I was excited for the Spotted Owl to open from the second I heard about it. It was fun to watch the Instagram photos as owner Will Hollingsworth followed through on his vision to turn a dirt floor and four pillars into one of the most handsome and comfy spots to drink in Cleveland. He created the bar he wanted to go to and he did it all from the heart. Named after an endangered species of owl from Will's home state of Oregon with La Nuit Porte Conseil, or sleep on it asthe motto, I was head over heels for the place from my first visit!
When we came in Will was working on the House Vermouth which is aged in a sherry cured barrel and finished with fresh lemon peel. You can find this in the House Manahattan or any cocktails that call for Sweet Vermouth. If you're in the Tremont neighborhood it would make a great aperitif before before you head off to dinner.
How did Will go from wearing a suit and tie in Political Communications in DC to wearing whatever the fuck he wants and opening his own bar in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood? When moving to Cleveland he wanted to spend his time working on things he was more naturally interested in, like working on motorcycles and bartending. He started bartending at the Greenhouse Tavern in their 3rd month being open before heading to Lolita a year later. While at Lolita he had the realization what a beautiful job bartending could be. Combining his technical skills of making an elegant, balanced drink with his ability to tell jokes and stories that captivate customers he found the work fulfilling, but the entrepreneur in him wanted to create some job security. He started his business plan in January 2011 and spent 11 months sitting in Tremont coffee shop the Loop on his days off writing like it was his job. His careful and thoughtful planning is easy to see in every aspect of the business.
Once you've had a few drinks at the Spotted Owl you'll notice how differently things are done here than any place you'll find in Cleveland. If you're into cocktails this place will quickly earn your trust as an establishment that always delivers something great. There is a commitment to a consistent and simple, yet high quality cocktail that always delivers the perfect balance. It's nothing less than a work of art. It's only emphasized by the charm of an impeccably designed space and remarkable customer service coming whole-heartedly from every member of the staff.
Shooting for layers of flavor with an elegant balance Will's process for creating a cocktail starts with the flavors bouncing around in his head. Wondering what a tequila drink looks like when the nearest lime is miles away he started with tequila, an Italian liqueur called Amaro Averna, a light nutty orange liqueur from Spain called Licor 43 and an orange. He reworked the drink through a rigorous process until he found a version he started introducing to customers for feedback. He didn't settle on the final mix until he had achieved the perfect balance he strives for. His obsession with creating a winter tequila drink lead to lovely concoction called Brown Brink Eastward (Pictured Above), named after a line from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. "These drinks don't remind me of cars or women or motorcycles, they remind me of poems."
The Spotted Owl is a truly comfortable place to grab a drink (or five, or six) and spend some time. A mixture of hard and soft with a multitude of attention to detail and zero unnecessary elements sets you at ease. You'd never even notice the flatscreen TV behind the fireplace display unless it's turned on for someone trying to catch a Cleveland sports score.
When you see the gorgeous stained glass behind the bar you might think the place was built around it, but it was actually one of the last elements that just happened to fall into place. Sitting in a friends studio for the last 10 years Will knew he had to have them as soon as he saw them. They just so happen to fit perfectly into what he had already designed for the space like kismet!
My favorite cocktail is Like Two Midnights in a Jar. Simply Fernet Branca liqueur, that has is bold and medicinal flavor, and a Loop cold brewed coffee ice cube. As the ice slowly melts it becomes a completely different cocktail from it's start to it's finish.
If you really want a cocktail expereince in Cleveland you simply must go to Spotted Owl. You might never look at cocktails the same way!