Paul's Café

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Paul's Café was a restaurant and bar operated by Paul Gilardoni at various locations from the 1880s to the 1910s.

In the 1880s, Gilardoni offered a table d'hôte along with a la carte items. In 1891 the restaurant had an ice cream parlor upstairs. On June 29 of that year a shooting took place there. H. D. Corbett, manager of the Magic City Machine Works, suspicious that his wife had become too friendly with M. L. Bates, superintendent of the East Birmingham Iron Works, followed them to the ice cream parlor and rushed in, brandishing a pistol. Bates managed to close the distance to his assailant and suffered a pistol-whipping in lieu of a gunshot. A bullet was fired, but struck no one present. Deputy Sheriff Will Smith hastened to the scene and arrested Corbett. His charge for assault with intent to kill was later reduced to simple assault.

Gilardoni opened his cafe in the former The Mobile Restaurant location at 109-111 19th Street North in September 1891. According to an advertisement, he served "everything in his line in the best style" and offered private upstairs dining rooms, with service until 1:00 AM.

In 1892 he advertised the cafe as, "The Only Second-Class Restaurant in the South." In 1899 Theresa Feast of Cullman was engaged as the restaurant's cashier and book-keeper. When Gilardoni and Emil Lesser took over the rebuilt Metropolitan Hotel in 1900, she took a similar position there.

By 1904 the restaurant had moved a block north to the Taylor Building at 213-215 19th Street North. Gilardoni, then operating Paul's Cafe and the Black Cat Saloon, died in August 1905.

In 1911 former Paul's Cafe chef and host H. F. Powell took up the lease of the Shocco Springs Hotel.

On February 14, 1912 Dorothy Opperman, a 20-year-old singer from Atlanta, Georgia who was appearing at the Best Theatre with the Hendrix Belle-Isle company, met a traveling salesman named J. B. Debnam of Suffolk, Virginia. The couple, along with her sister, Florence, and another man, J. G. McCormick, met for supper at Paul's Café, during which time the party consumed several bottles of beer. At some point Debman dared Opperman to marry him. When she agreed, the group returned to the Hillman Hotel and picked up a taxi. They went to the home of D. C. Ball, a deputy probate clerk, brought him to the courthouse to issue a marriage license, and then awakened justice of the peace G. D. Glaze to conduct the ceremony.

The next day, Mrs Debman filed a bill of complaint in chancery court seeking an annulment of the marriage, which had been undertaken while under the influence of drink and in jest (and had not been consummated). Chancellor Alfred Benners adjudged the marriage valid and denied the annulment.


  • "Pretty Young Wife Goes Out on a Lark" (July 2, 1891) Montgomery Advertiser, p. 3
  • The Tribune-Gazette (October 13, 1900), p. 7
  • R. L. Polk & Co.'s Birmingham Directory 1905 (1905) Volume 20. Birmingham: R. L. Polk & Co.
  • "Capt. Paul Gilardoni Dead." (September 6, 1905) Our Mountain Home
  • "Shocco Hotel Leased by Birmingham Chef" (May 10, 1911) Our Mountain Home
  • "Married In Haste; Repenting At Leisure." (February 17, 1912) The Montgomery Times
  • "Wedding Too Real For Bride" (February 18, 1912) The Tuscaloosa News
  • "J. B. Debnam Is Now Married" (February 22, 1912) Winston-Salem Journal