A spark of inspiration has a way of following you around — just ask Chef Mauricio Papapietro, owner of acclaimed Birmingham eatery, Brick & Tin. Mauricio’s new Mountain Brook cocktail bar, Key Circle Commons, officially opened mid-February in English Village. He graciously welcomed us for a look inside the space — and into his creative process — to get a feel for its inspiration, menu offerings, and ambiance.
As he developed his vision for a cocktail bar, Mauricio drew influence from one of his favorite New York City hotspots. “My wife and I love The Bowery Hotel,” he explains. “There’s something so special about the hotel’s lobby — that old-world eclectic feel with unobtrusive yet high-level service. When I mentioned to Susan that I was considering opening a bar, it was a no-brainer to her that we bring a little of that feeling we love to Birmingham.”
That inspiration was a driving force for Mauricio as he progressed with the design of Key Circle Commons. The space exudes an elegant, upscale ambiance while providing a dimly lit, eclectic vibe reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy. Mauricio married the two into a unique experience for Birmingham bar-goers, and no design element was too small to warrant his full attention.
“We wanted to make the lounge a place you could go and hang out and be comfortable,” he says. That meant turning to Kyle D’Agostino of Poole and Company and Meredith Sherrill of Meredith Sherrill Design to help bring Mauricio’s vision to life.
Kyle layered in stunning architectural elements, from dark stained wood paneling and custom trim on the walls to a leaded glass window that highlights the chapel-like pitched roof at the entrance. To finish the space, Meredith brought the eclectic yet sophisticated dream to life with lush velvet curtains, faux fur throws, carved chairs, Turkish-style rugs, club chairs from the Netherlands, and even an antique 1860s daybed from France.
“Comfort was paramount, but it had to be beautifully comfortable,” Mauricio says. “She helped us achieve the eclectic mix we wanted in a way that worked so well together — like it was all meant to be together.”
A warm fireplace welcomes guests near the entrance, and French marble countertops grace the bar, which is flanked by traditional bistro seating and a 1975 Steinway and Sons piano that Mauricio hopes will soon be put to use. “There are options for however you want to hang out, whether it be sitting at one of the bar seats, around the fireplace, or even at your own bistro table. But it’s still a really small, intimate space,” Mauricio says.
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While he placed a lot of emphasis on the overall design of the lounge, the service and menu offerings received the same focused attention. The level of service Mauricio enjoyed at The Bowery was one of his inspirations. Therefore, he felt it was as important as Key Circle Commons’ atmosphere. “Every spot in the bar is full service,” Mauricio says. “Wherever you choose to be, a server will come to greet you and take your order, just like at a hotel lobby or restaurant.”
And that service, Mauricio adds, includes the perfect cocktail — served in the perfect glass, at the perfect temperature. The cocktail menu features a carefully curated variety of cocktails. “We want to embrace the classics as well as creative signature drinks,” Mauricio explains, “such as the Village Green, which features vodka, lemon, and a house-made basil syrup.”
Hinting to the importance of the lounge’s location, Mauricio and his team chose to name many of their custom cocktails after local spots. “The sense of neighborhood was important, so we’re incorporating street names from around the area to tie it all together,” Mauricio says. “The lounge itself got its name from a roundabout just up the road from here.”
With a deeply-rooted history of working in some of the finest kitchens in Birmingham — Bottega Café, Hot and Hot Fish Club, and Highlands Bar and Grill — it’s clear Mauricio isn’t overlooking the bar’s culinary element. In fact, the menu boasts more than just your basic bar food. As you might expect from the founder of Brick & Tin, the small bites menu was thoughtful, intentional, and set to rotate seasonally.
Currently, the menu offers up items such as charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, and even chocolate pot de crème. And, of course, Brick & Tin’s signature bread will be represented — right now, you can find it featured in the Hot Ham & Cheese sandwich. The menu is also heavily focused on fresh, local products. “It has always been incredibly important to us to support local farmers, so Key Circle Commons will be no different,” Mauricio says. “It really guides every decision we make here. We’re sourcing artisanal products made by people who are passionate about what they do.”
Whether it’s fresh fruit from Petals from the Past in Jemison, vegetables from Snow’s Bend Farm in Tuscaloosa, or produce from Harvest Farm in Cullman (to name a few), the menu focuses on providing fresh, seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced. Plus, the dishes deliver what everyone hopes for in a bite: a little salty, sweet, and savory. “It’s a concise menu, but we certainly want to satisfy those typical bar cravings,” Mauricio says. Key Circle Commons is already doing precisely that, satisfying its patrons’ bar cravings — both boozy and bite-worthy — in a simple yet unforgettably elegant way.
Key Circle Commons officially opened on February 16 and is open Monday through Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and closed on Sundays.
All photography by Eric & Jamie Photography.
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