Tag Archives: Old Cloverdale

Twelve Things About Sinclair’s

While it’s true in some senses that it’s easier to write what you know well, it’s also true that familiarity with a place makes it tough to offer a review that reads as credible to an outsider looking for a fairly objective snapshot of a place. As such, it’s hard to write about Sinclair’s, the cornerstone neighborhood restaurant of our part of town. We’ve been fairly regular there since moving to Montgomery a few years ago and that alone ought to tell you that it’s good enough to keep bringing us back.

And as with any place you’ve been countless times, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and pretty much ordered most of the things on the menu (well, most of the things that can be eaten by vegetarians who occasionally make exceptions for seafood). As such, there is no one prototypical meal for us at Sinclair’s. We’ll recount for you some facts you ought to know, and present them in list form for your convenience. And if you don’t want to read the list, the bottom line is this: It’s a great restaurant and you should eat there.

1. Outside seating: We have noted before that it’s a crying shame that our town lacks sufficient outdoor dining areas. It’s the South. We need chairs and patios in order to function as a decent society. There’s good enough weather here in this particular part of the world that, properly equipped with a few tables and umbrellas, we ought to be able to eat outdoors. Sinclair’s understands this. Best patio in town.
2. Full bar and strong drinks: These folks have a solid, if not flashy, bar and know how to mix drinks. You can sit inside or on the aforementioned patio, but we appreciate their ability to make drinks properly the first time and serve them in nice glasses. This all dovetails with the fact that there’s a movie theater next door, meaning you can have a great meal, have a few drinks, and walk over to the movie (or sit and discuss the movie after the fact).
3. No smoking: One of the downsides of many bars is the smoke haze. It’s nice to not leave Sinclair’s smelling like there’s some kind of film clinging to you, thinking that you need a bath.
4. Trivia: There really aren’t all that many places in town that do the trivia box competitive networked trivia game. Sinclair’s has it, along with the associated crew of eccentrics who take it super seriously. We love trivia. We are glad they pay for this service.
5. Good ambiance: It’s just a nice place to chill. It’s sort of formal, but you don’t feel awkward for sporting a t-shirt or shorts. It’s formal enough for legislators to make regular appearances, but informal enough that you can rip through a bunch of cranberry vodkas and not feel like you’re going to draw ugly looks. There usually aren’t a bunch of kids running around. The restrooms are snappy, the art is good, and it’s all around a nice place — the sort of place where you could bring a date or out-of-town friends, but also feel comfortable as a neighborhood regular just in for a meal or a night out of the house. They even do something in the men’s room certain to confuse future generations of “smart phone” users: They hang the sports page over the urinals. And the women’s restroom has a couch!
6. Fried foods: There’s trashy fried food in the world that leaves you feeling greasy and then there’s Sinclair’s fried brie wedges and simply otherworldly onion rings. Healthy? No. Fantastic? Absolutely. And atop the Sinclair’s pyramid of fried goodness must be the artichoke hearts, which we can’t do every time, but on those special occasions, are truly a delicacy of the highest order. The dipping sauce is creamy and the fried hearts are rich and, at the risk of overusing a foodie word, decadent.

Brie wedges

7. Brunch: Not to overplay the “Why doesn’t everyone have this?” angle, but it’s baffling that more places don’t have tasty brunch. Sinclair’s has it right, with multiple options for your eggs, amazing potato compliments, and quality mimosas served in good potency and quantity. Not something we can afford to do every weekend in this economy, but a fantastic benefit to be able to go there whenever we can make it work. Ask your server about the difference between Eggs Sardou and Eggs Soho. We always forget. Also, if you like crab, order the crabbie eggs. Nothing confusing there.
8. Smoked trout: The best thing on the appetizer list. There’s a photo below, but the texture of the fish is great and the combo of the capers and the cucumbers with the creamy sauce, well, it’s filling but not a tasty throwaway like so many other appetizers. It’s fresh-tasting and should be considered among the best appetizers in the city.

