Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Night Owl

The Night Owl

For 14 years, the gregarious owner of Marty’s bar has welcomed the late-night crowd.


Marty Eagle: “We have one rule in this place—and it’s enforced—and that’s ‘Be nice or be gone.’” (Photograph by Mark Gooch.) (click for larger version)


June 26, 2008

Tucked away on a seldom-traveled street near Five Points South, a neighborhood bar and grill named Marty’s has been a late-night destination for 14 years. Aside from Lou’s Pub in Lakeview, few Birmingham bars have such a well-known public face, and none have owner Marty Eagle’s knack for making newcomers instantly feel like regulars. Eagle rarely forgets a face and will usually offer a handshake and warm grin each time you stop by.

Eagle’s friendly, upbeat attitude comes across in the DVD presentation available for purchase through the bar’s web site that provides a step-by-step guide to prospering in the nightclub business. In the introduction, Eagle climbs out of his sports car, unlocks the bar’s front door, looks into the camera, and says, “Hi. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you how to find happiness.”

Eagle is equally forthcoming in person. Rather than guard the lessons learned from his 20 years in the bar business, he has chosen the role of nightclub ambassador. “For me, being in the after-hours business, the more people that are [working in bars and restaurants], the better my business is, because bar and restaurant employees get off work late. That’s the niche I went after—all the bar people and musicians and the late-shift workers from UAB. Two or three in the morning is when their happy hour starts. Those people are not coming in all stupid and drunk. They’re coming from their jobs to have their happy hour drinks.”

The aforementioned DVD offers tips for bookkeeping, choosing music (both recorded and live), hiring top-notch bartenders, avoiding lease problems, and dealing with drunks. “Yeah, that’s the biggest thing you’ve got,” Eagle laments. “You’ve got people drinking, and some people don’t drink well. You’ve got to try to manage them. When you come in here, you have a good time. But if somebody is interfering with the rest of the people having a good time, they’ll be asked to leave. My place is so small, when somebody acts up or acts out, you can feel it all over the room. We have one rule in this place—and it’s enforced—and that’s ‘Be nice or be gone.’ It’s real simple. Has no color, no gender, no nothing.”

Local musician Bob Barker, who has performed at Marty’s often over the years, has always been impressed with Eagle’s finesse in handling difficult customers, which are surprisingly few for an all-night bar. “As soon as somebody’s enjoyment is being hindered by somebody else’s over-enjoyment, Marty takes care of it,” Barker explains. “And if he wasn’t able to do it every time, you’d end up with a problem bar.”

Operating at odd hours sometimes invites the extraordinary. “Being open late at night, you don’t know who’s coming to the door,” Eagle admits. “I had a go-go dancer come in and get up on a table, and she looked like she was pretty lit up—but she wasn’t rude. I was trying to figure out how to get her down without any problem. And I just walked up there and I held out my hand and she put her hand in mind and I helped her down and I said, ‘It’s okay now, you’re off work.’”

• • •
Born in Pennsylvania, Eagle spent his adolescence in Brooklyn. Even then, he found nightspots irresistible. “In New York, you only had to be 18 to get into a bar to drink. So, of course, I was sneaking in at 16,” he says. “I just always liked bars.” He learned to bartend at a club located on the Maxwell Air Force Base while serving in the Air Force in Montgomery. “That’s how I got to Alabama. I was in the Air Force and I worked on airborne electronics,” he explains. “But I didn’t want to do that forever, I didn’t want to crawl around a plane. When I got out, I went to this vocational school in Montgomery and got a job there as a computer programmer. I got hired by a company that was a subsidiary of IBM. Then I went to Dallas and I was a contract programmer; I would fly out of Dallas in all directions to wherever the job was.”

He got his first Birmingham bartending job in the early 1970s. “The first guy I worked for here was Ace Kabase. You know where Charlemagne Records is? That used to be a bar called the Trail’s End. There was a one-way mirror at the top of the long, steep stairwell to the second floor. If somebody bounced off the walls too many times walking up, we didn’t let them in.”

