Behind the Mask: With Laura Newman from Queen’s Park

This year is anything but business as usual. Restaurant Week included. So we thought we’d take a minute and catch up with Queen’s Park owner Laura Newman and find out how her business is surviving during these hard times and how Queen’s Park came to be.

Q: Can you tell me how the pandemic has affected your business?

A: The pandemic has affected our business in a myriad of ways. First off just in the sense that we have been legally unable to continue operations as usual, and we’ve had to adapt not only to changing rules and regulations regarding how, when and what we’re able to serve people but also in the sense that we’ve had to deal with new regulations regarding the sale of alcohol and then of course the fact that a lot of people don’t want to leave their houses at all. Unfortunately, alcohol delivery is still illegal in the state of Alabama. So, unlike restaurants which can deliver the products that people buy from them, we can’t do that. So that’s been really challenging.

Q: What steps have you taken to keep guests and employees safe?

A: I think we were one of the first employers that I’m aware of that was mandating that all their staff had to wear masks all the time. We started doing that in March and I think by the end of that month it was required that everyone had to wear masks all the time. This was before any of the mask mandates – we’ve just been kind of at the forefront of requiring that same thing with hand sanitizer and just making sure that we really overemphasized how much to do that to our staff. The rest of the stuff though, we have a one hundred score from the Health Department. Fortunately, bars and restaurants are already legally required to be extremely sanitary, so pretty much all of our practices that were already in place were actually perfect for COVID involving how/how often we sanitize surfaces, so that was great. And then in terms of guests, we’ve done a lot of different things. We provide masks and we’ve been doing that for the community since the beginning of April and we still do. We have free masks and face coverings if you need one. We also have been cleaning all of our surfaces – not that we weren’t doing it before, but just doing it significantly more than usual, obviously between tables cleaning those things and providing bleach and sea fold towels for guests to clean themselves if they require that, kind of like at the gym. We’ve also been doing things like mandating one person at a time allowed in the space to use the restroom that was before we were permitted to have indoor seating, keeping everything six feet apart, voluntarily doing 50 percent (actually less than 50 percent) capacity and not doing seating at the bar. All of which keeps our employees and our guests safe.

Q: What do you plan to offer on your Birmingham Restaurant Week menu?

A: We’re going to be offering a special cocktail that we actually have only offered once before on a limited Ohana Night Tiki menu. It’s called a Chi Chi, it’s one of my favorite classic cocktails. It’s basically a vodka Piña Colada. I thought this would be a really good way to showcase not only the fact that we do a lot more tropical classic cocktails here at Queen’s Park, but also to showcase a drink that will be on our menu permanently at Neon Moon, a new bar that I’m opening. It consists of vodka, pineapple juice, lime juice, coconut cream which we make in house and a little touch of sugar.

Q: What’s the inspiration for that drink?

A: Chi Chi is a classic cocktail. The original Piña Colada was created at the Caribe Hilton in the 1940s in San Juan, Puerto Rico and a Chi Chi quickly followed as an alternative for people that wanted a Piña Colada experience without the rum.

Q: How do you think Birmingham Restaurant Week will help the local restaurant industry?

A: I think as it always has, Birmingham Restaurant Week will encourage people in and around Birmingham to support their local small businesses, specifically restaurants, and in the case of this year, to also support bars.

Q: What can the public do to support Bars?

A: To support your favorite Birmingham bars, please remember to wear a mask to keep all of our employees safe. Please remember to be patient and kind to employees who are only doing their jobs, especially when they’re enforcing local ordinances that they didn’t create and make sure to support as many independent, small mom and pop owned businesses as you can right now.

Q: Pre-COVID, tell us about opening up your bar, how did you connect with the community?

A: So, I am not a Birmingham native if you couldn’t tell by the way that I speak. I moved here from Brooklyn in what was originally supposed to be a very temporary move – we were actually going to open Queen’s Park in another city. However, I loved Birmingham so much that we decided to open a bar here in the Loft District, which reminded me so much of downtown Brooklyn where I’m from, and it was really exciting to come into a space that had been vacant for 10 years and to really help create something where there hadn’t been anything before. It was really important to me to not be replacing another business, but rather to be coming in and developing a space that hadn’t been in use, had just been a vacant storefront and to start adding to the community and to create a space that hadn’t been there before previously. The support from the community, especially just locally, has been so incredible. We’re so thankful for our amazing neighbors in the Loft District who have supported Queen’s Park not only from day one, but through the past grueling few months. And we’re just really grateful that they welcomed us into the community with open arms, but also welcomed me into the Birmingham community.

Q: How were you introduced to Birmingham and what caught your attention?

A: I first came to Birmingham to see a friend who is now my fiancé – we’re getting married in three weeks and I realized that I not only loved him, but I loved the city he lived in and he kind of convinced me to move here. My joke answer is that I got lost driving to Miami.

Q: So where does Queen’s Park go from here?

A: I think we’re going to continue giving great service, making great drinks and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 as best as we can while still providing amazing hospitality. I’m looking forward to hopefully getting back to normal as soon as we can, but for now we’re just really grateful to have the support of the community behind us and we’re looking forward to getting started opening our newest project, Neon Moon.

Q: What do you order from your menu?

A: I love cocktails that are tropical and refreshing. My Tie is one of my favorites and so is the Queen’s Parks Swizzle, which is the cocktail I named the bar after. It’s rum, lime, a hint of sugar and mint all on crushed ice. It’s a drink that’s extremely beautiful. It was the original Instagramable cocktail of its day when it was created in the 1920s and it’s perfect for when it’s a million degrees out in an Alabama July.

Q: What’s your favorite go-to drink at home?

A: I’m a certified Sommelier, so I really enjoy drinking wine at home. Even though I don’t get to do my sum work professionally as much as I used to, it’s really fun for me to still keep up with my tastings and get to try new new vintages and producers.

Q: When you’re able to go out, what’s your go-to restaurant or bar in Birmingham besides Queen’s Park?

A: My fiancé, Larry Townly and I absolutely love so many different Birmingham bars and restaurants. Ollie Irene is one of our absolute favorites. We love going to Lou’s for cocktails or to pick up a bottle to bring home. Lately we just moved to Southside, so we’ve been going to Gianmarco’s a lot. I love sitting in their outdoor patio area – I don’t know if I’m comfortable yet eating indoors, but we do like sitting at the outdoor tables. We love our neighbors, The Atomic, Cayo Coco and Collins Bar, and one of our favorite special date night spots would have to be Highlands.

Birmingham has welcomed Queen’s Park with open arms. From their tropical drinks to their classic cocktails, there is nothing on the menu that patrons wouldn’t love. To learn more about Queen’s Park, visit their website, www.queensparkbham.com and follow them on Instagram and Facebook @queensparkbham to stay updated.