The trout

9. Spa salad: The go-to item when you’re not sure what else to get, this is truly an admirable baseline for the menu. It’s big, hearty, fresh and consists of greens, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, red pepper, purple onion, artichoke hearts (not fried), and hearts of palm. At $8, it’s a bargain and a great meal.
10. Unsweet tea: Why doesn’t Sinclair’s have sweet tea? It might have something to do with the restaurant once being a Sinclair Oil gas station. They offer you sugar packets, as if you weren’t from the South and hadn’t looked with contempt at some other servers across the country when they tried to equate the granular mess made with packet and spoon to the ambrosia of actual Southern sweet tea. Why? Why? Damn you, Sinclair’s. I guess I’ll have a Coke instead.
11. Veggie burgers: We might go out on a limb and say that they’re the best in the city. The great thing is that they are willing to make them up like the many kinds of regular burgers they offer: with Swiss, peppers on it, mushrooms, etc. These people “get it.” A veggie burger is not meant to be some kind of health treat like a rice cake. And we can tell if you keep a box of Boca burgers in the freezer and thaw one out when the rare vegetarian stumbles along. Sinclair’s doesn’t do that. They create a big and tasty patty on good bread.
12. Good service: A recent trip had the server offering thoughtful suggestions on a couple of menu items, all of which turned out to be spot-on accurate. Drink glasses are rarely empty and most times you get the thing that you ordered. And if there is a mistake or a mix-up, they’re really cool about it. They’re friendly, laid back, and seem to genuinely want you to have a good meal. And that stands out and really makes you want to go back. Again, that’s the kind of thing that’s easy to say if you’re regulars and get good treatment from friends, but really, we’re not. Although we mentioned above that it’s hard to write a review of a place you know well, it’s also not like we are daily visitors. We just make frequent enough visits that we know we’re going to get good food in a good atmosphere at a good price and we want to make extra sure that we aren’t taking a neighborhood institution for granted.

Shirmp Po Boy: A little too much bread, excessive sour cream on the potato.

The fantastic Spa Salad

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Lowder Property Rezoning

Regular MML readers know that we’re closely following the debates over re-zoning in Cloverdale Five Points (the part of town with Sinclair’s and The Capri). For those not as geeked out about zoning as we are, the story so far is basically that the City wants to switch over to SmartCode in this part of town (We have collected drawings and documents here for your reference). That push is still going forward, but in the short term, the City is asking for a rezoning of the Lowder property at the corner of Boultier and Fairview. That’s the western part of the building that used to be a school. For those not totally conversant with the area, it’s near Huntingdon College (once an owner of this parcel), across the street from Sinclair’s and also from the 1048 nightclub.

As it stands, this property is zoned B-1-a. The City is hoping it can be zoned B-1-a-q. Your eyes glazing over yet? It seems the “q” stands for “qualifications.” According to City Planner Tyler Caldwell, “The addition of the q denotes qualifications that restrict potential developments on this property to conform to the standards laid out in the T4-O SmartCode Transect. The only additional qualification is the permission for 1 story structures; whereas, T4-O has a minimum height restriction of 2 stories.” Caldwell has summarized the qualifications in a document you can see for yourself – download by clicking here.

This sounds good to us. Confusing to wade through the jargon, but when you think about it, it sounds nice. This is what governments do. They prevent people from ruining neighborhoods in the name of unchecked property rights. And if you care about how your city looks and functions, this is the sort of thing you should care about.

Why the rush? Well, the property is about to be sold, and the City would like to ensure that whatever is built there maintains the look and neighborhood feel associated with SmartCode. In other words, not a big box store with a bunch of parking in the front. According to Caldwell, this rezoning does not impede the larger effort to have SmartCode for the whole Cloverdale Five Points area. That debate is still upcoming.

The Cloverdale-Idlewild Association voted unanimously at this week’s meeting to support the City’s rezoning of the Lowder property. The next step in the process will be a Planning Commission meeting at 5:00 pm on September 23. The Planning Commission meets at City Hall, Room 142 at 103 N. Perry St. Please contact Tyler Caldwell, City Planner, at 334-241-2728 or tcaldwell@montgomeryal.gov if you have any questions or concerns.

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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Montgomery Film Festival

By Stephen and Kate

You will, I hope, forgive us for being a little bit provincial when we saw that there was to be a film festival in our neighborhood. We were so very excited. A film festival? What with the moving pictures and all? In Montgomery? In our neighborhood?

As we noted Friday here on MML, the Second Annual Montgomery Film Festival was this weekend. And just as if our town was having an ethnic food festival or some kind of amazing live music, looking up at the marquee of The Capri and seeing the words “Montgomery Film Festival” made us feel like we were living in a big city, with real cinophiles and a local creative underground. We didn’t know how many of the entries would be local, but thrilled at the idea that there were people out there making movies about our shared geography, shining lights onto experiences we might be missing, casting the world in new and eye-opening ways. And somewhere, somebody was cool enough to assemble all of the works into a “festival” and charge a reasonable price for a memorable Saturday evening.

As film festivals go, there are still some kinks to be worked out. But even the amateurish moments added to a warm small-town feel, where most of the people in the audience seemed to know each other (or be friends of the film makers). And when the DVD froze during one of the movies, causing them to have to hit “fast forward” to skip over the glitched scene, well, that’s the sort of communal experience that makes seeing a movie in a theater different than watching it in your living room. And it was fun.

