By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
If you ever visited the former location of the All Steak restaurant high above Highway 31, in the penthouse level of the Cullman Savings Bank, you will remember the sweeping panoramic view. That view is all that remains of the former site.
Instead of booths and tables for restaurant diners, the building is now a lovely, expansive space with an open floor plan, exquisite flooring, elegant lighting, gleaming woodwork, an amazing copper clad bar, and majestically carved oversized wooden doors that will take your breath away.
The team of experts, put together by Cullman Savings Bank CEO, John Riley, was composed of local craftsmen, artisans, and decorators who brought together a masterpiece high above the city, “I told them what I wanted in some respects, then I assured them that I trusted their judgment and gave them free reign to use their artistic abilities and talents,” said Riley, who was extremely pleased with the results. “The craftsmen hit my ideas right on.”
Riley is rightfully proud of what the team accomplished. He pointed out the exquisitely detailed wooden ceiling tiles which were crafted by the Schwaiger Brothers. The gleaming copper bar, with its back wall of mullioned windows, carved details and pediments were designed by Amy Wood of The Added Touch, Danny McAfee of Cullman Cabinet and Garlan Gudger Jr. of Southern Accents. The unusual bar taps were designed and crafted by McAfee’s brother-in-law and business partner, James Edge, at Riley’s request. Edge, who served on the Cullman Savings Bank board for many years, fashioned the beer tap handles from exotic woods.
“When John asked me about the bar, I was thrilled to be able to help,” related McAfee. “Amy, Garlan Gudger, and I sat down one day and started with some crude drawings expressing our thoughts. We wanted to use some of Garlan’s architectural elements in the design and make it unique. The idea of a copper top used in conjunction with copper panels set in an exotic wood came to life. All these thoughts were pulled together and a final drawing was presented to John for his approval. He said, “That is exactly what I wanted.”
The wooden panels used in the bar, lounge, and both elevator vestibules were built at Cullman Cabinet and installed by John and Steve Schwaiger. “These guys are very talented craftsmen who did a tremendous job putting it all together and trimming it out,” complimented McAfee. “The bar components and some of the smaller cabinets were built at Cullman Cabinet, but the Schwaiger team assembled it there at the site. The bar top was also built at Cullman Cabinet and sent to Copperworks, here in Cullman, to be wrapped in copper. The wood used on the bar is ‘lyptus’ which is grown is South America. It is a hybrid cross between magnolia and eucalyptus. It is similar in color to mahogany.”
“The two museum quality newel posts used for the bar back were cut in half to form part of the detailed woodwork which distinguishes the area,” said Gudger. “We all worked with Schwaiger Brothers Construction and Burks Brothers, together with the bank, to make it a memorable venue,” said Gudger.
“John Riley allowed us to create something that not only he and the directors of Cullman Savings Bank would be proud of but also the entire community,” said McAfee. “This is a great community service they have provided. In accomplishing their goal, they utilized local folks to do as much as possible.”
Another distinctive piece was custom made by Cullman Savings Bank board member, Dr. Bill Peinhardt. It is a clock hanging in the bar that was turned on a lathe, showcasing his artful craftsmanship.
Mother and daughter duo, Amy Wood and Deborah McAfee, worked together selecting the furnishings and the distinctive lighting used in the project for both the third and fourth floors. Amy designed the flooring to give visitors the impression of a cobblestone pathway leading into the formal dining area, and the ballroom on the right echoes the timeless design. “I was pleased with the classic elegance of the area,” said Wood. “I wanted people to feel as if they were in a big city, with the cityscape spread out below them. I liked the idea of dining under the stars, just the simple elegance, which brings with it a certain nostalgia.”
Crystal chandeliers cast shadows on the ceilings, offering intricate patterns and giving the rooms an illusion of even more height.
Wood even brought the classic elegance into the restrooms, appointed with hammered nickel sinks and glass tile backsplashes.
“I am very appreciative of John Riley, and his allowing us to be a part of this effort,” said McAfee.
Standing outside on the stone terrace overlooking the city, Riley pointed out that with the exception of the First Baptist Church steeple, we were standing on the highest point in town, thus the new name, “Top of the Town”, which seemed obviously appropriate.
The building was constructed in 1970, then remodeled in 1995, when 80 percent of the existing structure was added, including the parking deck.
Riley came on board with Cullman Savings Bank in 1993. This is like a second home to him. He is also a historian, and it is one of his surprise finds from deep in the buildings basement that holds pride of place in the lounge - a remarkable portrait that belongs in this place of honor. The subject is none other than the bank’s first president in 1887, G.O. Dinkelberg. He was killed in the greatest fire ever to blaze through Cullman. Riley and members of the board were responsible for placing a headstone on his grave, which had previously been left unmarked. “He came with Col. Cullmann and was one of the first settlers here,” Riley explained. “He was born in 1841, and died in 1894, at 53 years of age.” Riley has donned period dress and played the part of Dinkelberg in the cemetery tours during Oktoberfest. He is fascinated by the history of Cullman, especially anything pertaining to the bank.
From high on the wall, G.O. Dinkelberg surveys the room, its soft leather sofa and tastefully appointed furnishings would have pleased him, no doubt, along with the marvelous double doors that face the main entrance to the elevators and parking deck entrance. This is a masculine room, a place to come and have quiet conversations during receptions and gatherings where the gaiety might not be conducive to business or civic discussions. It has an air of somber propriety; you can almost imagine long ago city fathers meeting here, making decisions that would affect Cullman in the coming years, although it is completely new.
“We started from scratch,” said Riley. “We completely gutted the building, which includes the fourth floor and half of the third floor.”
Top of the Town is available for meetings, weddings, receptions and other occasions. Designs By Grace, the exclusive caterers for the venue, make each event a special one. Serving Cullman and surrounding areas for the past 18 years, Designs By Grace serves up scrumptious meals that are always from scratch, homemade with the freshest ingredients possible. Judy Pitts and Paula Jones are sure to make your dream an unforgettable memory. “The venue is all inclusive,” Judy pointed out. “We want to make the facility available to the community for all their event needs, and we strive to make every occasion fit each budget.” Designs By Grace can cater meals to every theme, from Italian, Cuban, German and Southern, and are The Cullman Times 2013 Peoples Choice Awards Top Caterer.
Cullman Regional Medical Center Foundation Executive Director Maria Stanford was highly complimentary of the venue. Stanford said, “Top of the Town is a one-of-a kind venue now open in Cullman. It allows for a variety of events from banquets to wedding receptions to the recent CRMC Foundation fundraiser, the Great Gatsby Party. Overall, the aesthetics are like none other in the community — providing an elegant feeling throughout the areas on the fourth floor. It feels like you are floating over the city and you can see the lights from all areas, especially from the terrace overlooking the city.”
Mr. Dinkelberg would be pleased to hear that.