Eagle’s first venture as a business owner was Leo’s, a combination cafeteria, hot dog stand, and lounge in the Bank For Savings building downtown (not to be confused with the Leo’s later located near Fourth Avenue and 18th Street South). “I lost my ass there. Different things happened that I never recovered from,” he recalls. “It took me about a year to catch on to the various ways I was being stolen from. So, it was kind of my college education. I got back into computers to make a little more money and then I opened the Eagle’s Nest in 1980 [at the site currently occupied by The Derby bar on Sixth Avenue South near Avondale]. The Eagle’s Nest was an early-hour joint. Around midnight during the week, we’d close and go to somebody else’s joint. I leased the space from a guy in the vending machine business who owned a bunch of little bars like that, all run by different operators. After about five years I was doing well enough that he walked in and wanted to double my lease. And I said, ‘Well, screw you, man.’ I should have planned it a little different, but I was a little hotheaded and I just dumped it, and it took me a while to get back into the business on my own.” After nine years, some of which were spent bartending at the legendary Norm’s on Green Springs Highway, Eagle opened Marty’s in 1994.

• • •
On a tiny corner stage, Marty’s offers live music, of all stripes, seven nights a week. Compared to many other bar owners, Eagle takes an unusually strong interest in the bands he books, often auditioning them first at another club or even at a band’s practice space. He pursues his interest in music outside of the club as well. When not overseeing the day-to-day workings of Marty’s, Eagle takes a train to New Orleans and makes the rounds of the city’s landmark jazz clubs such as Snug Harbor. His love of jazz led him to provide a Sunday night residency for the late pianist and fellow nightclub owner Jerry Grundhoefer. “I had Grundy in here on Sundays after Grundy’s went out of business. He ran the jazz night, and nobody else could hold it together like he could. Somebody had to be the disciplinarian. And none of the others wanted to discipline any of the other people. But Jerry wanted a good show, and he did it right.”

When asked about his favorite bands, Eagle laughs and replies, “What I really like is whatever’s coming up here this weekend. I try to get in good shows. I like a variety of music. If I was on the coast and my customers were changing all the time, I could get by with one really good band for a season. Whereas, here I have a lot of regulars, so I’ve got to keep it fresh for them.” He added that an after-hours cover charge on weekends has an added benefit: “That $5 is a good way of weeding out [drunk] jerks late at night.”

Customers winding down after a night of drinking can order from Marty’s grill, which serves hamburgers, patty melts, and corned beef sandwiches from 11 p.m. until dawn. “I’m mainly in the bar business,” Eagle says. “You’ve got to have food to help people get sober, or if they get hungry, to keep them from leaving your place and going to another place just for a bite to eat. Because once they’re gone, they may never come back.”

• • •
Diners at one of the handful of white-tablecloth restaurants on Southside may have noticed a solitary, black-clad diner at the bar with his head buried in a book—that’s Eagle starting his workday. “I like to read a lot, and books are only alive when they are being read. Most books are just gathering dust,” he explains. Marty’s maintains a free lending library that consists of several shelves of paperbacks. “People tend to bring me a box of books from time to time. The library has been self-sustaining for 10 years now. People will notice that the library is low, and someone will drop a box of books outside.”

“This is not a big place. My friends probably say I micromanage it or something,” Eagle says with a laugh. “But I enjoy it. It’s hard to explain. Just like you might enjoy loading up the golf clubs and going to the golf course. I get pleasure from it as well as it being work at times. There’s ugly moments, rolling in the street with idiots that you have to throw out or something like that.”

When asked if he’s content running Marty’s for the foreseeable future, he replies, “As long as it plays out all right, I’m good with it. You know, somebody might walk in one day and just have to have it. And I might let ‘em, then take a break and go open another bar.” &

Marty’s (; 939-0045), at 1813 10th Court South, is open 365 days a year from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Budget Cuts

Budget Cuts

Low-cost pet sterilization now available locally.

June 26, 2008

A new non-profit facility is offering low-cost spaying and neutering procedures for dogs and cats, the goal being to reduce the number of stray and abandoned animals by means other than euthanasia. The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale will provide services to animal rescue organizations and shelters as well as individual pet owners. It is not a full-service veterinary facility; sterilization and any necessary rabies vaccinations are the only services offered. Though a permanent, 8,500-square-foot building with four surgical rooms is under construction, services are now available in two temporary operating rooms inside the clinic’s double-wide trailer.