Sure, there were some stinkers in the batch. That’s also part of the fun of it. One of the good things about watching a bunch of movies that are (by requirement) under 25 minutes in length is that even the bad ones will be over soon. And half of the fun of having opinions is sharing them with others. And if some of the bad ones selected to air at the film festival actually were the cream of the submissions, well, it’s even fun to imagine the ones that didn’t make the cut.

Before talking about the specifics of the films, it is worth mentioning that the festival was put on with the help of the Alabama Film Office and corporate sponsors like The Montgomery Advertiser and local TV station WSFA. And of course, the priceless venue, The Capri, about which we have gushed many times.

Here are our reviews (and grades) of the movies that were screened at this year’s festival:

“La Barba Brutta” – This is a silent film, which is to say that there is no dialogue. But the film is far from silent, as it’s set to a soaring excerpt from The Barber of Seville, the famous opera by Rossini. It’s short, hilarious and nicely showcased the editing talents of the creator, a nice young Brazilian fellow named Davi Abreu who spoke before the screening. This did a great job of setting the tone for the festival. A solid “A,” especially for a two minute “silent” film.

Afghan” – The high expectations set by “La Barba Brutta” were exceeded by the next short, a 11:40 long piece from Canadian Pardis Parker about xenophobia, optimism and the beautiful power of creativity and cinema. Simultaneously hilarious and poignant, this short piece managed to contain great acting and a powerful message about the universe of possible responses to fear-driven aggression. It was both a timely comment on the hateful political climate of intolerance in which we exist, but also a timeless meditation on the transformative power of art. Grade: A-plus.

In Our Shoes” – Shot entirely in Birmingham’s lovely Five Points South district, this film was a collection of interviews with people who talked about … well … their shoes. The film maker, Jen Suran, wasn’t able to be present, but it would have been nice to hear some of her thoughts about this project. What did we learn by hearing people talk about the social implications of their footwear? Not much. We’re all humans, man, says that homeless-looking guy. Some people talk about how much money they make. Others just about how hard they work. Seemed a lot like a school project, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Grade: C.

“The Gynecologist” – This film made us cringe, and not in a good way. It is about a person who appears to be male and attempts to visit a gynecologist. Many in the audience seemed to think this “fish out of water” gimmick was hilarious. Perhaps they bought into the filmmaker’s heavy-handed attempt to make us relate to the bureaucracy-beleaguered doctor, but this flimsy premise seemed to us to disguise a much more troubling message: We’d better, if we know what is good for us, stay in our assigned gender roles. Beautifully produced but terrible. Grade: D.

“Your Casanova” – If “In Our Shoes” seemed like a school project, this seemed like something dreamed up in a basement by some high school sophomores. On the other hand, it was made locally (Jimmie Rogers and Michael Turner) and starred area high school students, many of whom were at the screening. We don’t want to spoil the “twist” of a questionably-comprehensible plot, but think of it as a mix of Face/Off, Silence of the Lambs, Vanilla Sky, and American Psycho (as made by a very drunk Roger Corman). Grade: F.

Copper Penny” – The second-best film of the festival. Watching this movie by Jay Pulk is like reading a perfect short story by one of the masters of the genre: a Raymond Carver, a Jhumpa Lahiri. A man goes to visit a prostitute. One of history’s oldest stories plays out in a way that is unexpected, but not cheaply so. If not heart-rending, the movie is at least heart-warping. Grade: A-plus.

“Find a Way” – While “Your Casanova” was the worst film, that’s only because “Find a Way” doesn’t even count as a film. At least “Your Casanova” seemed like it would have been fun to make and involved high school students and local amateurs. Bracket for a moment whether the River Region United Way is a good charity. And bracket further the question of using the tragic circumstances of a disease-stricken child in the most overtly-exploitative way possible. The inclusion of this professionally-produced advertisement opens the doorway to next year’s festival running a 20 minute infomercial for Alabama Power or Alfa. Sure, the end product is well made. But it’s an ad. The maker of the film spoke before the screening, talking about his “client,” the United Way. No grade.

“Two Men, Two Cows, Two Guns” – Pardis Parker again. This won the organizers’ award for the best movie at the festival, but we weren’t that impressed. It’s a quirky comedy that seemed to us to be more quirk than comedy, drawing from the Little Miss Sunshine/Rocket Science well a little too deeply for our taste. But comedy’s such a matter of personal taste, and it made a lot of people in the audience laugh. A lot. Grade: B.

