A little while back I missed out on an opportunity to attend a party hosted at the Blue Owl Cocktail Room hosted to introduce their spring cocktail menu. So instead, I sat down with Charles Hardwick a little while back to talk about the spring menu, try out a few drinks, and make up for the horrible truth that I never visited the place though I feel like I see Charles all over the place.
Charles said that he tries to keep Blue Owl's menu seasonal, but added, "If a drink is popular and well-suited, it'll carry over."
The menu has a broad range, however "at the same time it slightly subverts what normal patterns of drinking are."
So for people who would not regularly drink gin, Charles said something like the Barrelhouse Fizz would be appealing. Especially with its color and raspberries, from across the room it's visually appealing enough to make a guest ask for it.
Charles usually limits his cocktail menu to 12 drinks, but he still tries to mix it up.
"I try to have several long drinks and not make it all martinis," Charles said. He also tries to showcase a wide variety of spirits such a gin, rye whiskey and cachaca.
Located on 2nd Ave., between 12th and 13th street, the lounge's location seemed like the type of place where where the crowd would vary. It also has a mix of atmosphere going on, because it serves cocktails the quality of those you could find at some of the more buttoned-down, Prohibition-reminiscent places in the city. At the same time if you check out the lounge's calendar online, you see that Blue Owl also hosts regular events with live music and DJs, making it a sort of occupy a plane of existence in between cocktail lounge and chill club. It probably works in the Blue Owl's favor considering the mix of people that populate the surrounding area. It's residential in the sense that people live there, but it's not far off from offices where people work and is in the vicinity of NYU. On top of that, it's got public transportation on lockdown since it's within walking distance to Union Square and then there's the L along 14th that let's people off just two blocks up.
"It's fairly diverse and depends on the day and time of day," Charles said about the clientele, whether it's working professionals or people from the neighborhood.
According to Charles, the bar gets a lot of professional women patrons who find the lounge to be a spot where they don't feel the pressure of unwanted attention and can relax and enjoy their drinks. Charles said that there's also a younger segment of those coming in from Williamsburg who are very much into cocktails and have done their own research or reading into the topic.
What I wasn't expecting to hear was that the spot attracts a lot of people who are on Internet or blind dates. In Charles' opinion, this was because Blue Owl is a place where people can feel comfortable and works as either a starting off or ending point to an evening.
Charles was generous and I got to try out a good chunk of the spring cocktail list. The following are a couple of the drinks I tried:
The first drink I got to try was the Rube, (Plymouth Sloe Gin, Lillet Rouge & fresh Orange Juice, garnished with an orange slice), a drink named after Rube Foster, the famous Negro League player, Manager, and founder of the Negro National League in 1920.
The Kipspringer (Bols Genever, Dolin Bianco Vermouth, Orange flower water, Orange bitters, garnished with an orange twist) packs an orange-scented punch, but has a bit of that little something with the flavors of genever and vermouth, that to me seemed to recreate the flavor of orange in a kind of abstract way. Charles said that when he sets out a cocktail glass and sprays it with a bit of the orange flower water, the scent creates a sort of anticipation and attraction.
Charles called The Ellison (Hendrick’s Cucumber and Rose Petal-infused Gin, muddled mint and cucumber, fresh lime-juice, with a dash of bitters. Shaken and served up, garnished with a slice of cucumber) "the most popular cocktail" on the menu. It's one of the holdovers from the previous season that's also been around the block. The recipe was given to Jim Ryan to be part of a list of recipes for Hendrick's Gin, then Charles was hoping to have it added in the new Mr. Boston's book that Jim Meehan was putting together. It then just sort of spread out from there and roams the wild now like a feral child, with reported sightings every now and then. Charles said he frequently meets customers who tell him, "Hey, do you know they also make this at...?". In an effort to reclaim the drink, Charles tweaked it by adding a spritz of rosewater.
The Madero, made with Milagro Tequila, Green Chartreuse, Cointreau, agave syrup, cilantro & fresh lime juice, caught my attention with cilantro, because seriously, I know some people can really, really, REALLY dislike cilantro. The whole thing comes together in my humble opinion because the cilantro kind of teams with the herbal complexities of the Green Chartreuse. Then the agave syrup and tequila sort of their own flavor going on so really you're not necessarily being hit over the head with the cilantro. It's still there, but it plays well with the other ingredients.
Charles said that his thinking behind The Marisco Sour (Bar Sol Pisco, Marie Brizard Crème de Banane & coconut water) was in trying to create a tropical drink with the flavors, minus the syrupy sweetness. Photographed in the middle.