Curio's Travis Owens. Photo by James Smith

Cocktail Hour: Curio

_“I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and everything is shining. And the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on the crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening – in a quiet bar. That’s wonderful.” _

– Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye

Besides the sprawling selection of bottles, bitters, and tinctures gracing the back wall at Curio, the first thing that catches my eye upon entering is owner/barkeep Travis Owens and the above quote on a little four-by-six-inch card. It’s a sentiment close to the long-time classic cocktail master’s heart, and a fitting one as he preps me drinks even on his day off, perfecting final touches to the bar’s new, nearly 50-drink menu.

“The quote itself resonates with me personally because it’s referring to a special time when the bar is being prepped for an evening of shaking and stirring for patrons,” Owens said. “It’s such a great interpretation of what goes down just before the doors open.”

While cocktail bars across the country (and Columbus) are creating new menus for the spring season right now, Ownes and Curio are making theirs more robust. Rather than swapping winter’s dark and heavier beverages for the predictable light and fresh ones, Curio is banking on diversity, presenting its patrons with a vast cocktail menu – their most ambitious to date.

Guests will find 21 more foreign “Curious Concoctions,” with only a few on repeat from prior menus. When the smooth, flexible wooden menu is flipped over, there is also a more extensive list of 25 classic cocktails from staples such as the Manhattan or the French 75, to lesser-known, century-old libations like The Last Word and the ever-bitter, but popular Negroni.

“Our latest cocktail list at Curio has been the most challenging to date,” Owens said. “We’re really looking forward to spring and want to focus on more playful and fizzy cocktails, but with the temperamental Ohio weather, it’s been difficult.”

Curio has always offered classic cocktails on previous menus, however, they were more of a subtle option at the bottom of the list. Now, there is a full page debut of classics with descriptions and ingredients. It encourages patrons to revisit cocktails they may have heard of, but not tried.

For anyone who finds the massive cocktail list intimidating, fear not. The new menu, while substantial, will intentionally be easy to navigate no matter your cocktail knowledge. It will start with the “easiest” cocktail – the Gimlet Gaunlet that provides patrons the choice between vodka, gin, or mescal – and gradually move to the “boldest” by the end of the menu.

“This list is an amalgamation of different styles of cocktails,” he says. “We have a cold-pressed carrot juice and rum beverage [Restless Native], some fun and rather simple bourbon cocktails – but also, some bold and adventurous libations as well [Del’s No. 1 Cup].”

With the new menu, there is an increase in stirred cocktails available – seven total, to be exact. The primary palate difference between shaken and stirred cocktails is the dilution. When a drink is shaken with ice, an increased amount of water becomes part of the beverage. Stirred drinks combine the ingredients, but keep it quick and a bit more boozy.

Crafting a new menu not only takes time but vision as well. The new menu at Curio is more than a collection of almost 50 cocktail choices for patrons – it’s an increased variety of spirits and syrups, it’s forward-thinking, a culmination of what Curio has been growing into over the last two years. The cocktail has come a long way in Columbus, and the progress the city has experienced allows Curio to produce this complex of a menu, one that is meant to open minds and give guests more.

“For now, we are extremely excited about introducing Columbus to new flavors and spirits they may never have tried before. It’s always been our goal to broaden horizons when it comes to imbibing.”

Stirred Cocktails on the Spring Menu
Lil’ Ol Me:
Watershed Bourbon, Cedar-Infused Campari, dry vermouth

Citizen Jane:
Knob Creek rye, Gran Classico bitter, East India sherry

Bulleit rye, Carpano, sweet vermouth, Fernet bitters

Barrel Aged:
“Please inquire with your tender”

Dapper Dan:
Watershed Bourbon, Torino sweet vermouth, Curio Root Beer Bitters

Bonita Applebum:
Apple brandy, rye, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, spiced cranberry bitters

Saints & Sinners:
Talisker 10-year, Cynar, sweet vermouth, maple bitters