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A Touch of Paris in Downtown Birmingham

November 29, 2022

In the mood for a Parisian experience? No need to grab your passport and book a flight to France. Two new Birmingham destinations just might transport you to the Champs-Élysées.

Bar La Fête, which translates to party in French, is described as a “playful, yet moody” wine bar. Bandit Pâtisserie is a petit pastry shop and espresso bar with window counter seating in a classic, Parisian-inspired space that features marble countertops and custom tiling.

Both are in Mercantile on Morris in downtown Birmingham that turned early 20th century buildings into a 14,000-square-foot mixed-use development. The historic facades were kept intact, and the interiors were gutted to create an open-air plaza ambiance. They are the latest concepts of chefs and restauranteurs Victor King and Kristen Hall, who also created the interior design. Kyle D’Agostino of Poole & Co. Architects was the architect.

“I wanted to create a space that transforms guests to a different place and time,” Hall explains of Bar La Fête. “It was my goal to design a space that transported guests, creating a sense of grandeur and separation from the outside world. Using pattern, scale, and selection of surfaces, I believe we achieved our goals. I always want our spaces to feel like they have been around for a long time, even though our spaces up to this point have been completely new construction inside historic buildings.”

At about 3,000 square feet, Bar La Fête is reminiscent of the street cafés of Paris. The exterior features a classic Parisian floral facade with an assortment of blooms and greenery that spill out onto the street, framing the restaurant’s large windows and sidewalk café seating. Inside, a large, curved marble bar opens to a full kitchen and custom wine shelves, accented by olive green and gold hues throughout.

Curves play a large role in the overall design, from the Italian marble curved bar that anchors the space to the soft slopes of the walnut stained wood accents and rounded celling, an aesthetic trend that creates a space that is innately warm, welcoming, and feminine.

As with all their projects, the bathrooms were the first spaces designed. The three unisex bathrooms each has its own personality, with three different patterns of terrazzo and subway tiles in deep hues. Playing off the “occupied” signs found on airplanes and trains, each room features a reclaimed nautical brass fixture above the door that lights up when the bathroom is in use.

“I love designing bathrooms in restaurant spaces, it’s actually the place I start with first,” says Hall. “Each of these bathrooms have distinctive designs using terrazzo. I used large format terrazzo panels that are 12×24 inches laid vertically up the wall to 48 inches and then utilized a smaller format subway tile for contrast in color and scale. Terrazzo is a wonderful surface to use in a hospitality space, as it stands up to a high volume of traffic but brings such depth and character to the space. I used a mustard yellow, chalky dark blue, and a mauve for each of the spaces.”

Wallpaper is another distinct feature of Bar La Fête. Hall selected paper from England’s House of Hackney that focuses on peonies in a traditional and romantic floral print with a contemporary flair. Hall calls wallpaper her “love language” that creates depth and texture and creates instant personality.

Lighting fixtures offer contrasts. Old world candle sconces coexist with modern pendant fixtures. “I always gravitate towards mid-century modern light fixtures for our spaces,” Hall says. “They have wonderfully clean lines that give a lightness to the space. But as a Parisian-inspired space, I added layers of collected fixtures and unexpected choices. Parisian spaces have lived hundreds of years and hundreds of lives, and I wanted to use that as inspiration for our design choices.”

Hall says she is pleased with the outcome and is always in awe of transforming spaces. Bar La Fête, she notes, “was an empty white box six months ago and has been transformed into a glorious space to connect with friends and enjoy the beauty of food and wine.”

Wine buckets hanging off the booths add to the overall ambiance, which is reminiscent of the street cafés of Paris.

Candle scones set the mood and pleasingly coexist with the café’s modern pendant fixtures.

Wine buckets hanging off the booths add to the overall ambiance, which is reminiscent of the street cafés of Paris.

Candle scones set the mood and pleasingly coexist with the café’s modern pendant fixtures.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Caleb Chancey