Distilled: The secret of Curio’s success

From the February 14, 2013 edition

Columbus is embracing craft cocktails, and Curio is leading the way. If you’ve been to Curio, you know this. If you haven’t, someone’s probably told you the cocktails are great and that you need to go.

The contemporary speakeasy, nestled next to Harvest Pizza in German Village, serves the most excellent, precisely-made classic cocktails in town, and their innovations on the classics are truly remarkable. Owner Travis Owens cited other popular cocktail-driven spots, like Mouton and Giuseppe’s, as helping this trend take off.

“We’re not the only people; it’s a whole culture and it’s finally starting to take off. I think this little place right here has pushed it over the threshold,” he said.

So what is it that has people buzzing about Curio specifically? It’s not one thing. Although serving the city’s best cocktails helps. Curio has a modern-day prohibition era aesthetic that matches Chicago and New York’s most innovative places.

But the stylish atmosphere and unparalleled drink menu isn’t always a strong draw for some.

“It can also backfire where people are intimidated, since they’re not experienced in something like this,” Owens said.

Curio combats this fear of the unknown with its staff, Marisa Torres, Teddy Aux and Joe Peppercorn, who help create each seasonal cocktail menu. But more importantly, they are just as knowledgeable and willing to help customers find the right drink.

“If we were a band, Travis writes the songs. I’d be the drummer, just trying to sell the song to the crowd,” said Peppercorn.

Ultimately, though, Curio succeeds by creating an experience. That may sound pretentious or ridiculous because we’re just talking about a bar. But I’ve been to many — many — bars in Columbus and tried lots of cocktails, beers, liquors, etc. Curio sets itself apart.

Walking into the small, subtly-lit bar gives you the feeling of experiencing something fresh. Watching Owens and his crew mix drinks on a busy Friday evening is exciting. Then you take a sip of something completely unusual and unique — like the Old Money, a cocktail using the uber-peaty Laphroaig!— and you just get it.