There is a wonderful article in National Geographic Traveler about the changing perception of Birmingham. A lot of it focuses on how the Downtown Revitalization has improved the metro area in general, and even mentions El Barrio! Read the article: Steel Magnolia -- National Geographic Traveler.
Filtering by Category: El Barrio
I never posted an overall finished tour of my loft the way I did for El Barrio. I always meant to get around to it, but was waiting until I could afford to update some of my furniture. Also I'm lazy. So when an old friend of mine from Birmingham Magazine called me asking to do a feature on my loft, I jumped at the chance to not have to write a blog post. You can read the article here and see the photo gallery here.
El Barrio has had a two hour wait pretty much every weekend I can remember but they are truly spilling out onto the streets tonight. I assume it has something to do with the story ABC 33/40 ran last night. I tried to find a video on their website but was unsuccessful. And look at the picture! Somebody brought a BABY downtown. 2nd Avenue and the loft district has faced a perception battle for a long time, but what a great image to show how that is changing!
Ginkgo trees line 2nd Avenue. The city plants them in 4 foot square tree wells every 25 feet or so. The trees look great and add a lot of warmth to the neighborhood. The city does not plant or cover the wells, so a lot of them are just dirt. It would be nice to have a unified look for the neighborhood, but in the meantime it gives us residents an opportunity to get creative and do some gardening.
Two weeks ago we dug up the old dirt around the ginkgoes in front of the Counts Bros building and added some soil conditioner. We surrounded the wells with a wood border to keep in the soil and discourage pedestrians from stepping on the plants. The wood fit with El Barrio's look, and the guys seemed pleased with it, although I think they were just happy to get rid of what had become 4 foot ashtrays.
Before I talk about the plants, I have to admit I know very little about gardening so I probably choose some items that won't work with the sun or whatever. I took some pictures and brought them to a local garden store and they did the best they could advising me on what to plant. We planted jasmine and clematis around the base of the trees to add some leafy greenery at ground level. At the corners of the wells we planted small perennial flowers for some color. I wasn't sure how vegetables would do, but it was hard to resist planting some cayenne and other hot peppers. Primarily we stuck to herbs: chives, oregano, and basil. We also commandeered a couple of rosemary shoots from a nearby bush that was overgrown.
Urban gardening presents some challenges that you wouldn't have with a yard. For example, I don't have a water faucet on the first floor, and lugging buckets didn't seem like a lot of fun, so I had to come up with a creative way to water the plants.
The upper floor of the Counts Brothers Building is home to 2nd Avenue Storage. Until recently customers have used keys to enter and exit. This week we installed proximity card readers to increase security. Cards are serialized and entrances are recorded so that we know who is coming and going, and access can be more easily revoked if the need should arise. In other news, El Barrio has begun outdoor seating, taking advantage of the covered recess leading to the doorway of 2nd Avenue Storage and my loft. It's a nice place to enjoy the spring weather!
It was hard for me not post pictures of the mural while it was in process. I have a terrible time keeping my mouth shut, particularly when I'm excited about something. I was already living upstairs when Shane B started working on it. Every night for a month, he'd come in around 9 and work until I'm not sure when. I'd always find some excuse to poke my head in and take a few work-in-progress pictures, and then hide them on my computer in a folder named "Don't Post, Idiot." I'd mentioned before that the mural was done entirely with spray paint, and that this amazed me. You can see that more in these pictures. For more pictures of the finished mural, look here.[gallery order="DESC"]
Tonight was opening night for El Barrio. Like lunch, they didn't advertise because they wanted a small crowd in order to practice before they got slammed. I was upstairs packing for a business trip. The hood vents run behind and above my loft, so I can't smell the cooking in my place. I was bringing my bag to my car through the storage units; in the storage units I could smell it, and immediately became hungry. I hadn't heard any noise in my loft so I figured that the crowd was, in fact, small. I decided to walk downstairs to grab some pozole.
When I came out the front door and looked inside El Barrio, I was shocked. The place was packed! Every chair, barstool, and standing area was dripping with people. Appleseed blew two feet of foam insulation between the restaurant and loft. I had always assumed that I would hear a descent bit of noise anyway, but I had no idea anybody was down there despite the place being standing room only.
Luckily Jerry and Roxane were sitting in the lounge and I was able to crowd in with them. People often ask me if I have a "reserved table" or some other kind of special treatment; I've never even broached the subject. Personally I think that would be an infringement on what is starting out to be a great business relationship. When I'm there I'm just another customer.
Jerry and Roxane were entertaining a couple that is looking to move downtown; the (soon to be) new neighbors were having a great time and I can't wait to hang out with them some more. We talked about crime and the non-existence thereof, and where we shop for groceries (within walking distance), and the reason we all stay downtown.
