A Southern Guide: Mobile’s LoDa District

For as long as any native Mobilian can remember, lower Dauphin Street or LoDA (lower Dauphin), has been central to activity. You drive down Government Street; you walk down Dauphin Street. Like anything with character, Dauphin Street has seen its share of ups and downs; and right now, things are definitely looking up for our beloved LoDa.
Dine at the Union Steakhouse in Mobile's LoDa district

Arts, cuisine & night life all on Dauphin Street

Arguably, the most desirable restaurants in town are on or just off of Dauphin Street, and the hippest nightclubs to see and be seen at reside on Dauphin Street.  Impossibly cool apartments overlook Dauphin Street.  The best music and the most compelling art produced by local talent are found on Dauphin Street.  Dauphin Street also leads and bleeds into various historic sites and museums; and, of course, Dauphin Street, or the LoDa District, itself is an embodiment of Mobile’s history.

I Could Eat This Street

I’ll begin with Dauphin Street’s culinary scene because as that one sister said in Ever After with Drew Barrymore (oh, yes, I’m digging deep), “I’m here for the food.” Also, I would be willing to argue that Dauphin Street can be—at any given time—defined by the food.  If you’re exploring, then I suggest starting at Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que where Springhill Avenue and Dauphin Street collide at S. Washington Avenue.

Relatively new to Mobile, Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que kicked down the door and started taking names with expertly prepared and juicy smoked meats, tasty sides, and balanced sauces.  They offer fried catfish as well and have a great beer selection.  Moe’s earns its position on Dauphin Street by hosting local charitable events and lots of local bands.  It is definitely part of the LoDa tapestry.

If you’re not in the mood for BBQ, then just head across the street to the OK Bicycle Shop and Dauphin Street Taqueria (adjacent to Liquid Lounge and Union).  The three aforementioned places are affiliated and share a kitchen, so if you don’t want one of the Bicycle Shop Taqueria’s many, many beers or authentic margaritas, you can order a glass of wine from next door.  Dining-wise, here’s what the three places offer:

Dauphin Street Taqueria shrimp taco in Mobile's LoDa district
Shrimp Taco photo courtesy of Dauphin Management, Inc.

OK Bicycle Shop / Dauphin Street Taqueria: Innovative, elevated Mexican-style cuisine that I’m fully capable of eating until I’ve reached the “regrettable” stage of full.  I love their mushroom taco with goat cheese and pico de gallo, but the steak taco with chimichurri sauce and roasted vegetables is also amazing.  Let’s also not forget the ahi tuna taco with avocado and a grapefruit chipotle reduction or the shrimp with cilantro-lime vinaigrette and mango salsa.  You see where I’m going here.  There’s too much good.  I haven’t even started in on the entrées yet.

The other thing that I love about the Bicycle Shop is that it’s like a dive bar on the restaurant’s interior, but out back there’s a really beautifully lit courtyard, which is where the bands play.  It’s just a great place to hang out—totally family friendly.  I like to think of it as crossing through the wardrobe into Narnia when I get to the Bicycle Shop.

Liquid Lounge: You can order sushi on the Taqueria side, but if you just want to go somewhere hip and quiet and sink into a chintz lounger or kick your feet up on a settee, then Liquid Lounge is where it’s at.  My husband is one of those who orders sushi when we (invariably) get to the Taqueria.

Dine at the Union Steakhouse in Mobile's LoDa District
Union photo courtesy of Dauphin Management, Inc.

Union: Union is a steakhouse with gourmet burgers and a sophisticated wine selection. Though Union is a great place to go for a special occasion or a nice date, my MVP bite there is the foie gras burger.  It’s so good, it’s naughty, and yes, I eat the whole thing when I get it.  Eating this burger reveals what a selfish human being I am because the only way I would ever reluctantly share a bite with my husband is if he were literally starving (can’t let the man starve because, I mean, then who’d load all of those supplies into our wagon on the Oregon Trail?)

If you keep going (on foot, of course), you’ll quickly encounter Café 615 (which has been recognized in Food Network magazine for having the best breakfast in Alabama (they recommend the Eggs Mauvila)).  This is definitely the place to go for brunch if nothing else.

You’ll also stumble upon Wintzell’s, famous for their raw oysters and happy hour specials.

As you continue down Dauphin and pass Cathedral Square, you’ll come to a series of restaurants that are great for a quick bite.  Heroes Sports Bar, Spot of Tea, and T.P. Crockmiers are local legends.

