The college town’s bar scene just got an upgrade.

Robbie Caponetto

From Square Books to End of All Music and the literary scene orbiting the University of Mississippi, a community of independent businesses and creatives has always made Oxford known as more than just another college town. But when it came to the bar scene, not so much.

Emily Blount, the owner the James Beard Award-nominated, wood-fired Italian bistro Saint Leo, decided to fix that.

Amongst the beer dives, a few mixed drink-focused bars existed within restaurants, but Blount wanted to create a design-minded cocktail salon to builds on the success of her first restaurant’s beverage program (also nominated for a James Beard Award this year) helmed by Joe Stinchcomb. Last week, In an adjoining space that once belonged to newspaper Oxford Eagle, she did just that with the opening of Saint Leo Lounge.

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A hexagonal bar with the elegance of a classic department store counter anchors the space with custom banquettes handcrafted by local woodworker Ryan Pierce. And although the industrial, newspaper print color palette lends a sophisticated vibe, the18 disco balls hanging over the dance floor bring in the playful dazzle.

Saint Leo’s chef Dan Latham created an Italian-inspired bar bite menu for the Lounge with items like mozzarella and pesto-stuffed arancini, charcuterie platters, grilled hot wings, and sweet options like a pistachio ice cream sundae. At the restaurant’s bar, Stinchcomb was known for combining history, sense of place, and storytelling with alcohol and the drinks at the Lounge continue that. The Hot off the Presses (a jalapeño-infused margarita) and Evening Edition (bourbon, Italian liqueur, coffee, and bitters) both pay homage to the building’s former life.

Blount hopes that its future is a decidedly less high-pressure one where locals and visitors can come together for a drink and a dance party.

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