Where to Drink in Birmingham, Alabama - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Where to Drink in Birmingham, Alabama

Sitting at the crossroads of two major rail lines, Birmingham long served as the primary industrial center of the American South, with a population that grew so rapidly from the late 19th century to the mid-20th that it was dubbed the Magic City. That magic is still present today, with a food-and-drinks scene that can more than hold its own. Integral to that scene is LeNell Camacho Santa Ana, an Alabama native whose life journey has seen her in a variety of roles in the drinks industry. Her Birmingham liquor store, LeNell’s Beverage Boutique, is something of a reincarnation of her beloved Brooklyn shop that closed in 2009. Today, the Birmingham scene simply wouldn’t be the same without LeNell—she’s a first-name-basis kind of person—and here she offers the places where she can be spotted enjoying a beverage around the city. “It’s savvy and fun-loving, and places like Feizal Valli’s new House of Found Objects bar proves you can have quality drinks and an ambience of lighthearted fun,” she says. “Birmingham has that down.

Automatic Seafood and Oysters

Opened in April 2019 in Birmingham’s Lakeview neighborhood, Automatic swiftly became a darling of the city’s culinary scene. “Our James Beard–winning trophy is my fave place for seafood, especially fresh oysters,” LeNell says.“ Usually I drink stout or Champagne with my oysters, but their Collins and Daiquiris are fantastic.” In addition to classics, the cocktails rotate seasonally and the wine list aims to highlight smaller, lesser-known producers, all complementing the seafood-centric menu. “Even their in-house crackers made to pair with the oysters are worth the trip—you know when you rave over even the crackers that the attention to detail is spot-on.”

Bar La Fête

Birmingham, Alabama Bar La Fete
Small plates at Bar La Fête. | Photo by Caleb Chancey Photography

Opened this past fall by Birmingham hospitality vets Victor King and Kristen Hall, the petite, Parisian-inspired Bar La Fête offers small plates and a big wine list, both leaning heavily French. To decode the list, and offer recommendations from a wide range of perspectives, Bar La Fête brings in a rotating cast of wine professionals from all facets of the industry, featuring at least three guest sommeliers working the floor each weekend. Once you’ve got a glass or bottle, don’t sleep on the food menu. “One of the owners is a baker, so anything on the dessert menu will be a treat paired with a fun wine,” LeNell notes. lafetebham.com


Also opened in the fall by another pair of longtime industry vets, Adiõs is the passion project of José Medina Camacho (formerly of Automatic) and Jesús Méndez. The bar pulls both flavors and design elements from the owners’ native Mexico, from drinks like the Miel de Maguey (tequila, raicilla, two dry vermouth, celery bitters, saline) to artwork by modern Mexican artists. “Their Camazotz Oaxacan Daiquiri made with Huana (soursop) liqueur is my favorite, but they also have great nonalcoholic options made with items like house-made tepache,” says LeNell. “An ofrenda stands in the corner year-round, so if you are grieving a lost loved one, you can leave a memento or photo.”

Cayo Coco

Caya Coco Watermelon Daiquiri
A Watermelon Daiquiri at Caya Coco. | Photo by Josh Schaff

Designed in homage to the art, food, and drink of 1930s and ’40s Cuba, Cayo Coco opened in summer 2019 in Birmingham’s Founder’s Station, a mixed-use renovation of some of the city’s oldest historic buildings. While the full restaurant tempts with plates of ceviche and empanadas, the rum program is the reason to visit, with a list of more than 140 labels and a menu of cocktails from classic Mojitos and Daiquiris to playful riffs like the Singapore Green (a Sling tinged with pandan and herbal liqueurs). “It’s a Cuban fusion bar packed with rum finds, rum barrel picks, rum dinners, fantastic food,” says LeNell. “My fave is a Hotel Nacional with Probitas rum. And I always, always, always finish with a Cuban coffee.”

June Coffee

Owner Jimmy Truong built up quite a fan base as a barista and later a coffee roaster before opening June,” says LeNell, referencing the new coffeeshop space that opened last summer as an evolution of Truong’s roasting company of the same name. The new space in Birmingham’s Central City neighborhood—built using all local materials, like a custom-made coffee bar constructed from red clay bricks—offers a welcoming environment to enjoy the café’s curated list of classics and original drinks. “His pistachio rose latte is heavenly if I want foofy coffee, but I normally get what he calls a ‘Lil’ Buddy,’ which is an espresso with less water than an Americano.” 

Shu Shop

This bar-centric izakaya in the heart of downtown Birmingham’s theater district is helmed by Adeeba Khan, who “embodies hospitality best in all of Bham,” says LeNell. “I literally just sat at her bar and said out loud, ‘I am struggling this week, and this is where I go to feel safe and loved.’” In addition to a rotating roster of creative, original cocktails like the Salt and Pepper (Japanese vodka, oloroso sherry, fresh strawberry, lemon, salt, and pink peppercorn syrup), LeNell adores Shu Shop for “making the best wet Martini, plus sake on draft and lotsa whiskey.”

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