Further ahead are two comparatively new restaurants that are turning everyone’s heads:

The Noble South, a restaurant that uses fresh, sustainable ingredients and innovative approaches to produce elevated Southern cuisine.  David Guas actually gave The Noble South a shout-out in a recent issue of The Local Palate.  The Noble South has also recently opened The Sidecar Lounge, which is a cool space to sit, relax, have a drink, (order off of the menu), adjacent to the restaurant.  It’s perfect if you’re early for your reservations or if there’s a long wait.  Oh, for those who want to try Alabama moonshine, the Ziffel with sweet tea moonshine, lemon sugar, and sparkling water tastes like an Arnold Palmer (but thankfully, it won’t knock your socks off).

Dumbwaiter Restaurant, a traditional, yet modern Southern dining concept that serves innovatively prepared Southern cuisine. To give you an idea of their approach, bacon confit, farm eggs, and stone ground cheddar grits are all ingredients that appear throughout the Dumbwaiter Restaurant menu.

This is why I appreciate Dauphin Street so much; you can enjoy cuisine from around the world (I should mention these are only a handful of the restaurants represented on Dauphin Street).  The cuisine is sophisticated without being pretentious; everything is approachable (even at Noja, one of the most prestigious fine-dining spots in town just off Dauphin).

Meanwhile, in a Different Kind of Kitchen …

In the midst of all of these incredible restaurants, you’ll also find the pulsing beat of Mobile’s nightlife.  Many of the clubs have changed names, changed locations, and changed their audience, but there are a few mainstays on the LoDa night scene worthy of mention.

The first is Soul Kitchen.  At the heart of Dauphin Street, Soul Kitchen is (arguably) where all of the best bands play.  It’s a huge space with limited seating.  If you’re at Soul Kitchen, you’re there for the music.  If you’re also seeking fine drinks and a posh environment, hold your horses and hit the Haberdasher after the show.

Other Locales that “Cook” at Night

Other nightlife mainstays on Dauphin Street include:

Haley’s Bar: Hayley’s is a little shotgun bar cattycorner to Cathedral Square.  It’s one of those places that you go to and think, “This should be a pretty low key evening,” and then somehow, it ends up in making the record books … or the news … whichever.

Boo Radley’s: Some of my fondest memories from my 20s were of listening to bands in this effortlessly cool hangout.  It’s possible that it’s because my favorite band played there most often. Of course, I’m also open to the fact that the To Kill a Mockingbird reference is impossible to ignore.

O’Daly’s Irish Pub: A comparative newcomer on the scene, this pub/bar has beverages and entertainment out back.  In addition to bands, there are picnic tables and corn hole games.  It’s essentially Irish-Southern fun times.

There are, of course, others, and all can be discovered by traveling down Dauphin Street when the night falls.

Will Walk for Art in the LoDa District

Mobile, like most cities, hosts an Art Walk once a month.  In Mobile, the Art Walk takes place (essentially) down Dauphin Street.  Our local galleries fling open their doors and serve cocktails and light appetizers as we peruse their contents.  Needless to say, all of these galleries are open to the public during regular hours, but my favorite time to frequent them—and Dauphin Street—is on the second Friday of the month when I can slip in and out among the crowds, view the art, and mentally budget for the pieces I want to buy.

Cathedral Square Gallery: Located across from the OK Bicycle Shop and Moe’s, the Cathedral Square Gallery features mixed-media artwork by many local and regional artists.

Mobile Arts Council: Also known as the Skinny Gallery, the Mobile Arts Council galleries feature new, local, and up-and-coming art exhibitions, along with special exhibitions.  The Mobile Arts Council, which is literally across from Cathedral Square Park, serves an essential role in highlighting new styles and artists in Mobile.

Alabama Contemporary Art Center: This spacious mixed-media gallery features unique and dynamic exhibitions along with fun children’s activities and charitable events.  Formally known as Space 301, the Alabama Contemporary Art Center is one of the more provocative art galleries off Dauphin.

Outside of the fine arts sphere, Dauphin Street has a motley cinematic offering courtesy of the Crescent Theater, an independently owned theater that shows both new and classic cinema along with stage productions.  Just off Dauphin and Joachim is the Saenger Theatre, which features film and stage productions as well as concerts.

I guess my point is that Dauphin Street is the pulse of Mobile. It has food, dining, history (really, my grandmother’s restaurant the Home Kitchen, used to be on Dauphin), and art and culture.  It’s a great stroll, day or night, and an even better way to discover the beat of Mobile.  So, whether you start at Royal Street or at Washington Avenue, get ready for a walk to remember.

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