At first, Oxford, Mississippi, restaurateur Emily Blount didn’t know how she’d use the extra space. She’d rented the old Oxford Eagle newspaper building, located a block west of her acclaimed restaurant, Saint Leo, for storage, thinking she might transform it into an extra dining room or a special-event space someday. But as Saint Leo and its cocktail program, helmed by bar director Joe Stinchcomb, grew—the team this week received their second James Beard Award nod, this time for Outstanding Bar Program—Blount got another idea.
“I was thinking, you know what’s not in Oxford? A great cocktail lounge,” she says. So, she created one. Saint Leo Lounge, an offshoot of her popular wood-fired Italian flagship, opens for business this week, serving specialty drinks and upscale bar snacks—think: woodfired olives, arancini, charcuterie platters, and hot wings. The space centers on a hexagonal bar atop the uncovered original flooring still stamped with ink wells and cement footers where the newspaper’s printing press once was, and an industrial ceiling bedazzled with eighteen disco balls.
Stinchcomb’s creative drinks menu takes inspiration from the building’s past life, too. Hot off the Presses is a jalapeño-infused margarita, while the Evening Edition mixes bourbon, Italian liqueur, coffee, and bitters. What might be the most inventive, though, is Mind Your P’s and Q’s: “Joe takes the marinade of olives from Saint Leo, infuses gin with it, and then freezes it,” Blount says. “You’re left with a martini with a spiciness and flavors of that olive marinade. It’s honestly one of the best martinis I’ve ever had.”
Blount designed the Lounge to be a crowd-pleaser, and as it grows, she hopes to accommodate specials, themed nights, and pop-ups with local chefs and mixologists. Because in the end, she says, “It’s all about having fun here.”