Windsor

Hidden in plain sight: Windsor's Blind Owl cocktail bar

The Blind Owl is a craft cocktail bar in downtown Windsor. Just about everything except the alcohol is made in-house, and sourced as locally as possible.

Windsor Morning's Jonathan Pinto pays a visit to the Blind Owl, a craft cocktail bar in downtown Windsor

Blind Owl operator Mark Dutka talks about his bar's house-made syrups and bitters. 1:45

The Blind Owl has a prominent location in downtown Windsor — but this place is incredibly easy to miss.

The lack of a sign makes the Blind Owl easy to miss, even though it's on Ouellette Avenue. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"At first when we opened, we were talking about a sign. But really nice signs are expensive," explains Mark Dutka, who operates the Blind Owl.

A look inside the Blind Owl. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"We opened without the sign, and it just kind of clicked. People were like, 'Oh, the place without a sign', and all of a sudden it was almost a trend — a cool thing that we didn't have the sign."

A display of owls and antique radios inside the Blind Owl. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

I first met Mark a few years ago to learn about Hung Meats, his charcuterie business. Today, his cured meats are sold exclusively at the Blind Owl.

Cocktails that nod to Windsor's past

Mark calls his drink creations "prohibition and pre-prohibition style" cocktails. As many people know, during prohibition in the United States, Windsor played a big role in supplying alcohol to Americans.

It's a history Mark knows well. He's a third generation bartender.

Mark's family has been serving alcohol for generations. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Mark's father and grandfather tended bar at Abars on Riverside Drive. 

While his family bought the place after prohibition, Mark has childhood memories of finding booze hiding spots, such as false bottoms in floors, chairs and cupboards. He was regularly warned not to play in the basement.

Abars On the River was a century-old Windsor bar at Riverside Drive and Lauzon Road. (CBC)

That family history makes him the perfect man to mix historical cocktails.

What makes these cocktails different?

The Blind Owl's cocktails are seasonal and local — and I'm not just talking about using whisky from Hiram Walker. 

At the Blind Owl, "local" goes far beyond using alcohol distilled at Hiram Walker. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Tomorrow marks the Blind Owl's first anniversary. It also marks the launch of Mark's spring menu. 

"We make all our own syrups here every week, we make our own bitters here as well," Mark explained. "We never use boxed juice or anything like that," he added.

All of Blind Owl's syrups and bitters are made in-house, from scratch, using local ingredients where possible. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

He spends plenty of time in the county at places like The Fruit Wagon, or Serenity Lavender Farm in Colchester.

"Every week, I'm out there seeing what's new, and what we can make out of the freshest ingredients possible from the county."

Challenging Windsor's tastebuds

Mark told me his new spring menu is his craftiest creation so far.

"We're finding [that customers in Windsor] want to be challenged now, so I'm making a lot more intricate, more challenging drinks," he said. "I'm using matcha tea powder, I'm infusing duck fat into some our of whiskies.

Those are just a few of his ideas. He's also turning to off-the-wall bitters, like amaro, which he says seems to be the trend right now.

Some of the ingredients used to make cocktails at the Blind Owl. Mark renders his own duck fat from Ontario ducks, uses bee pollen from Sun Parlour Honey in Cottam and lavender from Serenity Lavender Farm in Colchester. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
The Blind Owl in downtown Windsor is celebrating its one year anniversary. It's a cocktail bar hidden in plain sight on Ouellette Avenue. 7:12

The Blind Owl is located at 430 Ouellette Ave. in Windsor. It opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 6 p.m. on Saturday, and is closed Sunday and Monday.

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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