Christiana Roussel joins us today with the low down on Birmingham’s cocktail venture, The Collins Bar.
Situated in the heart of Birmingham’s Loft District, downtown, is your new favorite escape: The Collins Bar. More than a place to sip a cocktail while you plan where to grab dinner, The Collins is a sanctuary from the rattle and hum of the day. Step inside and you’ll swear you just passed through sliding doors to a place that is neither now nor then, here nor there. It seems to exist for the mere purpose of relaxed conviviality.
General Manager Feizal Valli oversees the entire operation for owner Andrew Collins (formerly of Lyric Hotdog). Valli is one of those dear people for whom hospitality is a calling. He worked at Emeril’s in New Orleans before relocating to Birmingham after Hurricane Katrina. He did local stints with what he calls The Big Four: Frank Stitt, Chris Dupont, George Reis and Chris Hastings – further honing his skill at pleasing the patron. Along the way, he fell in love with the Magic City and you can follow the trail of that relationship in spaces both seen and unseen at The Collins.
The Periodic Table of Elements hung in panels behind the bar replaces the traditional hydrogen, sulfur and chloride with Birmingham characters: #29 is Ni for Niki’s West, #71 is Lu for Chez Lulu, #89 is Av for Avondale and on and on. It is but one of the gracious ways Valli incorporates the sentiment, “everyone and everything except bad manners are welcome.”
Paper airplanes artistically fill the space. Valli says he is drawn to them for the very fact that as they fly, they are simultaneously soaring and floating, but still falling. Not unlike the human condition, some might say. Planes are suspended above the bar, and folding directions (so guests can make their own) fill canvases on the opposite wall. The rest of the décor is kitchy without the schmaltz, which intrigues the customer, leaving them curious about what else they might discover. A roster of famous Birmingham-bands-that-were fill a marquee over a mock stage.
But what about the drinks? This is still a bar after all, and without a quality bar program, even the most endearing location will fail. Rest assured that an equal amount of time and attention has gone into the libations here. In addition to offering a range of beer and wine, the bartenders are eager to craft a cocktail as original as you are. Tell the bartender you’d like a vodka drink, something tart, perhaps even a little bitter and just let him go. You’ll find yourself falling in love with a coupe glass brimming with mango puree, ginger bitters, and perhaps a sprig of fresh lemon thyme. Not up for the inspired beverage? They are more than happy to oblige with a traditional bourbon and water or scotch on the rocks.
Offerings from the kitchen are also equal parts expected and surprising — everything from housemade hummus to pigs in a blanket (with bourbon-glazed smoked belly, mind you), grilled cheese (with tomato-onion jam) to meatloaf sliders. There is even a peanut butter banana tart if you’re craving something really indulgent. We get the feeling that Feizal Valli is the kind of guy who’d never tell …
Writer Christiana Roussel lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Her work can be found in Birmingham Magazine, Taste of the South Magazine, The Local Palate and on her blog, ChristianasKitchen.com. Her drink of choice is Blanton’s bourbon and water, but that mango puree-ginger-bitter-vodka drink was mighty tasty too.