We did wonder what happened to “best 30 bumper” and “best trailer categories” mentioned in The Advertiser story here. Did they not get any entries in those categories? Did they do much advertising before the festival? We only learned about it by way of The Capri’s Facebook page, but didn’t see other promotional materials. Also, we’re sort of unclear on who it is exactly it is that is putting this thing on. Is it a non-profit? Do they get to keep all the money? More organizing will probably help the MFF’s third installment be even bigger and better.

When you purchased a ticket to the festival, you were given a ballot, allowing you to vote on the best film of the festival. As if it weren’t obvious from the above reviews, we voted for Afghan. And we enjoyed muttering about the selections of the festival organizers. We did think they should have had a “best Alabama-made” movie category. It’s not fair to allow movies made by some high school kids from Prattville to compete with movies bearing the seal of the Canadian federal government. All in all, we had a great time. It was affordable. We felt like we were supporting both local art and local lovers of cinema. We hope very much that things went well enough for the festival organizers that they will be having the third annual festival at this time next year. The Capri is, of course, a great venue for this sort of thing and we really, really want to go back next year. We might even make a movie ourselves and submit it.

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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SmartCode for Cloverdale? Community Meetings Invite Input

By Stephen and Kate

Odds are that many MML readers were in receipt of an email circulated last month rallying folks to protest against what were described as immediate plans to build a big box pharmacy store on the corner of Boultier and East Fairview. Garish lighting? Impermeable cover? Parking lots? Hopefully by now most people know this was only a rumor. There are no such plans to ruin the character of one of Midtown’s best neighborhoods … yet.

To preempt any damage that might be done to Cloverdale’s commercial district (and thereby the neighborhood’s character), the City of Montgomery has decided to push for SmartCode zoning in the district. City Planner and Montgomery native Tyler Caldwell (also a Midtown resident) came to our Cloverdale-Idlewild Association (CIA) meeting this past week to spread the word about the proposed change to the zoning. He was there to explain the city’s proposal (and the concept of SmartCode), and to invite interested community members to learn more about the proposal.

Right now the Five Points area is basically zoned B-2. And it doesn’t have historic designation, so any new buildings constructed in those B-2 lots would be under no special obligation to “mesh” with the existing architecture and use of the area. In other words, there’s nothing now stopping a big box pharmacy (or any other awful chain store) from moving into the neighborhood.

The proposed area for SmartCode zoning is in purple on this map Caldwell shared with us.

Sure, SmartCode designation wouldn’t stop a pharmacy or an Urban Outfitters from moving in. But it would force their buildings to be in character with the neighborhood and compliant with pedestrian friendly guidelines. For example, SmartCode requires buildings to be close to the street with parking behind the building. This encourages cars to slow down. It also encourages pedestrian traffic — something that Montgomery has struggled to promote for a long time, especially in neighborhoods that are short on sidewalks. SmartCode requires sloped roofs and allows for mixed use development, so that apartments can be built above stores. It’s designed to promote urban living so that cities don’t just become places where you work and then flee for the suburbs afterward. One of the goals of SmartCode is to have buildings that can be reused over a century, rather than with a five year lifecycle.

All of which seems like a pretty substantial improvement from the status quo. As Caldwell said: “If Joe California the real estate investor buys the building (neighborhood bar) Bud’s is in, there’s nothing in place right now to stop him from building something out of the character of the neighborhood.” We sure don’t want Bud’s to leave (where would we get our Stella Artois? Our dollar Sunday pool? Our hair smelling of cigarettes for days afterward?), but if they did ever close up, we certainly wouldn’t want a Taco Bell in their place.

Fortunately, Cloverdale residents have been seeking a solution to future bad development for several years. Caldwell was quick to credit the neighborhood for coming up with the zoning ideas that have become standard in places like downtown and Hampstead. He cited the Five Points charettes that happened from 2005 to 2008 as creating a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood. The current SmartCode designation proposal is really just an attempt to implement something the community’s already gotten behind.

Those seeking more information can meet Caldwell tonight. He’ll be talking at the Old Cloverdale Association’s meeting on Monday, July 19th at 7:00 in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

The city will be holding drop-in meetings for the public from 4-7 on August 5th and 6th in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse. Staff from the city will be there to answer questions and solicit input. They will present exhibits designed to show differences in the neighborhood under the existing B-2 zoning and the proposed SmartCode zoning.

After these two days, the rezoning proposal will go to the planning commission within 90 days. That is the official public comment period for the proposed change. “Because this community is so involved,” said Caldwell, “we wanted to be proactive and give credit for initiating this plan in 2006.”

