Dining in the ‘B’

A fresh take on downtown Birmingham’s restaurant scene

It’s a sunny afternoon and Old Woodward in Birmingham is alive with a flood of teens, street musicians, mothers pushing strollers, and businessmen sporting light-colored shirts — because it’s too hot to wear anything darker than powder blue. But the air beckons with an aromatic mix of the floral scent from hanging baskets and planter boxes mingled with smoky chargrills.

The smell of food can be attributed to an increasingly vibrant restaurant scene. Birmingham City Manager Robert Bruner says that’s due in part to a series of amendments, policies, conditions, and ordinances initiated by the State of Michigan and city in order to allow Birmingham officials to enhance the quality of life in the downtown district.

Before the changes, 16 restaurants could be issued a Class-C liquor license; only 13 of those were actually being used, though, Bruner says. Since multiple ordinances were created in 2007, eight new liquor-licensed restaurants have opened in the retail district with three others under development at press time. In addition to the new eateries, four previously existing restaurants acquired liquor licenses, two new restaurants opened in previously occupied buildings, and one underwent a renovation.

Although Bruner wasn’t the city manager at the time of the changes, he believes one ordinance was intended to increase the number of restaurants in the city. “I believe it is fair to say that the Bistro Ordinance [which allows the city to approve liquor licenses in excess of the 16 restaurant quota] was intended to strengthen the mix in downtown Birmingham.” Bruner says a market analysis for the Birmingham Principal Shopping District found that downtown Birmingham was “under-stored” in the eating-and-drinking category.

Now that appetite is being satisfied. Recent openings include What Crêpe?, Hyde Park Steakhouse, and Touch of India. Scheduled to open this summer: Market, Try It Raw, Social Kitchen, and Churchill’s Cigar Bar — all on the heels of several other prominent openings.

Birmingham is also recruiting soft-goods retailers and analyzing who shops and dines in the city, says John Heiney, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District. As Heiney says: “We’re still going for the mix.” Judging by the summer sidewalk scene, restaurants are a clear part of that recipe.

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