We move downtown because we like the asthetics. We stay here because we get so wrapped up in the community. Tonight, just walking to get a loaf of bread a quart of milk and a stick of butter, I ran into Alfred and Kelly (walking Cocoa and Pootin' Nanny), and Larry: the self-described "most hated man in downtown." While I was sitting inside El Barrio, Bob (who had some clients visiting from San Diego) and Gary (who I thought was still in Russia) stopped by to eat, drink and visit. What makes this the best Birmingham neighborhood is that it is so easy to make friends; neighbors with whom you spend time, not just to whom you wave disingenuously at the mailbox.
Oh, and the nightlife. That's the other thing. We need these walking distance bars and coffee shops and restaurants; places to go to share our mistakes, triumphs, embarrassments, prides, hurts, loves, and wish-we'd-loveds with our neighbors. I'm really excited that El Barrio is going to be a new place for the neighbors to do that.
And now for my obligatory photographic ineptitude. I took these shots to show that there were a bunch of people here. Well, whatever. Use your imagination.
El Barrio has been getting rave reviews. The Birmingham News featured a great article today. Weld had a good one last week. I'm glad these people can write about food because every time someone asks me to describe what El Barrio serves, I babble incoherently and then run off. This way I can just post links.
El Barrio opened for lunch on Tuesday. They had repeatedly told me they were trying to not to draw too much attention so that they would have small crowds and be able to perfect the processes. Well, by Thursday they were slammed. The food is fantastic. I got a sneak preview last Friday when I was dropping off the utility bills. They brought out every taco on the menu, so I got to try out about half the lunch offering in one swoop. I've learned in this process that I am terrible at describing food. I keep telling people it's Mexican, but not like any Mexican food you've ever had. The menu looks typical at first glance, but read the descriptions and you'll see what I mean. Weld did a much better description than I ever could, so read this. I haven't figured out what is my favorite dish on the menu, but I'm really digging the Pozole.
While they are only open for lunch right now, Chris told me today that their liquor license came through, so they should be opening for dinner in the next couple of weeks. I haven't seen a dinner menu yet, but the featured item is unbelievable. Can't wait to show it to you.
Now that they're open I can finally post pictures of the dining room. El Barrio seats about 60 inside. When the weather gets warm again they'll add some more seating outside along the sidewalk. They have two long harvest tables for large parties, as well as booths and 4-top tables. There's a long bar along the western wall where they'll be serving locally brewed beers, wine, and made-from-scratch margaritas. Bench seats run along the front windows with low tables where people can stop in for quick appetizers and refreshments. Jeremy Erdreich did a good write up from an architect's point of view, so if you didn't check that out last month I highly recommend it.
Most everything is made out of materials reclaimed either from Storkland, or from other Appleseed projects. Wood and steel give an industrial but intimate feel. A mural covers the eastern wall. It catches your attention the moment you walk inside and you keep staring, seeing other new details. The mural was painted by Shane B, a regionally sought-after tattoo artist with Non-Stop Art around the corner. The most amazing part is that he used nothing but spray paint. I couldn't imagine drawing all of that detail with an aerosol can.
It should have been obvious, but it's recently come to my attention that Jeremy Erdreich must be a much smoother talker than I: He convinced El Barrio to let him post some dining room pictures, in particular the mural about which I was sworn to secrecy. It's a great article and you should definitely follow that link and take a look. In other news, Mike told me the health department inspection went well, and the guys moved in most of the dining room furniture this weekend.
Congratulations to El Barrio for receiving their Certificate of Occupancy on Monday. Next up: Health Department and some extra restaurant specific CO that I don't quite understand. I can't publish pictures of the dining room yet, but it doesn't look like anything else in Birmingham. The only thing left to do is move the custom made furniture from the garage and Appleseed's warehouse, and finish up a decorative piece that I'm not supposed to talk about yet. I can post some pictures of the kitchen (some of which were taken before completion).
In a separate note, in my Halloween Reverse Parade post, I forgot to thank Patty Pilkerton, the Central City Neighborhood Association President, for spearheading the effort to bring the parade back from oblivion. Thanks, Patty!
Even though Trattoria Centrale is only a couple of blocks away on 20th Street, the area doesn't get near the evening foot traffic that we get on 2nd Avenue. When the Trattoria owners were picking a location for El Barrio, they sought out 2nd Avenue specifically to take advantage the vibrant night life. Events and festivals such as Artwalk have brought visitors into the area and made them realize downtown Birmingham is a safe and fun place to live and visit. A resident population that has grown during a down housing market, and the number of visitors that now see downtown as a destination, have made 2nd Avenue a place that restaurants like El Barrio want to locate.
