If bowling alleys and arcades ever went out of style, then they’re definitely witnessing a stylish comeback.
Just like the rest of Birmingham, words like “rebirth” and “renaissance” can be tacked on to a burgeoning space off 20th Street South in Five Points. Only a handful of months ago, The Woolworth Recreation and Refreshment, Birmingham’s latest social house concept, was nothing but a hulking shell waiting for the second epoch in its story. Thankfully, a couple of local visionaries (the same intrepid guys who are redeveloping Founders Station and investing in a long list of other downtown properties) decided to step in and write the next chapter.
“Essentially, if you think about it, this is Paramount on steroids,” says John Boone, principal at local redevelopment company Orchestra Partners, which owns the two-story building that is now The Woolworth.
It’s a Wednesday night at The Woolworth, and John blends in with most other patrons playing games, sharing plates of pizza or enjoying a post-work cocktail. A young business owner himself, John just wrapped up a meeting — which was held to the tune of clanking bowling pins and jovial banter — and is now enjoying a quick break before moving on to the next. He’s exactly the type of person The Woolworth was designed for.
Since opening this past summer, The Woolworth has welcomed swarms of locals looking to kick back in one of the Magic City’s many revitalized downtown areas. Centrally located in the historic Five Points South neighborhood, The Woolworth was born out of a desire to bring a social house concept to Birmingham. When brainstorming for what would become The Woolworth, Orchestra Partners took cues from nearby cities like Nashville, Charlotte and Chattanooga — all of which boast venues that blend group-based games and trendy dining spaces.
“We heard about this thing called a social house — a venue that brought together food, beverage and entertainment,” John explains. “We knew there were a lot of other people doing this in bigger markets, and we wanted to do it in Birmingham.”
After scoping out their options, John and Hunter Renfroe — the other half of the Orchestra Partners team — decided to carry out the concept themselves instead of waiting on an outside company to build it. Soon after purchasing the Five Points building which formerly housed Bailey Brothers Music Company, John and Hunter joined forces with the creative minds at Creature, a Birmingham-based construction and design company, to make this social house a reality. He also reached out to the same team responsible for El Barrio and Paramount to manage all the food, beverage and some design at The Woolworth.
“When they moved down 280, they kind of left this huge shell here, and we thought about a few concepts that might work in it, and one of those was a bowling alley,” John says. “But we wanted it to be more than that.”
Instead of a traditional bowling alley synonymous with cigarette smoke and hokey uniforms, the guys decided to incorporate duckpin bowling, which uses smaller balls, shorter pins and shorter lanes. That, along with bumper pool, foosball, darts, pinball machines, shuffleboard and several other games were added to the venue’s first level. The goal, John says, is to offer as many group-based games as possible, keeping in theme with the space’s social appeal.
“I think the reason why it’s been so popular is because people know they can come and spend their entire night here and never get bored,” John says. Upstairs, the venue makes sure patrons get an added splash of posh with the renovated rooftop bar. Overlooking 20th Street South, The Woolworth’s rooftop bar has just as much swank as it does curbside appeal.
“One of the reasons why I love our rooftop bar is it’s close enough to feel like you can interact with the street below,” John says. “People coming and going from all these hotels. UAB employees. Food and restaurant staff — they’re all walking on the street below.”
It’s hard not to hear the excitement in John’s voice as he describes the rest of the space, which also features a 50-seat dining area and two interior bars with more than 20 beers on tap and a handsome list of both retro and modern cocktails. As a Five Points resident himself, John is a part of the neighborhood — and he’s invested in its growth (literally).
“I don’t have kids, so I can’t watch my kid grow up and win awards, things like that, but I can watch our projects — Orchestra’s projects — grow up,” John says while watching the night’s diverse crowd grow in number. “It’s one of the most enriching feelings I’ve ever had.”
The Woolworth Recreation and Refreshment is located at 1006 20th St S Birmingham, Alabama 35205. They are open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight. For more information, call (205) 518-6311 or visit their website, woolworthbham.com.
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