Opening a social club amidst a pandemic might seem counterintuitive. But for Common House co-founders Ben Pfinsgraff and Derek Sieg, opening two clubs—and a new oyster bar—was the answer. “We saw that we really built something special,” Pfinsgraff says of the original Common House, which opened in 2017. “Even in this environment, people still needed it, probably more than ever.”
The flagship Common House debuted in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a place for people to gather over food, drinks, and a variety of programming. Co-working spaces, rooftop lounges, and speaker series were all part of the creative plan. When they decided to expand, the co-founders chose Richmond and Chattanooga as the second and third locations. Richmond’s Common House, opened in October 2020, is situated in a historic building on West Broad that originally housed a furniture factory. As for the third location, “Chattanooga really chose us,” Pfinsgraff says, adding that the new club’s historic Chattanooga structure, a former YMCA built in 1929, is “an epically cool building.” (See photos here.)
Pfinsgraff, an Annapolis, Maryland, native, had dreamed of adding an oyster bar to the Richmond location. But opening an intimate oyster bar, designed for groups to gather at the bar and at French bistro tables to share oyster towers and lobster rolls, wasn’t feasible when the first pandemic winter set in, Pfinsgraff says. So the team waited.
After a few holdups and a lot of patience, Birdie’s at Common House in Richmond opened just before the holidays. The café, oyster bar, and wine cellar is open to both members and the general public. The daytime café serves coffee and lunch, and the evening menu includes a lobster roll, an early crowd-favorite cannellini bean salad, and seafood towers piled with Virginia and East Coast oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster, and seafood tartare.
On the cocktail and wine menu, beverage director Erin Scala assembled organic whites, sake, and a handful of martinis. For the One Under cocktail, she features Wonderbird gin, G&G’s recent Made in the South Awards overall winner. “Wonderbird gin is the magic ingredient that makes this cocktail sing,” Scala says. “It’s a special gin made with Mississippi rice. The rice is first made into a sake, then distilled. The rice base gives it a unique lush, silky texture that rounds out this drink.”
“The drink also works with other herbs besides sage,” Scala says. “Try it with rosemary, thyme, basil, or whatever green herb you have in the fridge or garden.”