Miss Fancy would be happy

A self-conscious shabbiness

A lunchtime visit to the new Saw’s Soul Kitchen in downtown Avondale (200 block of 41st Street South, above) was a chance to muse over the momentum in this part of town (an historic working class commercial center that served the surrounding bungalows and industrial concerns). While longtime gay bars (no longer open) drew patrons into Avondale for decades, it wasn’t until Bottletree Cafe opened in 2006 that the neighborhood started getting noticed more broadly. In the last couple years, Parkside Cafe and Avondale Brewery Company have helped make Avondale a multi-faceted nightlife destination [a few professional firms and residential lofts have also been quietly moving into the commercial district]. It was perhaps a matter of time before a new daytime restaurant would open; Saw’s is a twist on the popular original location in Edgewood. Determined to maintain a true “hole-in-the-wall” appearance, the layers of peeling paint, perma-stone, and 1970’s-era Dr. Pepper sign are all intact. What’s new is the great food and outdoor seating–perhaps the first time in history that anyone has sat outside in downtown Avondale to be served lunch.

Lucky to find a seat

This understatement continues on the interior (above) where off-the-shelf cheap tables and chairs have a large chalkboard and “roadside shack” decor as a backdrop. The real star is the food: familiar, but thoughtful, and at a great price. Currently open for dinner until 8 PM, they also deliver to drinkers at Avondale Brewery next door. Which is a bonus if you’re enjoying a Saison.

What can't grow in Alabama?

Across the street Freshfully is planning an opening for the first week of May. A brand-new business that connects local farmers to consumers, it will be filled with fresh eggs, produce, farm-raised chicken, fresh dairy products, seafood—all of it from Alabama. This is the first store of its kind that we know of in the state, and will not just serve a foodie population eager to support local farms–but also a neighborhood that’s been without a supermarket for a long time (the historic storefront space, above, was once a Hill’s Grocery). Freshfully won the innovative Occupy Avondale contest sponsored by Main Street Birmingham and Avondale Brewing Co.–we can’t wait for it to open.

A thing of beauty

Across from Parkside Cafe and just up the street from Saw’s and Freshfully is the newly renovated Avondale Park (above, looking north towards the 41st Street commercial district), which has served Birmingham for well over 100 years (renovation designed by KPS Group). Seeing the rejuvenated park, and the new businesses opening down the way, makes us agree with others buzzing about the place: downtown Avondale is on a roll. Let’s support these businesses–and encourage more to follow.

On a final note–41st Street South in Avondale has far too many car-lanes for its light capacity, which doesn’t help foster the new pedestrian life here. Lose a lane (or two), widen sidewalks, create angled parking–plenty of traffic calming measures are possible. Hopefully the City will contemplate them soon.

[thanks to ditchell for the Park pic; and a reminder to those who don’t know the title reference: Miss Fancy was a famous elephant at Birmingham Zoo’s original location at Avondale Park before it moved to its current location just outside Mountain Brook Village. She is now the proud logo of Avondale Brewing Co.]

24 responses to “Miss Fancy would be happy

  1. I wonder if Avondale Merchants, or anyone, could start a petition to modify the parking back to angled. ( I was told it used to be in the 80’s) It should be signed by businesses and residents alike.

  2. Bottletree’s opening was definitely a plus for the neighborhood, but the good work of the Forest Park/Avondale community in renovating Avondale Park started the changes in the 1990’s. There was a lot of work behind the recent momentum–it didn’t just spring up out of nowhere with a new bar!

  3. Jennifer Sanders

    And don’t forget to toss in some props for my church, Beloved Community Church (UCC), which has been a steadfast presence on the corner in the old Masonic Lodge.

  4. So thrilled for our beautiful new Park. Congrats to all that made it come to fruition. So smart to follow with the stone design throughout the park following the stone amphitheater, an incredible historic gem for Birmingham.

  5. Great to see. I moved from the NYC area and built a house in Avondale in ’05… saw the potential, took a chance.

  6. Great to see such a positive change in Avondale. Merrillee Challis does a great job at BottleTree and also supports encouraging art exhibitions. Catherine Cabaniss.

  7. Thank you so much for the nice article! We’re excited about opening Freshfully on May 1st!

  8. John Smallwood

    Bike lanes would be good for 41st street, first ave south is a good way to get to downtown from the area by bike and connecting First ave south to the park would be great.

  9. Steven Driskell

    A great and thoughtful post. I’ve always been interested in this part of town, yet I’ve never actually visited it. I guess it’s time to do so!

    • Yes–please visit soon! This part of town has been bolstered by its proximity to Crestwood, South Avondale, and Forest Park which are all stable communities with resources; it’s great that others who would never ordinarily consider Avondale as a destination are beginning to do so! Thanks.

  10. I was staring at the pic of Avondale Park, convinced I’d seen it before. Turns out it was my own pic!
    I think Avondale needs safe parking and lots of it. Love the idea of slanted parking, wider sidewalks. Why not officially change 41st back to Spring as well?

    • I acknowledged you with a link to your flickr account at the end–thanks for providing a much better shot than I could’ve gotten myself. Idea of changing to Spring is interesting–should be thought about some more. Could be very cool. Thanks!

  11. I second the call for a bike lane! 2nd Avenue S currently has a bike lane to nowhere. There is a plan to extend it to Pepper Place, and if we could go from there to having 1st Ave S a dedicated bike route (dreaming, I know) from Railroad Park to Avondale, that would be a wonderful way to safely allow individuals and families to ride bikes to many great downtown destinations.

  12. I ride my bike on 1st Ave. S. quite a bit and also think it’s a great low traffic area connecting Railroad Park to Avondale. There’s a nationwide collaboration called the Open Streets Project that encourages cities to temporarily close sections of streets to cars for pedestrian/bicycle use. Perhaps 1st Ave. S. would be an appropriate corridor for an Open Streets initiative here in Birmingham. Also, long term, I think this portion of 1st. Ave. is a part of the proposed Red Rock trail system.

    http://openstreetsproject.org/

  13. I’ve really enjoyed getting generally acquainted with the Avondale community during the past 20 months that I’ve lived in the Eastwood area. I pass through Avondale almost weekly, en route to Pepper Place or a downtown destination.

    I love what Bottletree adds to Birmingham and am excited that Freshfully will soon offer so many wonderful local food choices. I attended a sunrise Easter service in the renovated Avondale Park and it truly is beautiful.

    I’m not a native of Birmingham, though, and have little contextual history for many of the Birmingham neighborhoods. This post helps me learn a bit more.

    Last June I was driving downtown around 7:30 p.m. to meet a friend for a show at WorkPlay. The sun was low on the horizon and I envisioned a quaint street car transporting me along 5th Ave/3rd Ave South to my downtown destination.

    This post shares the results of positive visions. And the comments offer up many more great suggestions. I wish more people had real vision for Birmingham.

    • Thank you for reading and for your comments. The streetcar in many ways is so logical–yet so far away, given the sorry state of transit in this City. But continuing to think positively is part of the solution.

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