For the team behind 18.21 Bitters, the aspiration of opening a coffee cafe and cocktail bar was two years in the making. Married co-owners Kristin Koefod and Missy Koefod wanted a place that felt “a little bit of France, a little bit of Italy,” with a splash of “London library.”
What tied it all together was a “James” theme, which led to the name. In daytime, the light, bright cafe evokes France, with bistro tables, a curvy glass bakery case filled with pastries and baked goods, and a black and white-striped banquette sitting beneath a photo of actor James Dean in a similarly striped shirt. Singer Etta James looks on in a framed photograph, as does actor James Earl Jones.
In the family-friendly cafe, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, you might hear a little jazz, or some Nina Simone. It is the first coffee shop in Georgia to carry Australia’s Vittoria coffee (brew and espresso). Cafe manager Fantasia Gibson (formerly of the Clermont Hotel) created a selection of coffee cocktails. There also will be rotating coffee cold brews.
The bar opens at 4 p.m. for those 21 and over. Old school hip-hop, like Tupac, Biggie and Snoop Dog, contrasts with the seriousness of the commanding backbar, leather Chesterfield tufted sofas, green velvet chairs and opulent crystal chandeliers. Green leather panels flank the walls. Gilded framed portraits of fancy dogs peer from one wall. Next to the stairwell side entrance is a mural of James Dean in his signature leaning pose, painted by artist Nick Benson, a friend of general manager Lindsey Long. “It’s where James would hang out,” Missy Koefod said.
A specially designed caged bar cart holds spirits for the vintage spirits program. At the James Room, you can sip on a Negroni with all ingredients circa 1970.
The bar is gin-heavy, and includes Spanish gin for an elaborately garnished Spanish gin and tonic. There also is a cognac sour on the menu. “Cognac is a beautiful spirit, and it is really underrated,” Kristin Koefod said. Guests can learn more about the spirit through flights.
The wine list is exclusively French and Italian, but cocktails feature local spirits (and, of course, 18.21 Bitters, tinctures and shrubs). “We are stoked to showcase some of those brands we love so much,” Missy said. Old Fourth Distillery is part of their bourbon flight, as well as ASW. “They will be on our bar always,” she said.
Local beers and ciders also are served.
Zero-proof cocktails have been a part of the conversation since the beginning. “We really wanted to make people feel included, so all our (alcohol-free) cocktails are pretty, garnished and in cocktail glasses,” Kristin said.
At the helm of the kitchen is executive chef Saiid Parker (formerly of Barcelona Wine Bar). Dinner service pays homage to the tiny cicchetti bars seen on a trip to Venice — little places in alleys with spritzes and small plates. There will be charcuterie boards and selections of roe for caviar service.
The “James” spirit continues in the washrooms, with some James Bond and a little more James Dean. And, shh, there is a secret late-night menu. Just ask for it.
The James Room opened March 7, serving only drinks. Dinner service will begin March 11, with a public grand opening at 7 p.m. on March 13.
659 Auburn Ave. NE, Atlanta. thejamesroom.com.
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