A Bar Guide to Restaurants (and Vice Versa) from SFA Board President Jay Oglesby
The Southern Foodways Alliance brings its Winter Symposium to Birmingham, AL, February 8-9, 2019. This year’s theme, “Food is Work,” explores the labor of food through lectures and meals and experiences. Speakers include chef Ashley Christensen of AC Restaurant Group, restaurateur Steve Palmer of Indigo Road Hospitality, and Pulitzer prize winner John Archibald of Birmingham. Writer, author, and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, John T. Edge sat down with longtime Birmingham resident Jay Oglesby, who shared his favorite Birmingham haunts.
Though most of our favorite Birmingham restaurants have a strong beverage program, my wife Jackie and I often stop after dinner at a bar somewhere along the dive bar spectrum. Here are some of our favorite pairings:
The Garage (2304 10th Terrace S.) bar leads to a wisteria-vined courtyard surrounded by 1930s era parking garages-cum-antique stalls. It is uniquely Birmingham. It’s also a short stroll down the hill from one of our favorite Birmingham restaurants, Bottega Café (2240 Highland Ave.).
Mom’s Basement (4411 3rd Ave. S.) has a wide selection of beers, some wine and a few liquors to enjoy while playing board games or pinball machines. It’s located below the small retail center where Tropicaleo (4426 4th Ave. S.) serves fantastic Puerto Rican food.
Red Lion (95 Warstone Ln.) serves saltines and hoop cheese at happy hour. We head here for a cocktail or two after a very late brunch at Big Bad Breakfast (5361 US-280), two floors above the Red Lion’s semi-subterranean location.
The Nick (2514 10th Ave. S.) delivers all the dive bar essentials—eclectic juke box, beer-stained pool tables, and decades of smoke-stained live music handbills plastered on every surface. Although restaurants are theoretically walkable from the Nick, arrive and depart via rideshare or taxi.
We also like other sorts of bars:
The Woolworth (1006 20th St. S.) is a recent addition to the 5 Points area. We go for duck pin bowling lanes (smaller balls with no finger holes and no rental shoes required), ping pong tables, foosball, a giant screen multi-arcade game with classics like Ms. Pac Man and Galaga, a bumper pool table, and a full bar. For after, there’s a Waffle House a couple of doors down.
Atomic Lounge (2113 1st Ave. N.) is where Feizal Valli and his team stir and pour original creations, including the legendary Sex Panther. They also provide board games and a menu of costumes. Yes costumes. Don’t knock it until you’ve sipped a perfectly executed Pisco Sour while wearing a full body lemur kit. Café Dupont (113 20th St. N.), around the corner, serves a lovely rabbit gumbo in a white-table-clothed room in an historic building.
Marble Ring (430 41st St. S.) is home to Jose Camacho, who runs the bar at this speakeasy with darn good cocktails. Look for the entrance tucked inside the Fancy’s on 5th (430 41st St. S.) restaurant where a raw bar and burgers are the draws.
The Lumbar (21 29th St. S.) is a new science-themed bar in Pepper Place, situated conveniently near two of our favorite Birmingham restaurants—Chris and Idie Hastings’ Ovenbird (2810 3rd Ave. S. #200) with their smoky paella, among other creative and beautifully executed wood fired menu options; and, Bettola (2930 3rd. Ave. S.), where we enjoy James Lewis’s Neapolitan style pizzas, charcuterie, and other seasonal Italian dishes.
We also do things that don’t involve drink:
Crestwood Shopping Center is the place to pick up your favorite beverage at Crestwood Coffee, browse mid-century and other antiques at Urban Suburban, and rummage extensive new and used music at Seasick Records.
Barber Motorsports Museum exhibits more than 1,000 motorcycles in its Guinness Book listed collection, from Grand Prix Sportbikes that race on the adjacent world-class raceway to Vespas and other utilitarian fare.
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are a free and beautiful place for a walk, and even more enjoyable if walking off lunch from Habitat Feed & Social in the nearby Grand Bohemian, or Chez Lulu up the hill in English Village.