We’re wary of anything that takes sneaky linguistic tweaks to make itself sound better. And certainly the phrases “smart growth” and “smart code” could be used to justify any number of bad urban development and city planning ideas. But in this case, it looks like the city and the developers have the right idea. The goal is to fight the soullessness that is a near-inevitable threat in every city in the world (thanks to our globalized mono-culture). And an ounce of prevention is worth an unfathomable attempt to cure bad development post-facto, especially in a society that values property rights. Montgomery is really trying to get this right, and it seems like the changes are great, laudable, and worth supporting.

To learn more about SmartCode: www.transect.org; www.smartcodecentral.com

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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Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods

By Carole King

It’s finished, printed and headed our way! For those of you living inside the bypass loop, you may have seen or heard the appeals by Karren Pell and myself for older photographs of Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods. Karren Pell, better known as the Alabama Troubadour, completed a photographic history book of Tallassee last year for Arcadia Publishing who later contacted her and asked her if she had any other ideas for other books to be included in their Images of America series. You know the books…those sepia-toned photo books that serve as great souvenirs. Since we had just finished the 100th centennial celebration of the incorporation of Capitol Heights as a city, that neighborhood’s history was fresh in our minds. So she asked me if I would be interested in a venture featuring our local historic districts, and the decision was made to birth Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods, which is now a reality and on its way to a fine book retail source near you soon!

We set about surveying what photographic materials to which we thought we could get access. We viewed collections at local universities, churches, Montgomery County Historical Society, Archives and History, Landmarks Foundation, and private individuals. We did several presentations to neighborhood associations, wrote several articles and did the television and radio circuit. To narrow our search, the decision was made to include photographs of structures and people located in the neighborhoods with official historic designation. These areas included Capitol Heights, Centennial Hill, Cloverdale Idlewild, Cottage Hill, Garden District, Old Cloverdale, Old Line Street and a section on the early downtown neighborhood. However, we found more and more documentation on subjects outside of our original parameters. We became fascinated by the properties that were eliminated when the Interstate 85 and 65 dissected the city and the earlier neighborhoods. Many of these magnificent mansions were captured in the Art Works publications of 1894 and 1907 and several neighborhood areas exist in those images only today.

Photographs came trickling in and we were beginning to sweat as our publication deadline rapidly approached. A last-ditch effort interview with Carolyn Hutcheson at WTSUM with a wide listening radius opened the floodgates to many family photo albums and our chapters began coming together, finally. We spent hours upon hours scanning photos to the publisher’s specifications, interviewing family members and researching facts and figures. We mourned the photos with great stories that we had to turn our backs on because of poor print quality and the good quality photos that had no story we could tell.

This photo came in too late for the book but has good documentation penciled on the back. This is a view of “The Old Home” located at 3 Whitman Street in Cottage Hill in March 1905. Mollie, Mama, Ellen and Rebecca are standing out front. More research is yet to come to find out exactly who these ladies are.

We made lots of discoveries about the lifestyle of people during this age of emerging photography. More affluent women had access to cameras and took up photography as a hobby documenting their families, pets, events, homes, vacations and rites of passage and then documenting it all in scrapbooks. Unless they were professionally shot in a controlled studio situation, almost all photographs were taken outside until close to the middle of the 20th century with the development of the flash concept. And, last but not least, almost every family had a goat cart!

One of our better finds was an envelope of photos that was actually in the Landmarks collection with no real documentation other than the photos had been found in the trash. After our extensive work on the pageants in schools and neighborhoods we were able to recognize these photos as documenting the annual May Day ceremony at the Cottage Hill School once located on Herron Street.

Especially fun was spending time with the many folks who brought out family albums in hopes that there was something we could use in the upcoming book. They reminisced and we gave advice on better ways to conserve these family treasures in exchange for access to them.

We were limited to 200 photos with short captions and since we had actually acquired about 350 images, the task of determining what would and what would not appear in the publication was difficult. There were lots of late nights of pouring over images and urgent phone calls with questions to the photograph’s owner. After submitting the initial images and captions and waiting for long weeks, we received a laid out proof for our review. The teacher in Karren and the editor in me came out and we hit the proof hard with our red correction pens even as we added images acquired later.

Just this week we received our authors’ copies in the mail, so we know the book is printed and will be arriving soon. As the shipping date—July 19th—for the printed product nears, we hope these readers will keep a watch out for the upcoming scheduled book-signings at our local bookstores, gift shops and specialty stores. We know there will be mistakes, we know there will be corrections and we know we’ll get bombarded with “how come y’all didn’t ask me for my family scrapbook?” We hope the publication of Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods will bring awareness about the importance of preserving family photos and records for perpetuity and encourage the documenting of our everyday life thus creating memories for all of our midtown historic neighborhoods.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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