“We are in the high-volume spay/neuter business,” explains clinic director Mark Nelson. “The only way we can ever hope to come close to adopting out all the healthy animals that are coming into shelters is to drastically reduce the number of animals coming into shelters. Right now, about one out of ten healthy animals are adopted out. There are just not enough homes . . . The only way you can stop the overflow in shelters and the subsequent euthanasia of healthy animals is through an aggressive, high-volume spay/neutering program, and the only way you can do that is by having very aggressive pricing.”

The clinic currently has one full-time medical team that can perform 30 surgeries per day. The facility is open Monday through Friday, and appointments are requested. It is modeled on services offered by the Humane Alliance based in Asheville, North Carolina, which has spayed or neutered more than 200,000 animals since 1994. “The Humane Alliance is the best that I’ve seen at doing this,” says Nelson. “They have something called the ‘national spay/neuter response team,’ kind of a wing of Humane Alliance. They actually go in and help train veterinary teams in other clinics on the best, most current procedures for doing high-volume spay/neuters. The Humane Alliance helps nurture organizations such as ours. They’ve helped open between 30 and 40 spay/neuter clinics around the country the last three years . . . They’re a non-profit as well, but for lack of a better description, it’s almost like a franchise.”

The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic will make available pediatric spay/neutering procedures, with a minimum weight and age requirement of two pounds and two months for healthy animals. Though some veterinarians may disagree with the practice of sterilizing very young animals, Nelson says that doing so significantly decreases the chances of having certain types of cancers in a pet. “Say a female dog never has a litter of puppies, her chances of having breast cancer is almost zero,” Nelson explains. “If they have one litter of puppies, it increases maybe twofold. After two litters, it really doesn’t matter. The same with male dogs with testicular cancer.”

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) also practices pediatric spay/neutering. “Until we don’t have any unwanted animals, I can’t think of a better way to do it,” says Jacque Meyer, the GBHS executive director. “And the mortality rate is very, very low with pubescent spays and neuters.”

Meyer is excited about the clinic. “I think it’s the greatest thing to hit Jefferson County. We need one in every city. They need to put me out of business.” &

The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, 956-0012,, is located at 2721 Crestwood Boulevard, across the street from the Irondale Post Office.


Curfews, Cars, and Clothes

Curfews, Cars, and Clothes

In response to the city’s continuing rise in deadly violence, the mayor and other officials have turned their attention to combating curfew violators and sagging trousers.

July 24, 2008

A rash of fatal shootings in Birmingham during the weekend of July 4th—including two in the Five Points South entertainment district—prompted city officials to focus not on the city’s underfunded and short-staffed police department but on curfews, sagging pants, and the confiscation of vehicles to mitigate Birmingham’s reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America. According to Mayor Larry Langford and city councilors, parents are primarily to blame for the city’s crime woes. At the July 8 City Council meeting, Langford, who has insisted time and again that parents have a greater role than the police do in combating area crime, trotted out his well-worn tale about how stern his own mother was. “My mother had a curfew: ‘Have your butt in this house by the time those street lights come on or I will kill you,” shared the mayor. “She didn’t need the police or nobody else, and I’ve got the scars on my back to prove it!” To further illustrate how far local parenting standards have sunk, Langford added that he recently spoke at Birmingham’s Family Court regarding gun violations. He opening his speech with a prayer. “I said to the group, ‘Let’s repeat the Lord’s Prayer.’ But the mayor was shocked at what he found, “I am not making this up,” said Langford. “Neither the parents nor the children could give you the opening verse!” Councilor Roderick Royal addressed proposed legislation directed at parental responsibility that includes outlawing the fashion, popular with many black youth, of positioning jeans well below the level they were designed to be worn. Royal blamed the “culture of violence, all this sagging [pants] and all this different music. . . . And this culture is not good for us because it’s a gang culture. And all you have to do is turn on BET. Now, I don’t let my children watch BET. I don’t want them to literally think that this is the way people are supposed to behave, walking around in the middle of the street with their pants around their ankles and after every step they’ve got to pull them up.” Langford then played a DVD containing footage from a city-owned surveillance camera of a July 5, 3:30 a.m. shooting outside Banana Joe’s in Five Points South. A 16-year-old has been charged with killing two men and wounding two others. The incident followed a “family-style” holiday festival earlier that evening that was sponsored by the Five Points South merchants association. Langford noted that there were five police officers standing near the club’s parking lot entrance and that after being ejected from the club for fighting, the perpetrator walked past the cops to retrieve a gun from his car and then walked past the officers once again before opening fire in a small crowd some 60 feet from the police. “He shot them with a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun,” said the mayor. “But he had four semi-automatic weapons in the car. And one of the semi-automatic weapons was lying on top of, of all things, a Bible.” Langford told the council that though their investment in surveillance cameras had paid off, “all the cameras in the world and all the cops in the world will not stop us from killing each other. Only mamas and daddies can do that!”

