“Now that we’ve been open for two months, I’m getting a much better sense for how people regard us and what people come to us for,” says owner Will Hollingsworth. “I’ve always wanted the Spotted Owl to be the place where you started your night and ended your night. People are coming in for after-dinner cocktails, but I’ve realized that the before-dinner cocktail hour doesn’t really exist the way it used to, which is a shame. So I’m going to try and jumpstart that.”
To that end, Hollingsworth is test-driving his first Apertivo Hour, which will run from 6-8 p.m. this Friday and then Fridays and Saturdays thereafter (assuming all goes well). He’s crafted a small menu of traditional Italian aperitifs, which are low (or no) alcohol, making them ideal as pre-meal beverages. The 3-2-1 is an Aperol spritz-like drink; the Mezzo e Mezzo is half Fernet, half house vermouth; the non-alcohol Analcolici blends pineapple syrup, bitters and Old City grapefruit soda. Prices are $6 per drink.
Complimentary (and complementary) food, prepared by Mike Nowak of the Black Pig and Courtney Bonning of Bonbon Café will be passed on trays every 20 minutes. Options will include vegan, vegetarian, meat-friendly and sweet. And, to keep things appropriately trashy, adds Hollingsworth, there will be baskets of Lay’s potato chips on the bar.
Hollingsworth also made changes to the cocktail menu. He jettisoned the delineation between manhattans and cocktails, discarding some, adding some and streamlining the list. Gone are the Chain & Heatley and White Rob Roy, both scotch-based cocktails. “The people who like smoky scotch order smoky scotch, not cocktails,” he explains. “And the people who drink cocktails don’t like smoky scotch in their cocktails.”
But Hollingsworth also pulled the House Manhattan, the bar’s second most popular cocktail. “It’s a classic cocktail, but the time to place those classics on a menu I think has passed,” he says. “It’s always going to be made the right way when it’s called.” Moving forward, the Manhattan will be served with a two-inch ice cube, something the bar couldn’t manage when the drink was on the menu (and more people ordered it). “I’m the first person to say that there are a lot of gimmicks in the bar business. But with the large two-inch cube, the drink looks better, tastes better and gets less diluted.”
One addition to the cocktail list is the Brown Brink Eastward, a tequila-based cocktail starring Cazadores Reposado. “I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a warming winter tequila cocktail,” says Hollingsworth. “What does a tequila cocktail look like if the nearest lime is a mile away? I think we’ve come up with something that’s really beautiful and I think it will change the way a lot of people look at tequila.” It’s finished with a flamed orange peel, which takes the cocktail to the next level, he says.
The most ambitious change to the menu is the addition of an entirely new category of shot and beer pairings – yes, shot and beer pairings.
“An idea I’ve been obsessed with for a long time is this idea of a ‘Cleveland cocktail bar,’” he says. “Eschewing gimmicks factors into that; a workman-like attitude toward beverages factors into that; and the craft shot-and-a-beer pairing is this really perfect marriage between the highbrow and the lowbrow.”
The six pairings range from the Granddad & the Grenade (Old Granddad 100-proof bourbon and an ice-cold Coors) to the His Parents Were Eaten by a Bear (lemon zest-infused Barenjager and a Domaine DuPage French-Style Country Ale). Each is carefully built for maximum compatibility, says Hollingsworth. “It's two things – two sets of flavors that pair perfectly. I’m hoping these will give people the same sort of experience I had the first time somebody put that right glass of wine with the right bite of food in front of me. That eureka moment.”
Also relatively new are the savory and sweet snack sections, also administered by Nowak and Bonning. In addition to savory bits like a Sriracha-roasted nut mix, bread and butter pickles, and mixed olives, expect to find an expanded sweets offering in the coming days and weeks.
“People love to come here after dinner, so the idea of being able to offer a little morsel of something sweet with a good drink I think is a beautiful idea.”