Years in the making, the Spotted Owl bar made its official debut last night to a limited group of guests. The bar opens to the public today, but with a slightly limited menu. By Wednesday, says owner Will Hollingsworth, “the training wheels will be off.”
Located in a lower-level space in the Tremont Place Lofts, formerly known as the Union Gospel Press building, the interior features architectural accents that date back to 1850. The narrow, meandering room is at once rough-hewn and sophisticated. Hollingsworth described his design aesthetic as "brawny colonial," with damask and toile accents softening craggy brick walls and denim-blue concrete floors.
Guests are given a wide berth here, with roomy tables and seating areas holding well below the permitted occupancy. Most of the horizontal surfaces — the bar, tables, high-tops — are built from hefty old-growth tulip poplar boards salvaged from a decommissioned barn. Other tables are constructed from the doors of an old walk-in cooler that date back to a time when the building was a monastery. Three stunning stained glass windows behind the bar serve as a dramatic focal point.
Guests at each of the three seatings on Monday night were limited in choice to just a handful of cocktails, which changed as the night progressed. Hollingsworth explained that the tactic allowed his bartenders to really focus on a few cocktails at a time. Today, guests will be able to order any of the dozen cocktails on the menu, but not any off-menu calls. By Wednesday, all limitations should be eliminated.
“It’s worth it to me to make sure that my staff has got it together,” Hollingsworth says.
The cocktail menu offers five manhattans, six cocktails, and one "bartender’s choice." Names like You Guys are Indians, Right? and The Kingsbury Run offer up unique and compelling blends built with rye, bourbon, rum and scotch. Prices are more than reasonable, ranging from $9 to $12. A carafe of Philadelphia Fish House Punch, made with Jamaican rum and brandy, fetches $27 and serves four. There also are five draft beers ($5-$6) and red, white and sparkling wine by the glass and bottle.
Other than a few snacks, the Spotted Owl does not serve food. “The Spotted Owl is in a neighborhood full of restaurants,” Hollingsworth says. “What I want is to complement the neighborhood restaurants, to have classic bar snacks available but not a heavy food concept.”
Those snacks are small jars of pickles, olives and trail mix that Hollingsworth sells for $3 a pop — or doesn’t. “If I sell one and give away two I break even,” he notes. “I think offering a little bowl of something is a nice way to make somebody feel special without clogging up the bar by buying them drinks.”
Come to the Spotted Owl and it’s hard not to feel special. While delays are part and parcel of this business, Hollingsworth endured many. But rather than rush his project across the finish line before it was perfect, he patiently and methodically pursued his vision. The result is a cocktail lounge unlike any in the city. Go see — and taste — for yourself.