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New restaurant, Sybil, planned for Palladium

By Lisa Brody and Kevin Elliott


Restaurateur Aaron F. Belen of AFB Hospitality Group, owner of The Morrie in downtown Birmingham and Royal Oak, plans to open a new restaurant, Sybil, at 211 Hamilton Row in the Palladium Building this summer, pending city approvals.


Belen said Sybil, named for his late grandmother, is designed to be an intimate establishment serving small plates and cocktails, ideal “to go to before dinner for appetizers or after dinner for drinks, or for a small plates meal.”


The new boutique restaurant, which, if approved, will utilize one of Birmingham's Class C liquor licenses, is located on Hamilton Row in a former cryotherapy location, next to the Emagine Palladium entrance.


“We're activating the building and the street in a 1,000-square-foot spot,” Belen said. “Hamilton is dead at night.”


He said plans are to open for a limited number of days in the evenings, and then in a short period of time open for Saturday and Sunday brunch.


“It's named for my late grandmother, Sybil Fenkell. She was the first resident of Birmingham Place (condominiums on S. Old Woodward), and a longtime resident of Birmingham,” Belen said. “It'll be really, really unique.”


He said he has designed the interior with Birmingham architect Kevin Biddinson to create an intimate space, in a palate of blues and pinks which will remind residents and customers of the Polo Lounge at Beverly Hills Hotel. “I'm paying homage to my grandmother,” he said. “She was well-traveled and had great taste. It's a place she would be proud to put her name on.”


Belen is excited to expand his hospitality offerings, which he said he had planned before the pandemic, but was temporarily put on hold. “This is a quintessential project that moves the needle to stay in Birmingham – craft cocktails and small plates. It'll have a Birmingham feel. I'm hyper-focused on Birmingham residents and businesses.”


Planning board members reviewed site plans and designs at their meeting on Thursday, December 16, as well as a special land use permit for the proposed restaurant. The plans and permit will go before the Birmingham City Commission for final approval.


According to the plans before the planning board, Sybil would take up the former Cryobalance space, utilizing 1,194 square-feet of interior space and a proposed 192 square-foot patio for a total of 30 indoor seats and 12 outside. The restaurant would share kitchen space with the adjacent restaurant, The Morrie, 260 N. Old Woodward. The restaurant proposes using an existing Class C liquor license that is in escrow with AF Jonna, owner of the Palladium building.


The dozen outdoor tables proposed would require closing one set of the four double-doors located at the front of The Palladium, projecting into the sidewalk and behind a set of planter boxes. The proposed outdoor seating would project into the public right-of-way, and require a lease with the city.


Birmingham Planning Board Chair Scott Clein questioned whether the proposed outdoor dining would potentially interfere with any nearby pedestrian crossings or ADA complaint facilities.


“Not to be negative, but I’m not sure I see a good ‘existing conditions’ plan, and am concerned about ADA in the right-of-way and the pedestrian crossing, and making sure it’s not in front of that,” Clein said. “You’re forcing all pedestrians to move six feet toward the road, and we want to make sure they aren’t moving into the ADA ramp in that crossing.”


Board member Robin Boyle said he was in favor of the project.


“This, if done well, would bring some life to the street,” he said. “There’s a pedestrian crossing there… it’s a bit of an obstruction on the sidewalk, but you’re still leaving over five feet, which is good. I think it will bring some life to this area. This area needs to be softened up a bit, and despite the modest scale, it will be good to bring some life to that part of the street.”


Board members recommended approval by the city commission, with the conditions that AF Jonna supply specifications of proposed chairs and tables; a sign plan be submitted; and the applicant meet all requests of city departments. The motion was approved by a vote of 5-1, with board member Daniel Share opposed, and member Janelle Boyce absent.

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