SouthPark’s Bar One Lounge mixes classic cocktails, California style and a speakeasy vibe. Wait till you see what’s coming up next.
by Cathy Martin | photographs by Justin Driscoll
Tucked in a narrow, windowless space behind a pizza restaurant isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find an upscale (yet unstuffy) cocktail bar. But in the year and a half since Bar One opened adjacent to the 800° Woodfired Pizza at Phillips Place, plenty of people have discovered the small, speakeasy-esque venue serving classic cocktails. Before 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, a crowd has already gathered at the bar for an early happy hour.
To accommodate the growth, Bar One plans to unveil at New Year’s a 2,500-square-foot expansion that will add a private dining room, more cozy leather booths for couples and power lunches, more bar seating, and weekend entertainment (more on that below).
Described on Bar One’s menu as “delicate and mysterious,” the classic Aviation cocktail was invented by New York bartender and cocktail book author Hugo Enslinn prior to Prohibition. The purple-hued drink is made with gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice with a brandied-cherry garnish.
Bar One Old Fashioned with George Dickel bourbon, simple syrup and Angostura bitters.
Steven Jensen didn’t have any prior restaurant experience when he and business partner Kyle O’Brien opened 800° in the space previously occupied by Restoration Hardware, before RH opened its sleek new design center a few doors down. The Los Angeles native moved to Charlotte in 2019 with his two children, now 12 and 14, just in time for the pandemic to bring his work in the entertainment industry to a screeching halt. Before long, he met O’Brien, and the two teamed up to open 800°, the first East Coast location of an LA concept launched in 2011 by Chef Anthony Carron.
Bar One is a concept unique to Charlotte. “I put all the ideas from all of my favorite [LA] bars, and I copyrighted and trademarked the name,” Jensen says. “We put it at the end of 800° as kind of a test fit to see how it would go. And it’s exploded.”
Bartender Katelyn Gold makes a Bar One Old Fashioned
It’s not an entirely separate concept: The full menu from 800° — woodfired pizzas, burgers, salads and more — is available at Bar One, and guests at 800° order from Bar One’s cocktail menu. But the adults-only Bar One has a very different atmosphere. Vintage portraits cover deep blue walls with brass and gold accents. Low ceilings, comfortable leather stools, and leather and walnut booths encourage guests to linger.
Jensen says the intimate atmosphere won’t change as Bar One expands. “You’re going to have the same feeling when you walk in: It’s going to be low-lit — it’s just basically an extension of the bar.” The expansion also includes a new kitchen and prep area that could be used for a limited late-night menu as demand grows.
The festive Margarita Furioso is a variation of the traditional margarita made with Don Julio blanco tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, muddled strawberries and jalapenos.
The celebratory French 75 is one of Bar One’s bestsellers, according to bartender Katelyn Gold. The classic cocktail is said to be named after the 75 mm howitzer field guns used in WWI. Bar One’s version is made with Aviation gin, prosecco, simple syrup and lemon juice and served in a chilled coupe.
Leather-bound menus at Bar One feature mostly classic cocktails, along with historical descriptions of the drinks. “I want a cocktail that has got a story to it,” Jensen says. “I want something that has some history.
“I get angry if people come in and order a Tito’s and soda,” he adds. “I’m like, no, that’s not this bar. I’m going to get you something else.” He’s kidding (sort of), but this isn’t the place if you’re seeking the latest fruit-infused martini trend. Bar One does offer a few seasonal cocktails and occasionally adds new drinks to the menu, but only after several weeks of testing. Mini cocktails are another popular option — guests can sip a mini Old-Fashioned or Manhattan with lunch so they don’t get too buzzed before heading back to work.
While the partners plan to open more 800° restaurants in the Carolinas, the main focus right now is building the Bar One brand. Two more locations are already in the works in South End and at Lake Norman. The 15,000-square-foot Lake Norman location will also include an 800°.
About that new entertainment component: Once the expansion is complete, Bar One will offer something buttoned-up SouthPark has never seen before: burlesque shows on Friday and Saturday night. “We’re bringing a concept from California here called Forty Deuce,” Jensen says. Hollywood and Las Vegas club promoter and actor Ivan Kane is behind the concept.
With the tagline, “Where the status quo is meant to be shaken,” should we expect anything less? SP