Commissioners Approve New Rail District Bistro, Object to Name
City Commission says despite being a bistro, the Cole Street Kitchen and Bar may be perceived as a bar.
Another restaurant will be moving into Birmingham's Rail District next year, after the City Commission approved the final site plan and special land use permit for the Cole Street Kitchen and Bar Monday night.
Approval of the restaurant, which will be located at 2010 Cole St., is pending administrative approval of the restaurant's name and signage.
Cole Street Kitchen and Bar, owned by Chef Mario Gogcaj, is the city's second bistro request in 2010. Under the current bistro ordinance, the city can approve only two bistros licenses a year.
The restaurant's plans include a full-service kitchen serving Italian-American cuisine, seating for 65 inside and an outdoor patio with seating for 24. Parking will be in lots on either side of the building.
Planning Director Jana Ecker said the building will have a "contemporary" look, while Gogcaj added that mood is best described as "upscale casual."
"I just wanted something that was very comfortable, with very good food," Gogcaj said. While Gogcaj has 11 years experience in the restaurant industry, including time as a sous chef at the Forest Grill, this will be his first restaurant.
City commissioners objected to the use of the word "Bar" in the restaurant's name, pointing out that when they adopted the bistro ordinance in 2007, they wanted to attract restaurants — not bars. Gogcaj said he would be open to change although he preferred the name as it is. "It's very evident it's not a bar," he said.
"It is a bar by perception," Commissioner Scott Moore said. "We did promise that (with the) bistro ordinance, it wouldn't become a bunch of bars. Perception means a lot."
Resident Dorothy Conrad said the Planning Board also had issues with the restaurant's name, and said she was disappointed Gogcaj had not settled the issue before coming before the City Commission.
"There's a whole bunch of other names that this restaurant could call themselves … that would be more appealing to residents," she said.
Commission also discussed potential objections with the parking lot on the east side of the building, a narrow strip with limited space to turn around. Ecker, however, assured commissioners that the east parking lot would primarily be used by employees.
The resturant will use 39 parking spots, however Gogcaj is leasing only part of the building. Ecker admitted that this leaves little room should someone lease the other half of the building and need additional parking.
Commissioner Mark Nickita said the situation illustrates some of the parking concerns business owners in the Rail District will face in upcoming months. Birmingham has been successful at creating a network of on-street and shared parking downtown, he said, reducing the need for parking lots. The Rail District, he said, would do well to remember that efficiency going forward.
Correction: The owner of the Cole Street Kitchen and Bar is Mario Gogcaj. His name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.