale Eddie knew that it was man’s right to consume the nectars of the earth and that no man should be deprived the privilege of a cold beer, stout whisky or full-bodied wine,” according to folklore recorded on the Pale Eddie’s Pour House website. Pale Eddie is credited with liberating Alabamians and U.S. citizens from Prohibition. Nowadays, Pale Eddie’s Pour House stands as a monument to libations and legends, so drop by and raise a glass!
People on Second Avenue are abuzz over Yo Mama’s Chicken & Waffles. The delectable, pillowy sweetness of the waffles perfectly complements the crispy, savory, fried chicken. The contemporary Southern cuisine in this family-friendly eatery also includes grilled fish or shrimp tacos, shrimp and grits with spicy sausage, hand-cut fries, sweet-and-spicy wings, a juicy BBQ burger and more. “From college students to senior citizens, artists, musicians, lawyers, doctors and postal workers, there’s just a great mix of cultures and age groups in the area,” says Denise Peterson, owner and chef. “And we really enjoy our business neighbors. Everyone has been so friendly since we’ve moved in.”
Opened in 2007 on First Avenue, The Wine Loft boasts a well-rounded wine list, consisting of more than 200 wines by the bottle, some 100 wines by the glass, as well as a local beer-on-tap selection, eclectic (albeit small) cocktail list and recently added Japanese sakes. The tapas menu features globally influenced sharing dishes, such as Argentinian empanadas and German Flammkuchen. The most popular dish is the baked Brie with vanilla honey, drizzled in a balsamic reduction. “It’s been massively exciting to watch this area grow up around us,” says Certified Sommelier and Wine Loft Manager Stella Nystrom. “Every minute, it seems like a new place is opening and more people are moving in. I love having neighbors pop by with their dogs to eat and drink on the patio. I love working downtown.”
Another recent addition to neighboring First Avenue, Tavern on 1st is an upscale cocktail bar that uses fresh fruits and herbs for its fresh-squeezed juices and house-made bitters and syrups. The bar features historical photos of downtown Birmingham, as well as an open-plan private room with massive sliding doors and a shuffleboard table. “Many of the owners and employees of our neighboring businesses have stopped in for a drink before or after service, so it’s great to see that level of camaraderie and support,” says Matt Campbell, Tavern on 1st owner. While the Basil Smash has been a hit and the Whiskey Sour is out of this world, Matt lets us in on a little secret, saying, “It may not be featured on the menu, but our guys can make a fantastic Caipirinha. We garnish ours with rosemary for its aromatic quality. If you see me at the bar with a drink in my hand, there’s a very strong likelihood it will be a Caipirinha!”
Along the cobblestone roadway of Morris Avenue, a sprawling corner gastropub has become a go-to meeting spot for hipsters, local businesspeople, couples and loft dwellers. The upscale pub menu includes innovative twists on classic bar food, such as the popular corn dog served on a bed of fries and drizzled in “hipster” ranch, guajillo ketchup and cilantro. The cavernous establishment has chic, modern-industrial interiors with upstairs and downstairs patio areas, as well as an upstairs event space with a private bar and full cocktail service. “There is a certain type of excitement and vibrancy that you can only get downtown,” says David Carrigan, owner, adding that he developed Carrigan’s “out of a desire to be creative and hopefully create something that impacts Birmingham in a positive way.”
This eclectic boutique showcases shop owner Chatham Hellmers’ unique finds from her travels to New York City alongside her own jewelry designs made from repurposed vintage jewelry finds. The shop’s bags, scarves, dresses and T-shirts offer bright pops of color, and her fresh sense of humor rears its hilarious head in pleasing little pockets around the store. From boho-chic and quirky vintage to ’80s-style and delicate feminine pieces, Chatham has curated a collection of one-of-a-kind finds that appeals to a broad range of styles—and in a pocketbook-friendly price range.
This two-story behemoth is a collector’s dream come true. Full to the brim with vintage treasures, jewelry, toys, retro video games and consoles, Star Wars paraphernalia, books, art and more, this shop is definitely worth a walk-through. You are sure to find a knick-knack that piques your curiosity and brings your imagination to life!
Founded in 1935, Baldone Tailors is a family business that moved to its Second Avenue corner location in 1968. Butch Baldone now opens Baldone Tailors only four days a week for the love of his lifelong career in tailoring, as well as his fondness for the neighborhood people he visits with daily. Walk into Baldone Tailors, and you’ll immediately be drawn to the gallery of vintage football jerseys and sideline photos of the good ol’ days when Bear Bryant was king. Butch holds court in his shop like a raconteur, telling tales of his storied youth in downtown Birmingham, what it was like to be tailor and friend to Coach Bryant and seeing Second Avenue’s amazing growth.
As a scrappy young man, Butch was quick to tangle with anyone who challenged his proud Sicilian heritage. “My father was Italian, a big guy, weighed about 400 pounds with a 26-inch neck, but sweet. I got my meanness from my mother, Scotch-Irish, blond-headed, blue-eyed, beautiful,” says Butch. After a few too many street scuffles with hecklers as he was closing the store, the gentle giant of a father approached his average-sized, yet hot-headed, son. Butch recalls, “He said, ‘You’ve got to learn to be a better man than that.’ I finally made it. It took a long time.” Butch adds with a smirk, “I had to get old and decrepit.”
Like a corner bodega in New York City, this tiny neighborhood grocery store seems to have everything one might need, including a basket of yellow root, which is an old-school, natural cure for inflammatory issues. Fresh herbs and plants are also grown in the front of the store. Mamanoes was founded five years ago by owner Antonio Boyd, who based the store on a model he developed in graduate school, Mamanoes will be an even more dynamic presence when his vision is complete.
Founded in 1986, Space One Eleven is a nonprofit that serves as gallery space for a wide array of artists, as well as a classroom serving a divergent cross section of Birminghamians. On September 11, Space One Eleven will present the Infantree Project and Reflections of Generosity, which focuses on political themes and features the moving artwork of U.S. veterans.
In its fourth month open to the public, Birmingham Oddities has captured the attention of the Magic City, with its skulls, antique medical tools, anatomy shares, fossils, Tibetan praying cloaks, masonic rings and 100-year-old Tarot cards. “People come in our 500-square-foot shop and stay for two hours and never see everything,” says shop owner and curator Adam Williams, who teaches classes as well, on topics like how to mount beautiful exotic beetle and butterfly specimens. “It’s great to walk around and see everyone walking their dogs and chatting in the streets,” says Adam. “It’s like a very small-town feel, but at the epicenter of downtown. I knew my gallery would offer the community a great place to visit, socialize, learn and engage. I’ve loved the area as a place to live, so it was a no-brainer to set up a shop.”
The Peanut Depot has been roasting fresh peanuts in antique roasters with no oils or preservatives for more than 100 years. Walk into their building on historic Morris Avenue and the warm aroma of roasted and boiling nuts swirls around with the whirring fans and joins the drone of the antique roasters. Burlap peanut bags are stacked on wooden countertops and humble signs are posted on the exposed brick walls. They’ve been using the same peanut scoopers and scale for as long as they can remember.
Drop by Second Avenue, explore the surrounding streets and see for yourself why you should be proud of this creative and diverse Birmingham community! When you stop in these local shops, make sure to tell them StyleBlueprint sent you!