Photo by Keith McCoy.
Rodney Davis with a wrap and cheeseburger.
You’ve all seen the bumper stickers that say something like, “I wasn’t born in the South, but I got here as quick as I could.” I feel that way about Mountain Brook. I grew up just down the road, in a little place called Atlanta, Ga. As an adult, I’ve lived in Madrid and Nashville, Richmond and Houston. But when it came time to finally CHOOSE where I wanted to put down roots and raise a family, my husband and I picked Mountain Brook. It’s a decision we have never once regretted.
So, what does all this have to do with a restaurant profile of Otey’s Tavern in Crestline Village? I am getting there.My twelve-year-old daughter started lacrosse this spring with practices twice a week at Rathmell Fields just behind the Summit. Looking to lessen the amount of time spent in the car, I sent out an email to other parents wanting to carpool.
One of moms who responded was Anne Layton’s mom, Catherine Oztekin, who signs her emails “Cacky.” Now that’s a memorable name.
Those of you who had the good fortune to grow up here are already one step ahead of me. See, to me, Cacky Oztekin is the minivan-driving mom who safely delivers my daughter to lacrosse practice each Monday. But to longtime Mountain Brook residents, she’s the woman who founded what is now Otey’s Tavern.
Started in 1989 as Cacky’s, the Tavern has always been the kind of neighborhood place people love to visit.
As the man behind the grill, Rodney Davis can attest folks have been coming here for generations. He has seen kids come in on skateboards, only to grow up and bring their own kids back on their Razors. Rodney, now part owner of the Tavern, has been cooking Otey’s favorites for more than 20 years. He knows all the regulars by name and can even tell you who is out front by the orders he gets in the back: “If it’s a chicken finger basket with sides of Ranch, Honey Mustard and 1000 Island dressing, I know Rebecca is waiting for her lunch.”
One of those kids who grew up going to Otey’s was Will Haver, who is now part owner of the restaurant and bar. I sat down with Will and Rodney one afternoon in between the lunchtime and evening rush. The two have known each other so long they finish each other’s sentences; it is a joy to watch. I asked what changes needed to be made when Haver bought the restaurant (with his stepbrother Jay Wilson) three and a half years ago.
“The thing about a place like this, is that folks don’t want a lot of change,” Haver said. “We made improvements like adding large flat-screen TVs, a few new tables and some outside picnic benches, but other than that it’s the same Otey’s.”
The menu hasn’t changed much either. Some of the specialties you can expect to find at Otey’s are out-of-this-world hamburgers and cheeseburgers, great nachos, chicken fingers, and all kinds of yummy sandwiches and wraps.
Many Otey’s patrons remember Tight, the bartender who helped make the place a local institution. Tight passed away suddenly a couple of years ago, but I ask how his legend lives on. Haver and Davis are both quick to point out that Tight —whose given name was Richard Cheaney — knew how to do things right. Everyone who now works at Otey’s was trained under Tight. If he knew your regular drink was bourbon & Coke, he had it waiting on the bar when you walked in. That level of customer service lives on and is his legacy.
And Cacky’s legacy lives on too: many of the photos that cover the walls were taken by her husband, Kent. He traveled the world with various rock legends and has the negatives to prove it. Will Haver shared another story from when the Tavern was Cacky’s: he recalls attending a birthday party there when he was about 11 or 12 years old. It was December and Cacky had a Christmas wreath hanging where he now has the daily specials board. Cacky had glued small liquor bottles to the greenery — a festive touch only appropriate in a bar. Will and his friend had managed to sneak a few of the bottles off the wreath and into their pockets. His mother found the unopened bottles in his pants the next time she was doing laundry. Heaven knows he was in a world of hurt when she did.
So, what’s next for Otey’s Tavern? Well, there’s the Funky Fish Fry on April 9. This is an annual event that used to be held at the Open Door Café. More than 2,000 attendees are expected to have a ball in the parking lot. And of course, OteysFest will be back in July. The musical lineup is still being nailed down, but like always a big crowd is expected and all of the proceeds go to charity.
It is this kind of community exchange that makes Otey’s Tavern such a welcomed fixture in Crestline Village. I may not have been here when Cacky opened the doors in 1989, but I got here as quick as I could.