Category Archives: Municipal business

The Pine Bar

It’s that special time of the year for sports fans. Even as temperatures hover above 90 degrees, there are slivers of fall in the air. Excitement is building all across the nation as team lineups solidify, old rivalries are rekindled, and places that haven’t seen a championship team in decades begin to dream. Others dare to dream of a repeat.

We are talking, of course, about the impending baseball playoffs. Yes, we know that it’s football season. And we’re plenty into that too. But the Braves are making a bit of a run this year, what with their young Say Hey Kid, super slugging catcher, retiring old school Hall of Fame manager, and killer closer. They just got Derrek Lee off the Cubs! Omar Infante’s looking for a batting title! It’s been a long time since we were this into a Braves team, and we were heartened to see that the Pine Bar over in Old Cloverdale was telling all its hundreds of Facebook fans to come on over for some baseball on big screen high def TVs.

Last week, we did just that, watching the Braves beat the Mets in the cool comfort of what’s got to be one of Montgomery’s best bars. It’s non-smoking, which we love (but there are lots of tables outside for our smoking friends or people just enjoying a cool evening). The bar and tables within are made from reclaimed pine, finished to a smooth and luxurious shine — perfect for resting a drink on while you watch baseball, or football, or just make small talk.

The bartenders know what they’re talking about and can talk about the hops content of various limited-run beers while pouring you a mixed-drink from the well-stocked bar. While there, we were offered the chance to sample a new item we’ve never tried before, a cocktail mixed with elderflower syrup. Was it amazing? Not really. It was fair. But it’s fun to try new things and to talk to bartenders who know a lot about their trade.

Sure, the Pine Bar may close earlier than some places (people live upstairs, so after 11 p.m. it’s not cool to be drinking and talking loudly right underneath them), but it’s got a great selection of delicious beers or tap and in the bottle. Also, they have music most Saturday nights. We’ve been in there before when it’s full with people chatting and nodding their heads to a great jazz trio. And if you’re so inclined, you can get there via the city’s Entertainment Trolley – maybe making it one of several stops in a night on the town. With the Village Kitchen opening in the space next door (where Nancy Paterson’s used to be), Old Cloverdale continues to be a good place for a night on the town.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Cloverdale SmartCode Update

By Stephen and Kate

Last Thursday and Friday the City of Montgomery’s Planning Department held public meetings in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse. The meetings were open-ended, come-when-you-can affairs, designed to share information about the Planning Department’s proposal for implementing SmartCode in the Five Points business district. Like many folks from all over Midtown, we wandered down to the Playhouse last week to look at the City’s various ideas.

The meetings were informal, with various exhibits on tables and walls throughout a big room in the basement. Residents were invited to move between the exhibits and talk to City personnel who were available to discuss any concerns. When we were there, folks were involved in a dozen conversations about their ideas for the neighborhood – sometimes with City personnel, sometimes with each other. Everyone was invited to leave comments using a standard form. Most people seemed to be very interested in giving written feedback.

The overheard comments ranged from the uninformed, strongly-held opinion (everybody has feelings of some sort about property rights and the aesthetics of buildings) to the expert-level conversation about implementation and origins of smart code (we had no idea what a “transect” was).

Here at MML, we’re delighted to be able to host copies of the drawings and exhibits from the meeting – in fact, we are the only site on the Internets with these pictures. Tremendous thanks to City Planner Tyler Caldwell for sharing with us. He’s also given us a copy of the results from the original 2006 design plan by Historic Southview, Old Cloverdale Business Coalition, AIA and countless other concerned citizens. Again, we believe that we are the only place online that you can download the document. If you care about the livability and look of your community and Midtown Montgomery, familiarity with this conversation is a crucial part of municipal participatory citizenship.

For the convenience of our readers, we have put all the images and documents from the meeting on this page here at MML. You can browse and download everything on this page.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Ted, the Wine Guy

By Stephen and Kate

Alabama has a conflicted relationship with alcohol.

On one hand, the state celebrates college football tailgate boozing, is home to the nation’s oldest Mardi Gras (warning link opens jazzy informational Schoolhouse Rock-style song about Mobile), and has a long history of moonshine and White Lightnin’.

