Tag Archives: Trattoria Centrale

Buen apetito

It's almost here

After much anticipation, the new restaurant in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North, El Barrio, is poised to open the first part of December. The owners of Trattoria Centrale, a few blocks east, plan an innovative, energetic, foodie type of a place with cuisine inspired by all regions of Mexico. Picture a younger Sol y Luna, but with a much bigger kitchen (and therefore a more diverse menu). We give you a sneak peek at the design of downtown’s newest culinary attraction.

More foot traffic coming

Above is the storefront, in the former Storkland store; you will notice the hostess stand (temporarily outside) made from leftover concrete from a core drill on site, with rebar twisting up to hold the “book”. Design was a collaboration between KDAG Designs and Appleseed Workshop, with Appleseed not just handling general construction, but also custom building many of the interior elements like the stand. Outdoor seating will be installed at the sidewalk.

Explosion of latin vibe

A visually arresting feature of the main room is local artist Shane B’s full-wall mural (above, with a half-built banquette underneath; Shane B can be found at Non Stop Art around the corner on 20th Street). A riff on urban street art, it should set the mood for botanas (Mexican street snacks that are part of the planned menu).

Not complete without a bar and a lounge

Opposite the mural is the long bar, seen left in the picture above. To either side of the storefront entrance is a small stand-up drinking area, and a larger lounge area with built-in banquette and kidney tables designed for the space (below). Reclaimed wood and original, historic materials mix with new steel and concrete accents in an eclectic, “vintage” way.

Made from scratch and awaiting it's glass inserts

El Barrio plans to open initially just serving lunch, while they await their liquor license to get final approval (expected early January). At that point, the restaurant will be open every day for lunch and dinner (until 9 on weeknights, midnight on the weekends), with happy hour bar specials as well. Owner Brian Somershield emphasized that he wants dinner to be a full experience, including Latin American wines picked especially for the cuisine, seasonal fresh fruit margaritas, etc. So while we’re eager for evening service, we’ll be happy to enjoy lunch until they’ve got the bar ready to go.

Ensuring every detail is correct

As anyone who’s eaten at Centrale can attest, these guys are serious about details (above foreground, owner Geoff Lockert inspects new kitchen equipment). While the food and drink should be fresh and innovative, they also want the atmosphere to feel warm and accessible. Servers and bartenders are being chosen as much for their demeanor and passion for food, as for their experience (a similar concept to Centrale).  The chef, Neville Baay, was chosen due to his culinary skills of course, but also because his philosophy matches that of the owners. It should make for a good combination.

And also coming soon?

And why does this restaurant matter–besides giving us another dining option, of course? First, it should extend foot traffic and street life east from the 2300 block, enlarging the nucleus of retail, restaurant, and bar activity there. Second, it should become an anchor for its block, encouraging others to follow. For instance, above (middle storefront) is a recently rented space which is planned as the District, a bar serving late-night tapas–directly across the street from El Barrio. We can’t report much more about it yet, but it’s an example of how most businesses like to congregate around other similar businesses. It takes some initial pioneers, and then hopefully–with the right conditions and context–others follow, and then you have a real district. In other words, we’re ready for tacos!

Design review alert

A sad end is in the works

We have learned that the owners of the building that for many years (1945-2004) housed The Social Grill, plan to sell to downtown landowner Bobby Crook, who in turn plans to tear the building down for surface parking.

The historic building (distressed after years of deferred maintenance and showing the remains of 1960’s-era metal insert panels at the storefronts) holds the SE corner of Third Avenue North and 23rd Street, and is notable for its large projecting sign. While in an official Historic District downtown, and subject to Design Review Committee approval, unfortunately the Committee is limited in its ability to prevent owners from tearing down buildings for surface parking. Once again, Form Based Code would be helpful in setting guidelines that, for instance, would state that corner buildings in particular districts must remain; and conversely corner parking lots should be turned back into buildings.

As of yet, there is not a date set for when this proposal goes before Design Review.

Waffle House across from...the Pancake House?

We do know that this Wednesday morning one of the Design Review items will be a new Waffle House in the Studio Arts building (pictured above right) which faces the circle at Five Points South. The Original Pancake House has occupied the opposite building (pictured above left) for many years and is a local institution for breakfast (although it’s part of a national chain). Waffle House, evicted from its current location just west of the UAB campus to make way for university development, already plans a new storefront location a few blocks west of Five Points in the heart of the university medical district (recently approved at Design Review). Despite the roughly similar menus, Pancake House is only open for breakfast/brunch daily, while Waffle House is a 24-hour, 365-day/year diner.

Finally, on Wednesday the  wonderful guys (from Trattoria Centrale) opening El Barrio in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North will reapply to the Committee for approval of a tasteful projecting sign [see our previous post here]. Our verdict: the Committee needs to approve this sign!!!

