Go inside Paper Doll, the new cocktail bar in Birmingham’s Loft District

Birmingham’s family of cocktail bars has a new addition. Paper Doll, located in the Magic City’s Loft District, is set to have its grand opening Dec. 14 and 15.

The plush new bar is in the former Tavern on 1st space in the Raymond Rose building. Co-owner Joel Cheatwood and his family bought the lease from Tavern on 1st in December 2017.

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While they have completely redesigned the bar with a luxurious and vintage feel— fabric couches with tables and chairs now line the walls, replacing the former bar’s booths and wooden tables– co-owner Jason Koenig says the family wanted to continue the Tavern on 1st reputation of attention to cocktails.

A selection of signature cocktails at Paper Doll
A selection of signature cocktails at Paper Doll  Shauna Stuart | [email protected]

” Many people agree that {Tavern on 1st} had some of the best cocktails in the city. So what we want to do is create a space that matched the quality of the cocktails. And hopefully we’ve done that.”

It’s still in the design stage, but Paper Doll’s final menu will be 20 pages. The bar boasts an ambitious beverage program of signature, seasonal, and classic cocktails. The collaborative menu was designed by some of the city’s best bartenders, spearheaded by bartender Ryan Abrams.

Koenig calls the program a “labor of love.”

“It covers all of the classics and all of the spirits from hot drinks to cold drinks and Italian liqueur drinks. We make a lot of our own bitters and syrups. We’re going to have an ice program,” said Koenig. “So there’s even attention to detail on the ice. We’re going to hand cut ice.”

The Violet is one of Paper Doll's signature cocktails, made with Brooker's dry gin, creme de violette, and Fentiman's tonic (PHOTO: Kristin Greene)
The Violet is one of Paper Doll’s signature cocktails, made with Brooker’s dry gin, creme de violette, and Fentiman’s tonic (PHOTO: Kristin Greene)  Kristin Greene

For the non-cocktail drinker, there is a full section of beers and wines, and even a specially crafted tea for those who choose not to imbibe. The bar has light fare, including cheese flights and charcuterie. There is also a chocolate flight– an assortment of chocolates curated by Birmingham’s own artistinal chocolatier, Chocolata.

Of course, patrons who wish to order the simpler mixed drinks, like Jack Daniel’s and coke, will be able to do so. But the Paper Doll experience, says Cheatwood, is dedicated to the beauty and art of craft cocktails.

The Sgt. Pepper, made with Broker's dry gin, firewater tincture, orgeat syrup, lime juice, and pineapple juice
The Sgt. Pepper, made with Broker’s dry gin, firewater tincture, orgeat syrup, lime juice, and pineapple juice  Shauna Stuart | [email protected]

“That’s the attention to detail part we’re doing. It’s all about the experience of making an amazing cocktail. Watching a bartender that’s an artisan. That’s really the focus of what we are. It’s a craft cocktail bar and we built the experience around that for sure.”

Cheatwood’s family has crafted that experience down to the interior design. Paper Doll is a far cry from the “industrial chic” style of some of its modern counterparts. The exposed brick wall behind the bar is one of the few remnants of Tavern on 1st. The former wooden bar surface is now white marble. Chandeliers and plush velvet curtains hang from the ceiling. In the front, patrons are now greeted by art and vintage furniture. The interior, while smaller, is cozy and inviting.

“I think due to the nature of us getting older, we’re not really into the crowded bumping elbows and fighting for a drink,” said Koenig, laughing. “We really wanted to create a space that’s comfortable and kind of felt like you were just having a drink in your living room, but maybe more like a sophisticated boutique hotel.”

A chandelier at Paper Doll
A chandelier at Paper Doll  Shauna Stuart | [email protected]

Cheatwood and Koenig’s mission was to make Paper Doll as unique as possible to downtown Birmingham. To them, the space needed to be a reflection of Alabama. In addition to using Alabama-based distilleries and locally-sourced produce, they also recruited Birmingham interior designer Andrew Brown, whose vision Koenig describes as “brilliant.”

The design also includes local fabrics and the work of Alabama artists. In the lobby hangs a portrait by William Mclure. The final beverage menu will have botanical sketches from artist Lindsey Porter.

The interior of Paper Doll cocktail bar (PHOTO: Kristin Greene)
The interior of Paper Doll cocktail bar (PHOTO: Kristin Greene)

More of the bar’s perks: happy hour from Tuesday to Thursday with $5 select cocktail and house wines. There will also be valet on weekends. For parties, patrons can reserve a private room in the back.

Cheatwood’s mission is for Paper Doll to become part of the creativity that’s blossoming downtown.

He says the cocktail bar’s concept fits perfectly into the Loft District.

“There’s going to be even more of a groundswell in downtown Birmingham and we need a variety of places for people to go. And we just felt like this atmosphere was missing.”

Behind the bar at Paper Doll
Behind the bar at Paper Doll  Shauna Stuart | [email protected]

For Paper Doll, the timing is ripe, especially with a city that’s emerging from the shadows of breweries and expanding its cocktail palate. The Collins, which laid a lot of groundwork for downtown Birmingham’s cocktail bars, is a city favorite.

Clair McLafferty on the cocktail revolution and the future for Birmingham’s bartenders

The Magic City’s cocktail bars are also starting to get more national recognition. Less than a mile down 1st Ave, N., The Atomic Lounge was a semi-finalist for this year’s James Beard Awards. Two new cocktail bars also opened the latter half of this year: Pilcrow Cocktail Center opened in August. Queen’s Park, from award-winning bartender Laura Newman and Larry “Mudd” Townley, opened in September. Newman, who moved to Birmingham in 2017 from New York, was the first woman to win the U.S. Bartenders Guild World Class Competition, one of the world’s most prestigious bartending competitions.

Now, it’s up to Paper Doll to secure its space in Birmingham’s evolving cocktail culture, as it presents its luxurious decor and signature beverage program to a curious city that will always have a thirst for the classics. Koenig says Paper Doll is up to that challenge.

Signature cocktails at Paper Doll: (L-R) Sgt. Pepper, The Violet, Jack Rose, Irish Coffee, Mafia Peach, and the Miami Spice Piña  Colada
Signature cocktails at Paper Doll: (L-R) Sgt. Pepper, The Violet, Jack Rose, Irish Coffee, Mafia Peach, and the Miami Spice Piña Colada  Shauna Stuart | [email protected]

“One of our best sellers is the Basil Smash. And I hear all the time that we have one of the best Old Fashioneds that people will ever experience. Which is is a very simple, classic cocktail,” said Koenig. “And so I think when you can do that right, you’re doing a good job.”

Paper Doll will host its grand opening on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15. Paper Doll is located at 2320 1st Ave N Birmingham, AL 35203. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 4pm-close. For more information go to https://paperdollbar.com/.


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