On the other hand, the state government still competes with private enterprise in the alcohol market because “The people of Alabama did not want alcoholic beverages marketed like soup and soft drinks” and it took a “Free the Hops” movement until 2009 to convince the Legislature increase the limit on alcohol by volume in beer from 6% to 13.9%. Many restrictions on beer and brewing remain. And then there was the unfortunate recent matter of the ABC Board banning a brand of California wine due to a picture of a nude nymph of the label (sidebar: Said board is run by a certain octogenarian former Mayor of Montgomery).

As such, we count ourselves lucky not only to be living in one of Alabama’s “wet” counties (with Sunday sales and draft beer and everything!), but also to be amid intelligent and well-informed folks who have tremendous expertise in beer and wine.

Enter Ted, the Wine Guy. Now, we don’t know Ted nearly well enough to call him by his first name. We met him once, when working on this blog post. And we’d never call him “the wine guy.” Vintner, maybe. But “wine guy?” Seems awfully casual. And yet, that’s the name of Ted’s charming three-year-old store (3062 Zelda Rd.), where he and co-owner (and Montgomery native) Scotty Scott sell, well, you know.

Look, we’re not wine snobs. But we do love to drink the stuff. And that makes Ted and Scotty a perfect match for us since on their website, item number one under the company’s mission is to “remove the intimidation from wine shopping by offering our customers Expertise without Arrogance.” Sounds good to us. Getting beyond the snooty intimidation factor is a big part of being comfortable trying new things and being able to be honest about what you like and don’t like.

That’s not to say that we don’t have opinions or think that all wines are created equally. We may not read Wine Spectator, but we do like having informed opinions about why things taste a certain way, even if we’re not able to talk soil quality, weather patterns, and cork construction with the people who really, truly geek out about this sort of thing.

All of which is really just prefatory to the bottom line: The service at Ted’s is great and the inventory offers the full panoply of fermentation. There are starter wines, more expensive items, cheap table wines, exotic things for sophisticated palates, international rarities, and the usual accouterments (sparkling wines, rare cheeses, etc.).

They seem very serious about helping Montgomery residents learn about wine, but not in a pedantic way. On Fridays after work you can stop by for a tasting (we were there when wholesaler Stacy Chappel from Rush Wines was pouring a selection of six tasty wines that were new to us – and of course we left with one). Or you can join their “Cellar Club” to get discounts on wine (pay $25, then two more installments of $25, and you’re a lifetime member) including special sales from a “members-only” rack, 6% off bottles, and 12% off a case. Discounts aren’t limited to club members – everyone can get 10% off when they buy a case.

Even though it’s in a strip mall (next to the UPS store in the Publix shopping center on Zelda Road), Ted’s feels warm and welcoming. Their focus on affordable and accessible wines is refreshing. It shows that there is a delicious middle ground between Sutter Home and a nice bottle of Sterling, and it makes you feel like you could actually learn something about wine without spending a fortune.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Apropos

By Stephen and Kate

The store’s got a gutsy name. You don’t call your store something that means “to the purpose” unless you’re offering merchandise that’s both opportune and on point. But for 23 years, Apropos (411 Cloverdale Road, 334-265-9100) owner Terri Owen has been doing just that. Her newly expanded store in Old Cloverdale is widely beloved for its eclectic and tastefully curated array of gifts, scents, handbags, jewelry and clothing.

Shopping at Apropos means peeking into the back corners of shelves, looking behind things, finding a beautiful bag next to a basket of soaps perched near a clever child’s toy wrapped in a delicate scarf. It may involve finding just the right necklace draped over a diaphanous lampshade, searching for perfect chunky cocktail ring, or discovering a talented new local designed. It’s a space designed for browsing — you can circle the store several times and never notice the same set of items.

Since February, Apropos has had a brighter, bigger space. Owen annexed the space next door, bringing in more natural light and considerably more room to maneuver, and stripped the floors in the store down to the terracotta tiles underneath. A bigger shop has meant adding more merchandise. While there is more room to wander than there used to be (and try things on – there is a real changing room now, doubling as a storage space for local designers), Apropos still preserves some of the “element of the chase” shopping that has always made it a fun place to look around.

