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more than a few words with will hollingsworth, builder of the perfect bar

Will Hollingsworth

Future home of  The Spotted Owl (entrance at the bottom left) at the Tremont Place Lofts

Interior of the future home of  The Spotted Owl located on the lower-level of the Tremont Place Lofts

The planned outdoor patio area for The Spotted Owl

Will Hollingsworth

Will Hollingsworth


If you've enjoyed a drink at Lolita on a weekend night during the past two and a half years, chances are good Will Hollingsworth poured it. The practiced bartender is a fixture behind the rail, attracting more than his share of regulars, who appreciate him as much for his gift of gab as for his bottle-tending.
 
During that same period of time, Hollingsworth, 26, has been formulating his greatest recipe yet: The perfect bar. Located on the lower-level of the Tremont Place Lofts at W. 7th and Jefferson, formerly the Union Gospel Press building, The Spotted Owl aims to take its place among the world's most venerable watering holes.
 
Given block club approval -- and more than a little construction -- the bar will open this summer.
 
Here are more than a few words from the ever-garrulous but never-glib builder of perfect bars, as told to Douglas Trattner.
 
________________________________

I've had a vision of what I believe is the world's most perfect neighborhood bar for a long time now, and Tremont is pretty close to the world's most perfect neighborhood.

The moment I got down here I said, This is the space.
 
It's off the beaten path, but still right in the middle of things.
 
It's sort of this big, giant labyrinthine space. All told I can't imagine it's less than 4,000 square feet. But the tavern space is probably no more than 1,600 square feet.
 
They used to keep livestock down here.
 
We're going for a sort of "brawny colonial" design aesthetic. I'm calling it Massachusetts customs house, but with a bit more contemporary French influence. The use of damask and toile will allow us to soften this otherwise industrial space without making it too feminine.
 
We're going to own grays and blues the way Red the Steakhouse owns red.
 
There's a 12-seat bar, communal table, 50 seats in all. We can handle 100 total.
 
I am of the opinion that my generation wants the same thing out of a bar that our parents did: a place where you can meet people, feel comfortable, develop a relationship with your bartender. It's just a place where you go when you don't want to go home.
 
Our generation, we know craft beer, we know good wine, we know classic cocktails – we expect a quality product. But the "classic cocktail movement" and the "craft beer bar" have sort of lost their novelty. We are not really interested in a self-referential bar. We're just interested in a place that does it right.
 
In Portland, where I'm from, bar culture kind of shirked those pigeon holes – it's just about doing it right. High-concept doesn't really fly out there. The bars that make it are the ones that don't act like a big deal but have a workman-like focus on the details.
 
I spent some time in Annapolis, Maryland, and there's a bar called Harry Brownes, and Harry Brownes is the bar that made me love bars. Being there, having conversations, getting in arguments, drinking 'til sunrise, going home with some arty girl – these are the things we carry with us forever, and very often, they are associated with a bar.
 
I love providing a space for people to enjoy themselves and to enjoy each other, to make memories and to fall in love. To provide the four walls for that to happen I think is a really noble endeavor.
 
Give me a bottle of Jim Beam and a case of Miller Light and I'll give you a bar because ultimately, what's in your glass doesn't matter. What matters is the girl next to you and the guy across the bar from you.
 
The perfect bar is the place where you start your night and end your night. It's the first place you go and it's the place you go when you've got a bottle of wine in you and you're looking a little disheveled and you want to be with your friends, sit in the dark, have a conversation and have fun.
 
I think the worst thing that every happened to bartending is mixology. I feel that idea has nearly sounded the death of bartending.
 
I believe a man should be able to get a fancy drink. However, I don't think that should be the point.
 
Scotch whiskey is a rare bit of perfection in this world.
 
That's a complicated question.
 
You go to a restaurant to experience what a chef has to offer. You go to a bar to try and be as interesting and fun as you possibly can be.
 
The lesson I've learned from working for Michael Symon is that beauty often lies in simplicity. The reason the Lola burger is the best burger in the city is because nothing about it is done in vain.
 
Spotted Owl is in a neighborhood full of restaurants. What I want is to complement the neighborhood restaurants, to have classic bar snacks available but not a heavy food concept.
 
In terms of food, I'm trying to develop a rotating concept that centers around nuts, olives and pickles. I want stuff that I can prep off premises, have sealed in jars, and serve in single servings.
 
What I love about Cleveland is that there are 1,000 bars and 1,000 churches.
 
I'm a neighborhood guy. Tremont is the only neighborhood I've ever lived in in Cleveland.
 
I spend the vast majority of my spare time at Prosperity Social Club with Bonnie. I spend a good deal of time at Lava Lounge with Jack and Ricardo. I recently got a dog, so I've been hanging out with John Berry at Edison's.
 
I take a great deal of inspiration from Bonnie because Bonnie is a bartender who started her own bar. And that fact shows up on every piece of glassware and every drink that comes out of that place. She gets it.
 
I want this to be a bartender's bar.

Bars, they come and go. You can hope for maybe 3 to 5 years of being the coolest bar in town, and within those years you can provide something really special to a lot of people.
 
The place is going to open when it opens.
 
I've got miles to go before I sleep, but we're getting there. We've gotten this far.


Photos Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Douglas Trattner.

Douglas Trattner is a fulltime freelance writer, editor and author. In addition to acting as Managing Editor of Fresh Water, he is the Dining Editor of Cleveland Scene, author of “Moon Handbooks: Cleveland,” and co-author with Michael Symon on two New York Times best-selling cookbooks. His work has appeared in Food Network magazine, Miami Herald, Globe and Mail, Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Magazine and others. He lives in Cleveland Hts. with his wife, two dogs, five chickens and 20,000 honeybees.
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