In June 2016, Emily Blount opened Saint Leo, an Italian restaurant on the Square in Oxford. Last week, she introduced its companion, Saint Leo Lounge.
“I didn’t want to open a brand new restaurant,” said Blount, 38. “This is more of a complementary space, a place for people to come for an appetizer when they’re waiting for a table at Saint Leo, or to come to for a drink after dinner.”
Saint Leo Lounge, located on Jackson Avenue East in the building that formerly housed The Oxford Eagle newspaper, is just a few doors down from Saint Leo.
“I had rented half of the space and was using it for storage,” Blount said. “I was thinking maybe I could turn it into a little kitchen as a support kitchen for the restaurant. I was going around and around with ideas. While that was happening, the other half of this space became available and the landlord gave me a deal to take both.”
Saint Leo Lounge features an industrial-chic interior, a large hexagonal bar and a dance floor with 18 disco balls. The 4,000-square-foot space can accommodate up to 170 seated guests or 300 standing.
“One thing I’ve learned about Oxford is they love big parties here,” Blount said. “People will say, ‘I need a space for me and my closest 30 friends.’ I hope to be able to accommodate them here.”
In addition to classic cocktails, the beverage menu at the lounge features five specialty cocktails, including two on tap, as well as beer and wine options. The food menu consists of bar snacks, including mozzarella and pesto-stuffed arancini, wood-fired green olives, herbed fries, charcuterie party platters and grilled hot wings, as well as sweeter options, like a pistachio ice cream sundae.
Blount is the first to say she couldn’t have done this venture on her own. Her team includes Dan Latham, consulting chef at Saint Leo; Jon Davis, chef at Saint Leo Lounge; Joe Stinchcomb, bar director who will split his time between the restaurant and the lounge; and Joie Blount, managing partner for both businesses.
“We eventually want to move toward doing some fun nights here,” she said. “Maybe a burger night and a tiki night or maybe have a guest winemaker dinner. It’s all about having fun here.”
The bar at the lounge will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., with the kitchen serving food from 5 to 10 p.m. The space will also be available for private parties, such as rehearsal dinners, bridal luncheons and wedding receptions.
“I don’t think there’s an event space quite like this on the Square,” she said.
While architects and interior designers totally revamped the building, Blount wanted to pay homage to the newspaper that was once housed there.
“Where the disco balls are hanging is where the printing press went up into the ceiling,” she said. “On the floor, you can see the old footers for the press and where the inkwells were.”
If Blount needed a sign that she needed to open a lounge, she got it this spring, when Saint Leo restaurant was named a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program by the James Beard Foundation.
“Being on that long list means so much to us – it really does,” she said. “We’re a small little business. These types of things are not on our radar or expected.”