Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Home » Brown’s Corner: Take a Look Inside Tuscaloosa’s Elegant New Speakeasy Lounge

Brown’s Corner: Take a Look Inside Tuscaloosa’s Elegant New Speakeasy Lounge

by Thomas Burke
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If you want a place where you can kick back, enjoy a high-end cocktail and actually hear yourself talk, the still-brand new Brown’s Corner speakeasy lounge wants to provide that in Tuscaloosa.

The upstairs venue above Half Shell Oyster House is a craft kitchen and cocktail lounge that opened in the heart of downtown at 2325 University Boulevard boasts a creative menu with high-end ingredients and cocktails, plus a relaxed atmosphere they say you can’t find anywhere else in the Druid City.

Steve Puciloski, the general manager at each establishment, said that while Tuscaloosa is a college town that caters to the partying of the college-aged demographic, there are others who want something different in their hometown. “There are a lot of local people here in business and other things who don’t want to go to some of the offerings in Tuscaloosa based off the people who would be there, a young crowd or loud music or low-budget alcohol or whatever,” he said. “There’s not anywhere you can come dust off after work and kind of hang out and have a cocktail around grown folks with good music playing, higher level of service standards, higher level of food quality, just in an environment that’s relaxing.”

“Brown’s Corner embraces classic and traditional drinking with speakeasy inspired aesthetics paired with modern Southern dining,” the website says. “From curated sips to signature dishes, set against a colorful vintage backdrop, it’s easy to see why Brown’s Corner is a destination for locals and tourists alike.”

While paying homage to the original Brown’s corner store, the Gulf Coast Restaurant Group revamped the upstairs space to include elements of an inspired speakeasy and pair them with a modern lounge. That means comfortable antique furniture with a colorful vintage backdrop where customers can enjoy classic cocktails and an ambitiously conceived menu including smoked pork belly, a wild game burger with bison and elk, lobster rolls, scallops served over a parmesan risotto, and warm banana nut bread pudding with homemade salted caramel bourbon ice cream and bourbon maple syrup.

Puciloski, who’s lived and worked in Tuscaloosa since 2009, is in charge of the staffing and training at the bar. He started out at fire college in town, attended the University of Alabama and worked his way up to managing Mugshots just a few doors down. He joined Half Shell Oyster House (previously Glory Bound Gyro Co., a dueling piano bar, Barrett’s Brewpub and other iterations) where he works for Gulf Coast Restaurant Group. The ownership includes Bob Taylor and partners Rob Heffner, Kevin Fish and Brian Raspberry.

Just a flight of stairs above Half Shell, the 16,000-square-foot space was previously used for wedding rehearsals, Greek parties and other after-hours events, which Puciloski said became less lucrative than other potential ways they could use it. Financially, utilizing the space as a speakeasy bar could make it easier on the business while offering something totally new to Tuscaloosa. Puciloski said the speakeasy concept was Jerry Stennett’s “baby,” an idea he had developed for a long time. He became the “primary catalyst” behind the concept, creating the menu and other features that made it come alive.

Meghan Lind created the drink menu, including building cocktails and deciding what bourbons the bar would carry, while Meghan Heinrich handled decorations including furniture, rugs, the colors and all the art adorning its walls.

The menu in the craft kitchen and cocktail lounge has high-end food that is “very efficient and quick,” and what Puciloski calls “a lot of stuff you don’t see anywhere else in Tuscaloosa.” He said it differs from what you’ll find downstairs at Half Shell, including the liquor and beverages. On busy nights, the kitchen has a staff of three, with two people behind the bar and three serving tables.

Midway through Alabama’s 2023 football season, business has picked up. “This is the busy time of year for us,” Puciloski said. “This is the time of year when we have an opportunity to put some money in the bank and maximize on those few months. This is a very seasonal town. In the summertime, there’s still a lot going on, but fall is where majority of people are back for school, there’s football, the biggest opportunity to do well for ourselves and grow.”

They also have live music, typically one or two-piece acts, mostly jazz-related, something relaxing that suits the environment. “No jam bands.”

“Relax.” That’s the word we keep hearing. And taking a chance on a speakeasy bar, trying something new in a city full of bars new and old, is a fast-paced and often-stressful process. But they’re confident in what they have, especially in this historic downtown building at the corner of University Boulevard and Greensboro Avenue. “But it’s come with its challenges,” Puciloski said. “Just being able to expand and diversify and create a new market, and attract people, basically give city of Tuscaloosa it desperately needs, which is an environment like this for the business class to come and hang out and have drinks and relax and be able to hear each other speak when they’re talking.”


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