Local bars cue the music in downtown Birmingham

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 14, 2012

 Singer/guitarist Steve Taylor plays with his band, The Steve Taylor 3, at South bar March 9. The band is one of South’s regular live music acts.

Singer/guitarist Steve Taylor plays with his band, The Steve Taylor 3, at South bar March 9. The band is one of South’s regular live music acts.

Photo by Donna Agusti

BIRMINGHAM — Downtown Birmingham is known for its exceptional selection of retail shops, but when the sun sets on Old Woodward, there’s no reason to head home. Some local watering holes say they’re the perfect place to kick back with a cocktail and hear some great live music.

South bar co-owner Beth Spadafore said most people only think of the bar as a dance club, but she said it has live music every weekend.

“We have our club scene and a great restaurant and a great bar to watch sports. But we thought about what would bring people to Birmingham,” said Spadafore. “We went to live music because we know not everybody wants to hear a DJ. Plus, we provide a venue for local bands to play and be seen, and that helps them out in their career.”

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, Spadafore said, music lovers can partake in the sounds of bands such as Good Gravy, Vinyl Underground, Hidden Agenda and 50 Amp Fuse. She said the atmosphere is lively, whether there are hundreds of people to see a band play or just a few. Cameras film the sets, so patrons can see the bands in real time from anywhere in the venue. She said the music gives the hometown feel of a neighborhood bar.

For more information, call (248) 593-8133 or visit www.SouthBar.us. South is located at 210 S. Old Woodward.

Just around the corner is 220 Merrill St., home of the 220 restaurant, which has long been known for its food and cocktails. What some people don’t know, according to general manager and owner Frank Tillman, is that tucked below 220 is Edison’s, an underground venue that’s been hosting live music for years.

“We acquired the underground space in 1997 as basement storage. But Birmingham has no entertainment, so we opened it up as a weekend spot. We started with jazz, but that didn’t fit. Now it’s mainly classic rock, and sometimes we throw in some blues and R&B.”

Tillman said that each Friday and Saturday, Edison’s entertains patrons with drinks from a full bar, food from the 220 menu, and one of 30 bands in the venue’s rotation. While many visitors to Edison’s may be first timers, Tillman said guests are usually pleasantly surprised by their experience.

“It’s just fun. Most people don’t even realize it’s there. I hear all the time from people who’ve been going to 220 for years and never knew about it and they tell me what a great time they had.”

For more information, call (248) 645-2150 or visit www.220restaurant.com.

Birmingham’s Dick O’Dow’s, an authentic Irish pub, considers live music as important to business as pints of Guinness.

“It creates an atmosphere and excitement in the place,” said Dick O’Dow’s manager Tom Connors.

The pub hosts live music five nights a week with a different kind of performance each night: traditional Irish music on Tuesdays, solo performers on Wednesdays, and a band each Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Though Connors said the pub rotates a diverse selection of performers, one thing you’ll never find at Dick O’Dow’s is a cover.

“It’s just a philosophy we don’t be believe in,” Connors said.

For more information, call (248) 642-1135 or visit www.DickODowsPub.com. Dick O’Dow’s is located at 160 W. Maple Road.

Looking to bring a more relaxed vibe to downtown Birmingham is Toast. Just a few months ago, the bar and restaurant started to feature acoustic performers on Friday nights, and patrons embraced the laid-back entertainment. Michelle Taulbee, assistant general manager and catering and events director for Toast, said that each Toast-n-Jam live acoustic session is a little different.

“It’s an eclectic mix that we get. But if a crowd really likes a performer, they’ll come back again and again.”

One such performer is local singer/songwriter Pat Shanley, who has performances scheduled at Toast through March and beyond.

While the music might be a crowd favorite, if patrons need a break from the tunes, there’s always the option to move to a separate area of the restaurant, said Taulbee.

“People can move away to another area if they want, or they can stay at the bar and the performer is right there. You have a choice, and I like that,” she said.

Even though the Toast-n-Jam nights haven’t been going on long, Taulbee said they’re already a hit with regulars, and she expects they’ll become a staple for music fans in downtown Birmingham.

“It’s a great mix of food and fun, with hip music in a really relaxed environment.”

For more information, call (248) 258-6278 or visit www.ToastBirmingham.com. Toast is located at 203 Pierce St. in Birmingham.

Check with other local venues downtown to find out if they offer live music.