And hey, I’m not the only one who feels that way. In the Best of Drink Up Columbus poll, Curio won for best classic cocktails, best signature cocktails, best bartender (Joe Peppercorn) and got second for best new bar.
Owner Travis Owens, admittedly once a shot-and-a-beertender, said he has been interested in classic cocktails since he first had (a good) one.
“After experiencing a well-made Manhattan for the first time, you realise that there was some history somewhere down the line and an approach to making cocktails that was forgotten,” said Owens. “Within the last 5-8 years it’s come full circle from back in the day when there was a little bit more effort put into cocktails.”
While classic cocktails never completely went away – every bartender should be familiar with making a Manhattan, properly or not – there has been a resurgence of interest in carefully crafted drinks made with fresh ingredients.
“People are paying more attention to what they’re consuming, so they’re willing to pay a little bit more for something that they know a little bit of soul and a little bit of effort has been put into,” said Owens.
A lot of soul and effort certainly went into the design of Curio. An old fashioned cash register sits behind the bar surrounded by sawed down sewing desks, index card drawers, books about bitters and of course bottles of liquor that somehow combine to create the effect of the pre-prohibition era.
“Some of the stuff I had been collecting, like antique glassware and curio cabinets and these old singer sewing desks,” said Owens. “In my head I had mapped out what I wanted it to look like. You have to make it fit the space, but somehow all of these legos fit together. A lot of the stuff came from my aunt’s house. She considered herself an antique dealer; she was an antique hoarder.”
It was a massive curio cabinet from Owen’s aunt’s collectionhoard that inspired the name of the bar.
Curio features over a dozen original drink creations and another dozen classic cocktails on their menu, with a new featured cocktail every day. The feature the day I was in was a bright green, smoky concoction dubbed the Pablano Escabar, a play on a margarita made with Mezcal, fresh pablano juice, smoked salt, agave, nectarm orange liqueur and lime juice. I also has a slightly modified and amazing version of a classic Vieux Carre (modified with black fig bitters and Cherry Heering.) A favorite from past visits is the Violet Fizz, with gin, Creme de Violet, Luxardo, lemon, egg white and soda, shaken to frothy goodness.
“It’s exciting getting people back into [classic cocktails],” said Owens. “Some of it’s very trying at times because people are so accustomed to their standard, but we do a good job of getting them to drink a little bit of gin here and there.”
If you’re not sold on the classic cocktail concept, Curio has other drinks to keep you content.
“We want people to know that we’re approachable,” said Owens. “We have plenty of vodka if people want it. A lot of people don’t realize we have beer, we have a pretty slammin’ beer selection, we call it our secret stash. So you can come here and have a beer, you can come here and have a martini, and you can come here and have a Vieux Carre or a cocktail Joe just came up with off the cuff that has five ingredients that should never go together and for some reason they go together very well.”
The secret stash includes selections from Rockmill, Evil Twin and even cans of Burger Beer, as well as a few beers I’ve never seen before – but for me, Curio is 100& about the cocktails.
“This Spring we’re trying to go back to what we did when we opened,” said Owens. “We got away from it a little bit with some more winter-y cocktails and some more obscure stuff. We tried to push the boundaries a little bit. We’re gonna bring it back to being a little funner in Spring, a little bit more based in simplicity, always keeping with fresh juices and some unique spirits [with cocktails] only made with two or three ingredients, but doing something people aren’t going to see anywhere else in the city.”