One of my favorite 2nd Avenue festivals lacks a name. I've called it the Halloween Reverse Parade. I've heard people refer to it as the Drive-Through Haunted House. I think the reason I enjoy it so much is that although it doesn't have a name and isn't organized by anyone, it has been happening for 40 years. People from all over Birmingham show up to 2nd Avenue on Halloween night dressed in masks and costumes. Others drive down 2nd with their kids in the backseat. As traffic builds up the drivers roll down their windows so the monsters can run up to the cars and give the kids a little scare. The cars make the block and go through the haunted "house" a few times. It's wild and it's fun and it's not like anything I've ever seen anywhere else.
Some of us locals sit on the patio of the Metro Bar to watch the spectacle and scream encouragement (some to the kids, but admittedly some to the monsters). In the picture below you can see some of the early traffic, and an Evil Clown approaching a car full of kids. I apologize for not taking more pictures but I was having too much fun hooting and hollering.
I lied about not showing any more pictures of the dining room. I took a couple of shots that don't reveal any of the surprises. Appleseed repaired the floors around the front of the restaurant. Previously these areas had risers and the wood underneath was rotten and unusable. They reused the wood that was taken up for the parking deck to repair these areas. Appleseed also finished the exposed duct work. They used the same style they used in my loft which, along with other decorative finishes, adds a cohesive feel to otherwise unrelated spaces.
Having finished with the lies, we'll move on to the secrets. We're in the middle of painting the dining room. The El Barrio owners asked me not to show you that until after they open. While the painters are onsite, they are also finishing stains and paint in the storage and common spaces. They've repaired and stained the floors in Jerry and Roxane's office, and it looks great next to the concrete. They've also stained the stairs that lead to the storage facility and my loft (thanks to Jeremy Wood for the ebony stain suggestion).
Finished with both secrets and lies, I'm free to show you some of the restaurant areas outside of the dining room. The walls in the kitchen and bathroom hallway are complete. The kitchen walls are covered with an easy to clean material. The hood has been installed and the gas lines have been run to cooking area. The enormous hood exhaust fan is sitting in the garage waiting to be moved to the roof. The vent will be run all the way from the kitchen up past my loft so that my place doesn't always smell like tacos (which may or may not be a bad thing).
In the parking deck, the grease traps were sunk into the floor and covered with concrete. A walk-in freezer was built on top of them (in one day, which impressed me).
With the framing complete, Appleseed has almost finished hanging sheet rock. They've also started some of the trim in the dining area, using reclaimed wood on the walls, benches, and booths. In addition to the walls, the HVAC units have been installed and they are currently running ductwork, as well as working on a hood to move exhaust through the cieling, past my loft, to the roof. Along the Eastern wall a local artist has started painting a decorative piece, which I've been asked not to show until it's completion. In fact, from now on I won't be displaying pictures of the dining area until it's finished. You'll have to satiate your voyeurism with the kitchen and non-decorative developments. If you live in the area and want to cheat, just walk over here; I'm not aware of any immediate plans to cover the windows.
Appleseed has started building out El Barrio's benches and booths. There will be three full booths in the back against the wall and a line of tables with bench seats along the Eastern wall. The front nooks, which were display windows once upon a time, will feature bench seating along the windows as part of a more casual and fluid dining area (similar to Jinsei's front area, for you Birmingham people). [gallery order="DESC"]
Artwalk was a great success this weekend, bringing in over 10,000 visitors into the Loft District. People filled the streets shopping for art, listening to music, seeing live performances, and visiting lofts and businesses in the area. Before the event we had a pretty nasty storm, and it revealed a few minor leaks that needed to be patched, but nothing terrible. However, we had been digging out the garage floor to sink the grease traps for El Barrio. We had so much rain that the ground water came up and filled in the hole, submersing a small backhoe that the subcontractors were using.
After the water went back down the subs were able to recover the backhoe. Luckily the water didn't harm the backhoe, and they were able to finish sinking the trap.
Despite the storm they've made a lot of progress recently. Beside the traps, El Barrio's framing is complete and they even started installing sheetrock yesterday.
Still breathing heavy from my scorching-hot 3-part series featuring piles of dirt? Well hold on to you pants. We're getting to the good stuff: concrete slabs. What?! Not enough, you say? OK, maybe I can throw in a little framing, but that's gonna cost you extra. The original pine floors were removed in El Barrio's bar and kitchen areas in order to replace them with concrete. For a professional kitchen, concrete is much safer and easier to clean. The wood was salvaged to be used in other places. After pouring concrete, framing began for the bar and some interior rooms.
The same day the contractor poured El Barrio's floor they also poured concrete in the residential entrance. Some of the wood at the residential entrance was damaged. We've tried to reuse and repair any of the original pine that we could, but here we cut out the rotten boards at a diagonal to be replaced with this concrete. It's pretty dirty in the picture below, but it's intended to add a little drama to the space with contrasting textures. Aside from being the entrance to my loft, Jerry and Roxane will eventually use this area as an office for Self-Storage management and real estate.