If Apropos is beloved for the quality of its wares, it is positively adored for reasonable prices. This is part of the store’s design. Owen opened the store to sell novelty gifts, jewelry and bags at good prices, and by her own accounting good prices and a relatively stable Montgomery economy have helped the store to weather multiple wars, recessions and stock market downturns. The quality of her merchandise has probably helped Apropos to thrive even in tough times. Owen stocks boutique brands like Elizabeth W, Shelley Kyle and Pré de Provence next to jewelry by Montgomery artists like Elizabeth Adams and the mother-daughter team behind Dixie Dangles.

“Montgomery has an unusually large number of talented artists, architects and designers,” says Owen, who says her store benefits tremendously from local talent. Every two months, Apropos showcases a different designer (usually an Alabamian) in a special display case. The current display features jewelry by Marie E. Majerick, whose unusual necklaces weave vintage pieces into newer materials with a sense of whimsy. I’ve never seen an octopus (or is it an anemone?) look so elegant before.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Beat the Heat at the Lattice Inn

By Stephen and Kate

Looking for a way to cool down as July’s sweltering temperatures approach? Don’t have a pool? Midtown’s own Lattice Inn is offering a “Daycation” (not to be confused with the city’s “Staycation”) to help Montgomery residents beat the heat while relaxing in style.

“The Daycation package gives a group of four an opportunity to swim, sun and relax at the Lattice Inn for less than it would cost to go to a movie. For $50, guests can enjoy four hours of swimming in the sparkling salt water pool, relax in the hot tub, or just lie out in the sun on any of our three decks.”

Space is limited to no more than four groups at any one time and reservations are accepted for late morning, midday or early afternoon packages. Late afternoon and early evening packages are are available for adults only. Guests must bring their own towels. Coolers and picnic baskets are welcomed. Beverage containers that are made of glass are not permitted. Wi-Fi is available for no additional cost.

The Daycation package allows up to four people to enjoy the outdoor facilities of The Lattice Inn. Each additional person is $15 while an additional hour can be added to the package for just $15. Taxes are not included.

For more information, visit The Lattice Inn’s website (www.thelatticeinn.com), call 334-262-3388, or email: info@thelatticeinn.com.

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Alabama Farmer’s Market – Fairview Ave.

By Stephen and Kate

“There once was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.”

So begins the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carsons, the 1962 wake up call that served as a foundational text for much of the modern environmental consciousness. The book, a searing critique of the atrocities of American pesticide use, has considerable bearing on the origins of the modern movement towards food consciousness and support for agriculture that is organic (a term that is often debated, but in the casual sense means grown without synthetic pesticides).

The organic market was estimated to be $24 billion and growing quickly in 2008. And if the oil spill in the Gulf has taught us that industrial carelessness  is killing the planet, the recent McDonald’s recall of poison-laced Shrek drinking glasses serves as a reminder that industrial carelessness is killing our bodies too.

And that’s where the Farmer’s Market on Fairview Avenue comes in. Some people have always gotten vegetables from farmer’s markets. The populist rural history of farm-to-market sales is well documented in states like Alabama, where generations have grown up loving the freshness of locally-grown crops. But with more and more people moving towards increasingly-processed diets, it has taken a counter-revolution of health-conscious return-to-the-basics consumers to bring local production back to the center of many dinner tables.

Authors like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (along with movies like Super Size Me) have certainly pushed people towards the “slow food movement” and away from fast food. And all of that contributes to what makes local and organic eating so much fun. You have the environmentalists aware of the toll of industrialized agriculture on the natural world. You have the folks who don’t want to pay for the markups on food that come with expensive refrigeration, shipping and advertising. You have the rural folks who just like dealing with the farmers. You have the folks who urge people to “buy Alabama first” for economic development reasons. And you have the folks who just think that store-bought tomatoes don’t taste quite right.

These people all come together across racial and class lines to celebrate good food at the Farmer’s Market, where all of the food isn’t certified organic, but nearly all of it is grown in Alabama. Midtown’s market is on Fairview Ave., across from the Piggly Wiggly where popsicles are in the produce aisle and everyone’s shopping cart seems full of canned and packaged foods.

The Farmers Markets are run by the state Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Authority. That would explain why they have a hilarious picture of current Gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks (who is currently the state’s Ag Commissioner) in an apron. The Fairview Avenue location was once the auto parts shop for the nearby Sears store.

