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Monday, March 25, 2013

Paul Calvert on the opening of Paper Plane in Decatur (and a whole lot more)

  • Courtesy Paper Plane

Paper Plane, a unique collaboration between local barkeep Paul Calvert and Victory Sandwich Bar owners Caleb Wheelus and Ian Jones, is scheduled to open in an adjoining space within the new Victory Decatur (340 Church St.) later this week. We caught up with Victory's "Bar Boss" and Paper Plane co-owner Paul Calvert to discuss this enigmatic bar-within-a-bar situation, Paper Plane's concept, and Calvert's bitter contempt for the now-cancelled television show "Pan Am." Well, sort of.

So you've basically been between gigs for the last several months. What was it like to be a bartender with no bar?

Um, it sucked to be a bartender with no bar. Although it allowed me to do a lot of other cool things and strengthen myself as a manager and as an owner.

How so?

Specific examples? Working with the staff at Victory - doing some late-in-the-game product training for them. I hope it helped inspire some of the staff at Victory to get more excited about their jobs.

And how's that working out?

I've overheard them talking to tables about the difference between a white rum and an aged rum, or the differences between a rye and a bourbon. I think we have a really awesome staff.

I understand you were a "frequent flyer," if you will, at the original Victory before coming on in any official capacity. How would you compare Victory Decatur to Victory Inman Park?

I think that [Decatur] is a more refined version of Victory. It feels really open and has this cool, communal vibe that I really love. Larger tables for larger groups.

It's cavernous in comparison.

When [co-owner] Ian [Jones] designed it and when we built it out, a lot of the focus was on making it a big, open space because one of the frustrations at Victory in Inman Park was, it just fills up. Now, that's also kind of what makes it great fun, but I think it also irritates some people. You know, it's a small space.

OK. So now you're opening Paper Plane - a bar inside of a bar. I mean, how many bars can one building hold?

I don't know ... at least two!

And on to the million-dollar question, when is Paper Plane's opening day?

The last week of March.

There are several days in the last week of March, sir.

Ha. OK. We're scheduled to open on Friday, March 29.

So you'll share the kitchen with Victory.

The whole restaurant is built around the kitchen. The kitchen is the central piece of both restaurants, so if you were to tear the roof off the building and fly over in a helicopter you would see the kitchen is sort of the [hub] of the wheel.

It's an interesting dynamic.

I think this project maybe wouldn't work if the bars didn't complement one another by being so different. But they are really different. And they allow guests to have two completely different experiences in the same night, or, because Paper Plane has its own entrance, you can come to Paper Plane and never even see Victory, or vice versa.


Say you're in the mood for a can of beer, and you don't want to screw around with things that may be a little more high-end or a little more fancy, then you can just go straight to Victory. But then, if you're trying to go out on a second date, and, you know, the stakes are high, and you're looking to impress, you can come right into Paper Plane and not even know Victory's there. However, if that date goes really well, and Paper Plane's wrapping it up for the night, and you want one last round, you can just walk right out into Victory.

Score. What about the food?

At Paper Plane we'll do dinner and drinks five nights a week - right now it's Tuesday through Saturday. [It will be] much more focused on the sit-down experience of dinner as opposed to Victory, which has more of a come-and-go feel. We have a menu of modern American-composed plates designed to walk the line between communal dining and individual dining. By that I mean the plates are smaller than traditional, 1950s post-war dinner plates that have that protein + starch + greens thing, but they are larger and more composed than just a tapa, or an appetizer.

Who's doing the cooking?

We have two co-executive chefs, Josh Sample and Melissa Allen.

And where did the name come from?

Paper Plane? It was a name we could all agree on. It felt as fun as it felt sophisticated. Like flying on airplanes is "cool," although maybe not so cool anymore, but it used to be. There was a time when people got dressed up to fly on an airplane, and there was an element of luxury or at least of service.

Kind of like that show "Pan Am?"

That show is terrible. It's just brutal. And Christina Ricci's head just gets bigger and bigger and her body gets smaller and smaller ...

Ha. OK, bad example.

We wanted to create a room that had an element of sophistication to it, but also felt fun, and sort of young and sexy, like it was filled with possibility.

And what about the booze? Will you focus on any one genre of spirits?

No, not all. I don't want to tie myself to a specific spirit category or anything like that. I think what's a lot more interesting is to create a menu that you're proud of and that people want to drink.

I'm actually super-excited about our wine and beer program because this is the first time that I've had complete control over all three aspects of the beverage menu. It's also the first time that I've had input on the food ... it's been cool to sit down with all of us at the table to talk about food and talk about drinks and taste food together and give critical feedback. So really, I'm more excited about the whole picture rather than just the cocktails.

I see. Tell me more about this "whole picture."

Cocktails are about as interesting as beer and wine, which is to say they are very interesting, but also, there's an endpoint there. And this is something that's been on my mind for a while now - Greg [Best] and I talk about it all the time - you can only go so far with a beverage program.

People are making bitters and vermouth and syrups and mead and shrubs and honey wine and dandelion wine. I mean, people are making their own everything, which is awesome. I'm not in any way trying to take anything away from that. I think that's great. But, my dream is to create the culture and the lifestyle and a brand, really, that goes beyond just a cocktail and dinner.

You're such a visionary.

Ha. Are you making fun of me?

No. Go on.

I guess the point is that anyone can make a cocktail or a dish at home if they really want to. What we want to do at Paper Plane is create an experience, an environment that people can't recreate at home, because really, at the end of the day, that's why you go out.

We want to make sure the emphasis is on quality and service - the knowledge of the servers and the bartenders - and the warm, welcoming feel of both Paper Plane and Victory, so that people will (hopefully) always look forward to going because the food is great, the drinks are great, but even more than that, and beyond that, that there's a sort of atmosphere that they can't get anywhere else.

Is Paper Plane your dream bar?

It is the first of more, I don't want to say many. But this is the first dream bar and I look forward to having the next dream bar and the next dream bar. Maybe.

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