Food & Drink

First Look: Bar La Fête in Birmingham, Alabama

A cozy and colorful new Southern wine bar takes cues from Parisian design and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

Photo: Caleb Chancey

The dining room in Birmingham's Bar La Fête.

Right down to its name, Birmingham’s Bar La Fête embodies celebration. “When we were thinking about what to call this project, we really wanted to create a place for people to celebrate,” says designer, pastry chef, and Bar La Fête owner Kristen Hall. Following the Essential and Bandit Pâtisserie, Hall had dreamed of her third project for years, but her visit to France finally gave life to the concept. “Our goal is to create shops that really transport people into different spaces and time,” she says. “I wanted to have my feet on French soil to really absorb as much of that energy as I could.”

The intimate Bar La Fête embraces Hall’s love for Parisian design and her travels throughout the country, building off her memories of historically rich and teeny-tiny local haunts. “When you think of croissants, you think of France. From a pastry chef perspective, my background laid a great foundation,” she says. “When I visited Paris, I loved walking into a space and knowing it’s been there for hundreds of years and lived a thousand lives.”

photo: Caleb Chancey
Clicquot wine buckets flank booth seats.

When she began to curate the space, Hall centered the entire design concept around a square of floral wallpaper from House of Hackney that she had kept tucked away in her purse for a year. The pattern drew her in with its bursting, sculptural pink peonies. “They’re a sentimental flower to me,” she says. “They represent motherhood. I used to get a peony bush for many of my Mother’s Days. They’re feathered and layered, wonderful and wild, and untamed.” The sample evolved into a bold, full-fledged wall at Bar La Fête. Pink and cream accents throughout the space, such as the thirty-foot-long curved Italian marble bar from Birmingham’s Cottage Supply Company, play off the colors in the print. Above the outside entrance, an installation of peonies fans out against the navy and brick exterior, a real-life embodiment of the sprawling wallpaper inside. For Hall, the rosy palette is all part of evoking the timeless romantic feeling she experienced in the City of Light.

photo: Caleb Chancey
The bar’s House of Hackney patterned wall; the exterior floral installation.
photo: Stacy Allen
The curved Italian marble bar.

Though Hall draws design inspiration from her travels, she turned to one of her favorite films when curating the bathrooms, which she considers the soul of the bar. “When I go to a restaurant, it’s the bathroom that tells me what kind of place it is,” she says. For Bar La Fête’s bathrooms, Hall pulled vibrant, moody terrazzo tiles inspired by the deep yellow, blue, and oranges she saw in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. Outside, occupied signs hang above the doors, lighting up when the rooms are in use. The light fixtures, which once belonged to ships at sea, sat in a dusty antique store in New York until Hall picked them up. “It felt like they were part of the set from Anderson’s film,” she says. “It’s been such a fun experience to use weird, quirky, and strange vintage things that are one of a kind.”

photo: Caleb Chancey
Hall used small terrazzo subway tiles in the bathrooms to contrast the stretch of wallpaper in the bar.

For the bar’s collection of antique picture frames and found artwork, Hall gathered up her own personal belongings, including vintage portraits and painterly still lifes she found while thrifting with her daughter. “In designing the space, it felt like a love letter to my future self,” she says. “I wanted it to be like if you were visiting a family member with a magical house—not large or fancy—but it had interesting collections to speak to all the adventures.”

The bar’s collection of artwork includes blooms and portraits in circular antique frames.