Rojo

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Rojo seen from the sidewalk
Evening view of Rojo's patio in 2007

Rojo is a casual neighborhood bar and grill located in the Sheraton Apartments building at 2921 Highland Avenue, facing Rushton Park on Southside. The restaurant features outdoor dining in the warm months and a covered heated enclosed patio in the winter.

Rojo was opened June 15, 2002 by Laney DeJonge and Clark Lopez. The name, Spanish for "red", represents the color of passion and stirring of the appetite.

Rojo was voted "Best Outdoor Dining" in a 2008 Birmingham News readers' poll, and earned several honors from the Birmingham Weekly "Menu of Menus". In January 2009, music legend Bob Dylan mentioned Rojo as a place to "stop by" while in Birmingham, during his weekly SiriusXM radio broadcast. In 2018 the National Restaurant Association presented Rojo with its "Neighbor Award" for Alabama.

In 2003 patron David Blount commissioned landscape architect and contractor Curtis Schrand to provide Rojo's front patio area with a heated winter enclosure, accepting bar credit in lieu of payment.

In late December 2005 an adjacent space was converted into a side room for private parties with a large projection screen and space for exhibiting art. In fall 2006 the enclosed patio was extended across the front of the new room.

Rojo's owners have been leaders in environmental sustainability, using recyclable and recycled materials, landscaping with native plants, donated excess food to food banks. The restaurant was the first in Alabama to be credited with six stars from The Institute of Sustainability, and participates in the Alabama Environmental Council's "EAT Restaurant Initiative" as a Gold Sustainable Partner.

Artwork

Paul Cordes Wilm's painting "Bandito" has been displayed in the main dining room since the restaurant opened. It was later joined by another Wilm painting, "Chupacabra", as a companion piece. Dan Bynum created a mixed-media work based on his feelings about Rojo.

On the occasion of Rojo's 10th anniversary in 2012 the restaurant installed a "Zen garden" with concrete benches fabricated by Leslie Martin Smith and an interior mural in the wheelchair accessible restroom entitled "Blow it Up!" by John Lytle Wilson.

The Zen garden was enhanced with a sculpted head of Buddha in memory of long-time patron Yana Davis, who died in 2020. It was donated from his estate by Libby Rich.

Rojo maintains three "Little Free Libraries" outside the restaurant, stocked with donated books. The first was installed as a memorial to patron Rusty Ford. Two others were decorated by Veronique Vonblaere in 2023.

During the COVID pandemic Rojo offered contactless takeout service. In September 2020 the restaurant added a row of picnic tables along the sidewalk to promote social distancing, later enclosing them in pop-up tents. The interior was re-opened to diners in April 2021.

Special events

Rojo hosts numerous special events. It celebrates its anniversary every year with free cake and Dixieland music, formerly provided by The Legendary Pineapple Skinners.

Since its opening, the restaurant has partnered with local non-profits to host "10% Tuesdays" on a nearly weekly basis, during which the organization staffs an informational booth and 10% of sales are donated to the charity.

The side room has been used for several film screenings and series. Rojo hosted monthly "Sidewalk Salon" sessions from 2003 until 2019, when the organization opened their own Sidewalk Cinema at The Pizitz. It continues to host a "Midnight Breakfast" after each year's festival, and to participate in the Salsa Showdown fund raiser.

Since 2005 Rojo has sponsored the Birmingham Vulcans FC soccer team in the North Alabama Soccer Federation, Division III. It is the official pub for the Birmingham Gooners fan group in support of North London's Arsenal F.C. Premiere league soccer team, and also a supporter of the Magic City Brigade fan group for Birmingham Legion FC.

In March 2008 Jim Warnock and Lucy Voight began hosting a weekly "Pub Quiz" trivia game in the side room. Since their departure, the game has been led by rotating guest hosts.

In 2011 Rojo served as a venue for BAAM Fest, with Rickie Castrillo and other musicians performing all weekend. In 2014 WJOX-FM's "Matt and Scot" sports talk show was broadcast live from Rojo on Wednesday nights. In October of that year the restaurant displayed prayer flags made by the "Happy Flag Project" which were brought to Regions Field to welcome the Dalai Lama and accompanied him back to India.

In 2015 the restaurant began hosting monthly "Babes Who Brunch" drag brunches and occasional "Babes Who Wine and Dine" evening events. The side room also played host to Sunday night "Theme Show" stand-up and improv comedy events organized by Tollie Jones and Peter Davenport, culminating in the annual "Themey Awards".

In 2018 and 2019 the UAB Department of Opthalmology hosted "Dinner in the Dark" blindfolded events to simulate vision loss. Since May 2018 Rojo has hosted a "Dead Mother's Day Brunch" organized by Glenny Brock and Mia Watkins and open to anyone who has lost their mother.

Several start-up food businesses have held "Pop Up" events at Rojo, including Shu Shop, Tropicaleo, and Hot Box. Rojo staffers Pete Szelenbaum and Joshua Kelly also organized a recurring "Ferocious Dogs" pop-up between 2013 and 2015.

For the business' 20th anniversary in 2022 the restaurant hosted a field day which stretched across Highland Avenue and into Rushton Park with kid's activities, vendors, games and live music.

References

External links

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