196 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 505-BLUE

Emma isn't a cocktail girl. "I like wine" she explained as we walked uptown from Nolita. But I'm a cocktail guy and any chance to grab one, even with a wine girl, must be taken. Blue Owl was our target destination, a bar I was introduced to just a teeny while ago that I immediately wanted to review. If Blue Owl differs from other cocktail lounges like White Star (and believe me, it does), it's that Blue Owl is, at it's heart, a standing-room-only meat market. The crowds pile in around 10 and don't get kicked out until 4. The music is loud, the intimacy, zero. You can make out at the bar for a half hour and no one will notice unless you aren't paying your tab.

With no signage but a streetside menu, you'll walk right past Blue Owl unless you know where it is. And even then, it's down a narrow iron staircase to the basement. Nicely, there are outside tables which in the summer are pretty sweet to sit at. On this particular soaking wet, thunderstorm-drenched evening, we chose the inside. There are some cushioned chairs and tables lining the walls, but as I said, the post-dinner, pre-hookup crowd floods in and before you know it, seventy people are crammed standing between the bar and the door, jabbing ribs, copping feels, drinking drinks and trading numbers. Basically, everything Little Branch prohibits. Blue owl doesn't just do cocktails, though. In fact, they have a considerable list of wines, beers and other liquors, as well as a small plates menu. The thing is, given the crowd, you'll never get the food to your table before a random elbow gives it to floor.

Emma and I found a couple of seats at the bar and poured over the custom cocktail menu. My first drink was The Blue Owl, the namesake choice of gin, maraschino liqueur, creme de violette, lemon juice and sun-dried cherries. It was crisp, sweet, light, and well-balanced between not-too-strong and too strong. You'll feel it, but it won't send you to the floor. I don't think Emma's ever gone out for cocktails before and she certainly hasn't with me, so she went with something fruity: The Loisada, a concoction of orange vodka, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, orange juice and Campari. This drink certainly had a sweet side, but the Grand Marnier and the Campari added a depth of bitterness that I liked, but I'm willing to bet that she didn't care for.

Ultimately, these two rather representative drinks drinks, while decent, I found under-impressive. Largely this is because I'll bet they were designed to appeal to people who don't really like cocktails. In other words, those whose prior drink exposure has been the bar at TGI Fridays or from a Margaritaville mixer bottle. Still, I give them credit for sticking to real ingredients and not those flavored syrups that have worked their way onto the menus of so many other bars I've been to.

For round two, I went with what was most likely to be found at a high-end, bespoke lounge, The Capetbagger. Made from 101-proof Wild Turkey, hibiscus and orange infused vermouth, Cointreau and orange bitters, this is a nursing drink... because it is not weak. It will own you if you drink it too fast. Emma had one sip, pushed it back to me, and, given the loud, party atmosphere, ordered the most appropriate drink of the night, a Vodka Soda. Sure, most other lounges would probably ask you to leave if you ordered this, but here, where the bartenders spend almost as much time opening bottles of beer as they do shaking martinis, it's no big deal.

In the end, Blue Owl isn't a bad place so long as you know what you're getting into, it's just the cocktail prices I'm not particularly a fan of. Sure, $8 per drink wouldn't be such a bad thing to pay for these somewhat rushed and mildly immature creations, but they don't cost $8. They cost $13. And that's far too much when places like Dutch Kills only charge $10.

I think next time Emma'll want me to find a wine bar.

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