“The best way I can describe it is, imagine if a bunch of nerds opened a sports bar,” says Phillip Mims.
Mims is one of four partners responsible for Marty’s GM, an Irondale restaurant that opened last month. It’s a spinoff from the beloved late-night bar of the same name, which has operated in Birmingham’s Five Points South neighborhood since 1993. Both take their name from the bar’s original owner, Marty Eagle, who died from cancer in 2013.
At first, it had seemed like that would be the end of the Marty’s brand. Kay Ferguson, Eagle’s longtime companion, made the decision to close the bar several months after he died — but the following year, Phillip and Marsha Mims worked with Ferguson to keep the bar open.
“At first, we weren’t sure about keeping the name and neither was Kay,” Mims says. “We talked about it a lot. I’m glad we did now. It ended up being a great partnership with everything just coming together. The kitchen there is just an essential part of the community.”
Now, Marty’s looks to become an essential part of the Irondale community — with a few key changes.
The partners behind Marty’s were drawn to Irondale, Mims says, because they had noticed a trend that a lot of their Southside customers were first-time homebuyers living in and around Irondale — so they followed their customers.
“I’d say this is the same concept as Marty’s PM, in that we’re still serving great food to a clientele that really wants it,” says Berkley Seay, one of the four partners behind Marty’s GM.
But while much of the menu remains the same, Marty’s GM features food that is and will continue to be unavailable at the original location, such as french fries and hot wings. (Space and other constraints associated with working out of an old building prevent them from being able to fry foods there.)
The new location has also served to expand the original Marty’s location’s menu. “Our work here has allowed us to expand the PM menu in Southside to offer specialty burgers,” Seay says. “Having the ability to test out that food here has given us the ability to add beneficial options to the other location.”
Also, the new location is more “family friendly,” Mims says. It opens at 3 p.m. and closes at midnight during the weekdays — 1 a.m. on the weekends. They also serve brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We Truly Are a Family”
Phillip and Marsha Mims say that it’s their history in the service industry — there’s over 40 years of experience between them — that gave them the skill set to expand Marty’s. But having Ferguson and Seay as partners, they say, was also a big help.
“Being able to get Marty’s with Kay was just an incredible experience,” says Marsha Mims. “Now being able to expand with two partners in Berkley and Kay has been amazing, because we are truly a family. We’ve all worked together for so long; we have very little turnover. In fact, we just keep hiring more people. Everyone works really hard because they’re happy to be a part of this.”
It was always important, say the Mimses, that the restaurant be modeled in such a way that they could be proud of it and people would want to work with them.
“We take our employees on vacation every six months,” Phillip Mims says. “We close down and everyone is invited to come with us… I’ve been around too many owners who were just ‘my way or no way at all.’ I always try to listen to everyone’s ideas. This is a joint effort.”
Marty Eagle and his establishment were iconic for Birmingham, allowing the city’s late-night crowd to gather, eat, drink, and enjoy live music nearly every day of the year. Trying to maintain that legacy while growing in a new direction has been a challenge, the owners say.
“I know it wasn’t easy for Kay, because Marty had just passed. [We bought] the bar and the community wasn’t sure how we were going to treat it,” says Marsha Mims. ”It was definitely a delicate situation, creating that family atmosphere and changing the look of the place.”
“Over the last four years we’ve been able to curate a wonderful crowd and have live music and the things that Marty always wanted, like opening a new location,” she adds. “We’re actually continuing his vision, and it makes us all proud.”
There was definitely a big part of Ferguson who was sad to see the old dingy carpet, the dim rope lights, and the front façade change at the Southside location. But on the other hand, she says that seeing new life come into the place she has held dear for so long has been part of her healing process.
“Everything they wanted to do, they asked me first,” Ferguson says, holding back tears. “And that has just meant so much to me. And they still do.”
Phillip Mims said that at first Ferguson distanced herself from the business a bit, which he understood — but now she’s a central part of the family. And so, in a way, is Marty himself.
Seated at the bar at Marty’s GM, Ferguson fidgeted with the straw in her drink and stirred what remained. “I know he would love it here,” she said. “And that makes me smile every day.”
Marty’s GM is located at 5415 Beacon Dr. in Irondale. For more information, you can visit its Facebook page.