[thanks to bhydro for the Five Points pic]

Five points possibilities

A big change

This morning at Design Review Committee conceptual approval was given to a plan for a new 7-story hotel to be constructed where the former Five Points Music Hall sits on 20th Street in Five Points South (older readers may remember this art deco building as a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, directly to the south of Woolworth’s, itself now Bailey Brothers Music). Richard Rauh, an Atlanta architect, presented early sketches of an imitation stucco tower rising above the original facade, whose glass has been removed and whose storefronts now serve as  a porte-cochere for auto traffic.  Please note this design is in very early stages, and the applicant will return probably several times to the Committee as the design progresses (concept sketch shown above).

From show windows to exhaust fumes?

The current facade, pictured above, has streamlined limestone detailing. While it’s commendable that the facade is being retained, in this instance it’s a shame that one of our most pedestrian-friendly streets would lose storefronts and gain a car-oriented use (and a curb-cut). The tower itself, in the early sketch, is a typical Homewood Suites you’d see out on the interstate somewhere. The Committee, while giving preliminary approval, stressed they’d want to see more urbanity/finesse in the new structure. It’s exciting (and perhaps surprising given the economy) that there’s demand for more hotel rooms here, given the new hotels that have already opened in the last few years in this area. It’s less exciting that a hotel can’t use a storefront for lobby and bar (like the indie Hotel Highland across the street), but instead turns inward and feels very auto-oriented.

Getting closer

Approval was also given to new steel and wood awnings which will shelter outdoor seating at El Barrio, the new restaurant opening in November to be run by the same guys who turn out the excellent food at Trattoria Centrale (pic above shows the exterior space for the new restaurant in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North). However, a request for exterior signage was sadly tabled. More on this in our next post.

[thanks to Richard Rauh for the conceptual rendering]

Welcome to the barrio

Renovating for late night tapas

According to Wade Smith’s blog, (he’s the new owner of the former “Storkland” furniture building on the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North), the guys over at one of our favorite restaurants, Trattoria Centrale, plan to open El Barrio, a latin/taco-inspired restaurant to complement the fantastic Italian fare they’re serving on 20th Street. El Barrio will be open for lunch and dinner with outdoor seating. Stay tuned for more details.

Update: Read more about the project in the News article here.

This is the sort of local, high quality, creative development we’re all excited about. And a great tonic at the end of the week. Salud!

Felice anno nuovo, y’all


No plans yet for New Year’s Eve? How about a 4-course wine dinner at Trattoria Centrale downtown? The rumor we heard about the menu is that it will include gnocchi, lobster, veal, and some Prosecco–we know it will be delicious.

Call up Geoff or Brian to make a rez at 202-5612. And no, although I try to eat here at least once a week, this is not a paid advertisement. I just love this place, and the contribution they’ve made to the city center!

[photo from lunch about one hour ago]













Demise of the corner drugstore

Not anymore at a corner near you

Chalk it up to the ubiquity of national chains such as Walgreen’s and CVS; to the low prices and convenience of in-store pharmacies at Walmart or Publix; to the poor economy; or to causes less obvious and more mysterious. Whatever the cause, or combination of causes, MedTown Pharmacy closed its doors this week. As the sole surviving full-service drugstore on the northside of downtown (within the 200 block of 20th Street North), this comes as a blow to not only the daytime business population in the CBD, but to the many downtown residents (including this author) who chose MedTown as their drugstore of choice. MedTown joins the ranks of other downtown drugstores (such as Dewberry’s, at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and Richard Arrington Blvd., pictured above in 1939) which have closed over the last couple decades. As recently as 1998, there were still 4 independent drugstores operating within a few blocks of MedTown (itself formerly a Big B Drugstore). Now there are none.

Another blow for 20th Street

The closing of MedTown is sadly in sync with the generally haggard feeling of Birmingham’s “Main Street”. Despite some bright spots–Trattoria Centrale, Brick & Tin, Cafe Dupont, the private residence designed by Appleseed Workshop–recent years have seen the shuttering of the old First Alabama Bank building (and the failure of the proposed Marriott Renaissance Hotel there); the departure of SouthTrust/Wachovia from their 2nd Avenue Branch, leaving an entire half-block of empty buildings; thwarted redevelopments of both the Empire and Brown-Marx buildings; and of course the very, very tired and dated “Birmingham Green” of 1970’s era plantings, concrete benches, and low concrete walls that’s in desperate need of renovation.

Sign of the times?

It seems emblematic of Birmingham, in a way, that our “Main Street”, symbolic center of town, has been allowed to become so frayed. Other areas of downtown are brimming with promise and interest–but the energy dissipates where it instead should be united in full force on 20th. An encouraging sign: I heard members of the Mayor’s staff and the Horticulture department walked 20th Street last week discussing how to overhaul the landscaping to bring it in line with more modern, sophisticated efforts such as Railroad Park and the proposed streetscapes around the Pizitz project. And just seeing the crowds spill out of Trattoria for lunch, dinner, or brunch–no matter how desolate the immediate surroundings–also gives hope. Hope that other entrepreneurs will take initiative to renovate buildings and bring new businesses; hope that the Mayor will continue to search for ways to improve the City; hope that other nearby developments will exert pressure on 20th Street to revive.

Of course, some of us also hope that a drugstore will open up in the neighborhood again, and soon.