Under Birmingham’s existing curfew ordinance, no one under 17 is allowed on the street between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, and midnight to 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. After lamenting that many of today’s youth not only had no respect for the police or any authority figure but also showed no fear of them, Langford strongly urged the council to stiffen fines for curfew violations. Where an initial curfew violation currently results in a written warning to the parent, Langford wants a $500 fine. A second offense would entail a $500 fine instead of the current $25 fine. A third offense currently results in a $500 fine, but a parent or legal guardian may additionally face incarceration for six months. The mayor did not address the issue of how a parent is supposed to force a teenager strapped with several semi-automatic weapons to stay home if the child is not inclined to do so.

• • •
On July 12, three dozen police officers responded to a report of a disturbance at a youth club near the 4th Avenue Civil Rights district. At a July 14 meeting called by the Council to discuss the proposed city budget, Langford said that this latest event prompted him to speak with Governor Bob Riley about a bill currently sponsored by state representative Linda Coleman that would allow Class One municipalities such as Birmingham to take possession of any vehicle in which a gun is found, even if not in the possession of an occupant, but for which the proper permit cannot be produced. Langford warned, “Whoever owns the car, forfeits the car. You tell me what these teenagers love better than their cars. Nothing. And if necessary, you better frisk your friends before you let them in your car. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your car.” The mayor added that the legislation will have difficulty passing state approval “because of the love affair we have with guns in Alabama.”

At the July 15 council meeting, an obviously weary Mayor Langford referenced the events of the previous two weekends. “This past weekend—as if we didn’t have enough trouble at the Banana Joe’s establishment—at the L.R. Hall Auditorium we had to dispatch 36 police officers down there because these children were out there in mass numbers, and we got reports of windows in businesses being shot out. First of all, I’m not in favor of gun control, I just want gun responsibility. . . . These children got guns like you would not believe. And they want to use these guns!”

Langford also had a couple of requests for future gun violators. “If you just must have a gun and violate our ordinances, please have a Lexus, so we can get our officers some better comfortable cars to drive,” he pleaded. “And if you’re going to have an SUV and carry that mess, please put a couple of those little TVs in it so that when we pick you up and take you in, you can just watch television all the way to jail. If you’re just going to act a fool, we may as well tell you right now, ‘Give us the good stuff!’”

Mayor Langford, however, was reluctant to embrace the proposed ordinance forbidding sagging pants that Councilor Royal referenced the previous week. Langford asked the council not to approve the proposed legislation, as it falls under parental responsibility. “I don‘t want to look at somebody’s nasty little underwear, to begin with,” admitted the mayor. “I don‘t find anything enticing about it that makes me want to roll down the window and say, ‘Go brother!’” Langford said parents must take responsibility, not government. “We cannot legislate ourselves out of this mess. Now, I know that when I was a kid I had a big Afro—all you could see were my eyes and teeth. And kids are gonna be children. We’re not trying to take away the youth of a child. But as far as when your child leaves your home and has that little nasty underwear showing, you knew it [and failed to stop it].”

The council is scheduled to vote on increasing fines for curfew violations at its July 22 meeting. The vehicle confiscation ordinance must first be approved by the state legislature. &