My introduction to socialization in Montgomery was via Cloverdale six years ago. I lived in the apartments ran by the Residence Group on the corner of Norman Bridge and Felder. Unable to afford wifi, I walked to Derk’s in the evenings to sit on the outdoor furniture to feed off their signal with my laptop for a few heavenly minutes of internet time. During my off days I made it over to Cafe Louisa, then on Fairview Avenue, and sat in the window while I sipped iced lattes and built websites.
It wasn’t long before Cafe Louisa stopped providing free wifi to their customers and I was forced to show my cards. Cafe Louisa, back then, didn’t seem to care for the coffee shop crowd that wanted to sit and work. Back in those days, when I couldn’t afford wifi but truly enjoyed getting out in my own city, my only option was to find solace at the Starbucks on Ann Street. Prevail and Vintage Cafe didn’t exist yet.
Later, in 2015, I needed a temporary job and found relief in a new restaurant opening up on the north end of Cloverdale. A restaurant had recently changed names and underwent a rebranding while simultaneously turning one of their dining rooms into a quick-bite ramen shop. The concept accompanied hoards of hype while interest peaked in the fast, accessible food that was finally coming to Cloverdale. But Kudzu sank as people refused to pay $12 for ramen bowls, and while I believe the food was good, I also can’t blame our target audience for refusing to support a menu that sells for much less in other cities.
Cafe Louisa and its fraternal twin, Tomatinos, moved across Cloverdale to where A&P and Kudzu fell to their graves; they also finally decided to bring wifi back, potentially because they realized that people want wifi, for which I am forever thankful.
The old Louisa and Tomatino’s spot remains vacant.
Sitting next to their empty old place also rests the void where Seville, the badass hair salon, used to perform miracles on poor souls who needed a box dye job corrected or give a rockstar look to someone desperate for a change. It is my understanding that the tenants of Cafe Louisa, Tomatinos, and Seville were forced to find more welcoming spots elsewhere because the building was crumbling and the landlord lost interest in their tenancy.
The space has been empty for a year now and what used to be the better end of Cloverdale, if I do say so myself, looks abandoned and Detroit-ish (no offense to Detroit). Six years ago the space at the east end of the mostly-vacant Fairview strip teased us about an Irish pub that was supposedly destined for the location. The attempts at generating excitement over the incoming bar was laughable as Cloverdale residents were quick to notice the spelling error in the sign: the signs in the windows, with plaid background and bold gold lettering, read that the new restaurant was “Comming soon.” The mistake was indicative that whoever made the poster didn’t care, and that we shouldn’t take the promise of a new bar seriously. It’s a good thing we didn’t, because it still hasn’t arrived.
I just deleted a long-winded paragraph about the rumors explaining the still-empty buildings, but the point still remains that the residents of Cloverdale are ready for new places to spend their money and no one is answering our call. It’s either a lack of interest in people starting a business in Cloverdale or a landlord who isn’t a very good landlord.
Ever since Cafe Louisa, Tomatino’s, and Seville were forced to leave for greener pastures, we’ve heard chatter of a variety of nonsense that doesn’t seem to be arriving any time soon. I’ve personally heard reports of a rooftop bar, another place to play pool, and Sa Za all going into the strip. Why hasn’t anything happened yet? At least one dumpster has appeared to clear out the remaining stuff in the old spaces (kudos to Seville for leaving up the Doug Jones sign in their old window!) but it has been many moons since anyone has gotten an update on what’s to come.
With wait times that often reach over an hour and a half at El Rey, there’s no reason potential business owners shouldn’t be interested in getting a slice of the pie. The only explanation, in my opinion as a certified Cloverdale rat, is that whoever is managing the property is refusing to lease the space until some holy grail tenant comes along that’s willing to pay for critical repairs, or they won’t just sell the building to someone who’s actually passionate about the neighborhood.
The other end of Cloverdale (can we please just divide them into “Cloverdale North” and “Cloverdale South” already?) seems to be the more interesting spot these days, with modern buildings that don’t flood every time it rains and a packed out crowd at Derk’s pretty much any day of the week. Vintage Cafe lives in a gorgeously renovated bank and I’m pretty convinced I’m the only woman in Montgomery who doesn’t go to Pure Barre. I’ve heard Vintage Year offers a great brunch and my hair stylist just started a job at Amplify Salon, which means I’ll now be on that end much more often than I ever was when I first arrived on the Cloverdale scene. It’s strange and unexpected to me that the modern, clean feel of Cloverdale North is thriving while the homely, comfortable end of Cloverdale South is being neglected. I personally miss the quirkier vibe of the old Cafe Louisa location, but I can’t blame them for looking for a new arrangement.
Back in Cloverdale South (the Fairview end of things), Sinclair’s unexpectedly closed and the response was “but my grandparents go there every weekend after church!” It was quickly replaced by Moe’s Original Barbecue, which seems to be doing well. The excitement generated over Kudzu revealed an eagerness for something quick and affordable, and Moe’s saw an opportunity to take advantage of the obvious craving of local residents. They’re now regularly hosting live music and trivia and are blessedly open for reasonable hours (weekends, between lunch and dinner, etc.).
A new building is going in across the way from them that is promising some new places for us to spend our dough. But I can’t help but wonder: how is that a developer decided to construct a whole new building, from the ground up, because they deemed it was apparently worth their efforts…but we can’t find a way to do something with the existing strip on Fairview?
Cloverdale deserves more. Cafe Louisa figured out that their guests want wifi, so there’s that, but what about the empty line of buildings wedged between Sandra Nickel and Buds? By the way: let’s thank the powers that be that Sandra Nickel, Buds, and the shoe repair place still remain.
Kudzu failed because, despite the love of the menu, people just didn’t want to pay a two-digit price for ramen. Period. I’m looking forward to the new build on the corner of Boultier and Fairview and I’m begging whatever new establishments to remember that we are normal, middle class people who can’t afford another expensive menu because we’re spending all our money fixing our hundred-year-old homes. Please give us late-night food. Please give us more pool tables. Please give us free wifi.
Please care about Cloverdale as much as the rest of us do.