Vendors can rent space on monthly contracts. There’s an indoor part and an outdoor part. Outdoors, in the space that used to be a garage, stands boast huge cardboard boats of summer squash, big bunches of lush collards or turnip greens, baskets of tiny plums, white potatoes ready to plant, jars of homemade pepper sauce, and watermelons ranging from the personal size ($3) to a size more appropriate for your whole extended family ($9). In the front of the market, you can still buy okra or tomatoes, but you can also get jars of pickles, candles, flowers, ferns, herbs in cups, tea, red velvet cake or individual sweet potato pies. There is also someone who takes your name and puts it on a piece of paper with an Eagle on it, including your birth stone and an explanation of what your name “means.” For example, Ronald means “rules with counsel.” So, maybe that bodes well for the Sparks campaign.

Everyone takes cash. EBT cards are accepted, as are credit or debit cards. If you want to use a card, they’ll ring you up at the front and cash out to the relevant vendor. The market is full of fresh Alabama produce sold by people who know the farmers and can tell you that your watermelon came from Dothan and your peaches from Chilton County. In a world of pizza rolls and microwaveable individual serving cakes, we’re lucky to be just a few minutes away from the Fairview Farmer’s Market.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Reduce…Reuse…Recycle

By Sandra Nickel

In celebration of National Preservation Month, Landmarks Foundation on May 1 sponsored a tour of two firehouses that have been repurposed as private residences:  one just beginning to be renovated in Cottage Hill and one breathtakingly restored in the Garden District. The success of that tour got me to thinking about the 2010 preservation theme, “Old is the New Green,” and how it has played out in our beloved Midtown and adjacent areas.

Montgomery's original "big box" retailer

Currently the “hot ticket,” the Alley downtown contains former warehouses transformed into restaurants, bars, a banquet facility, retail shops and snazzy loft apartments. On the outskirts of downtown, entrepreneur Jean Cillie has repurposed the historic Sayre Street School into a home for her multiple businesses:  florist, gifts, catering and a marvelous site for receptions and such.

From the Atlanta Highway all the way south along Ann Street to East Fifth Street, little cottages and bungalows have become thriving business of various types. And speaking of repurposed houses, I can think of at least two successful medical practices in Midtown who call a house their professional home: Frank Gogan, M.D., on Woodley Road; and Montgomery Veterinary Associates on Carter Hill. El Rey Burrito Lounge was an old house, as were 1048 Jazz & Blues and Capitol Book and News — three popular Cloverdale businesses within sight of one another.

Then there are the service stations repurposed:  Sinclair’s Restaurant, Parker Smith Cleaners,  Richardson’s Pharmacy and the office of Dr. Norman Walton, dermatologist.  Those are the ones I can identify — you may be aware of others.

Even small-scale older commercial buildings seem to be able to “bend and flex” with the needs and tastes of the market. Tang’s on Cloverdale Road started life as a convenience store. Stonehenge on Fairview has been variously a restaurant, a flower shop, and an art gallery, not once, but twice. Around the corner on Boultier, Lynn’s Salon was the rear part of the Cloverdale Post Office.  And Sarah Howard Stone’s building began as the Cloverdale city jail!

Small scale seems to be the key. Building at a large scale doesn’t have a good history in this part of town. Montgomery’s original “big box store,” the long-vacant Sears store at South Court and Fairview sits forlorn and abandoned, much of its sea of asphalt parking sold off to the Holt Street Memorial Baptist Church to the north. The old Sears Automotive Store, repurposed as a State Farmers’ Market, struggles valiantly to find its audience.

You don’t have to drive very far on any of the bypasses to see many more examples of big, ugly, empty stores. And how could I not mention Montgomery Mall?  The City promises that the space will one day see a new use, but the sheer size of the project has caused the property to languish for many years now. Shopping centers of smaller scale like Eastbrook have found new life. And even Normandale has managed to keep its head above water.

It seems to me that it’s pretty clear:  Bigger is very, very often not better.  And new may not be the answer, either. It’s a truth that has brought together the likes of environmentalists and historic preservationists (like me and those who love our old buildings and old neighborhoods). So as I sit here in my Fairview Avenue office and look over my shoulder at the area that used to be the soda fountain for the Cloverdale Pharmacy, I hope you’ll join me in my new mantra:  Reduce…reuse…recycle!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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