Molli Rohland helps Blue Owl soar – The Boston Globe

Molli Rohland, 30, oversees the bar at Blue Owl, which opened last week on the rooftop of the newish 907 Main hotel in Central Square. (Sibling The Dial opened on the ground floor last year.) She’s originally from Los Angeles but came east to go to Berklee, where she studied film composition. Now she composes unusual cocktails, such as one made from baijiu, a rare, potent Chinese liquor made from fermented sorghum.
How did the opening go?
It’s been going really well. We’re running a 20-cocktail program, featuring all global spirits. We have a cocktail with baijiu on it. We have an aquavit cocktail with peppercorn, dill, and cantaloupe. People are taking to them really nicely.
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What were you doing before you came to the Blue Owl?
Before Blue Owl, I was doing the bar program at The Dial. And I was at Catalyst, a 10-minute walk away in Kendall Square. I was there for almost two years. And before that, I was in Los Angeles. That’s where I’m from. I was mostly doing assistant film composition.
What drew you to Boston?
I got into Berklee. Throughout the whole time I was at Berklee, I was paying a lot of my tuition, books, apartment fees, and stuff at McGreevy’s. Afterward, I worked at a few different spots, learning more of the craft cocktail scene. I opened Porto with Jody Adams, and that’s kind of where I really started creating my own beverage program. I think that was back in 2016. From there, I started coming up with my own menus. Then I moved back for a year to LA to try to see if I wanted to do film composing, but LA isn’t really my vibe. It’s a lot of traffic. You spend like four or five hours of the day in a car.
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As someone who’s lived in both cities, what’s the difference between the LA bar scene and Boston’s?
I know people have the stigma of Bostonians being unfriendly, but I find that I feel more at home or more relaxed in a Boston cocktail bar. They’re more welcoming. They want you to learn a lot. Obviously, it might be because I know some of the bartenders in the city. But in LA, it’s more how you look when you walk into the bar and the social media of it. It’s definitely more social-media-forward.
You have to drive everywhere in LA. That’s a big thing, too. You can’t bar-hop.
Let’s talk about COVID. What has the impact been on bars, and what’s your expectation about what’s going to happen this fall?
In terms of that, it’s been a really big learning process for sure. We got really lucky at Blue Owl because everything is brand new. So we just pretty much had to hold up the quality of a brand-new bar and make sure everything stayed as clean as possible. But this year, the masks and the distancing was interesting, because we’re here every day with our masks on our faces for 12 to 14 hours. And you always get those guests who are like, “I don’t want to put my mask on for five minutes.”
But most people respect us a little bit more. I know this industry is sometimes thought of as not a real career, but people felt it when someone in a restaurant in our favorite bar got sick, and the whole place had to shut down and everyone was affected. And some of our favorite cocktail bars shut down forever, like Eastern Standard and the Hawthorne. It’s been a really big hit that I think a lot of us haven’t even had the time to sit down and [process].
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Hopefully, students coming back keep being safe and wearing masks when they go out, and we’ll be able to stay open without the social distancing and stuff. I see people wearing masks without being told. So I love that. Honestly, I think I’m really lucky to be in Central Square in Cambridge. We’re right down the street from Pfizer and Moderna. We have so many biotech companies and everything around us, but they’re all pretty kind, and [so are] the students at MIT and Harvard. So far, it’s been going really well.
Let’s talk about Blue Owl. What makes it special?
It’s definitely a lounge vibe. We want everybody to be welcome and feel welcome. We just have some high-end cocktails with global aspects, so it’s going to be ingredients that maybe people haven’t tried before. But my team of bartenders are all amazing. They love explaining and answering any questions and kind of teaching people about some of the new products. Maybe people haven’t tried baijiu or Aquavit. But I still have Pacifico on tap. I have stuff that people are familiar with, and the spirits on the back wall, most people are familiar with. But I don’t know of any other places that have baijiu in a cocktail.
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Where do you hang out when you’re not working? What are some of your favorite local bars or restaurants?
J.M. Curley. And Silvertone just opened back up, so that’s going to be back as one of my top places. Nearby, I love Viale. I’ve become friends with them. And Cloud & Spirits is awesome, too. It’s so close to us. It’s where Cuchi Cuchi used to be. Their food program and beverage program is really great, and the staff is awesome, super welcoming.
Are there any drinks that you hate to make?
I feel like a lot of bartenders say Ramos gin fizzes, which has the heavy cream that you shake forever. I actually love the way they taste, but they take such a long time. And mojitos kind of bum me out, because you get mint everywhere.
What did you study at Berklee?
I studied film-composing, with a minor in video-game scoring. I really always loved animated music, like Pixar music and stuff. So a lot of my projects at school revolved around that. I had a practice where I had to write over “How to Train Your Dragon” for a 10-minute sequence.
When I was over in LA, I did a few projects, and I really loved it. I mean, I adore music. It’s always something that’s going to be a part of my life. I’m not sure if I would ever go back to Los Angeles, but if there’s ever an opportunity? I know I might be doing something with one of my whiskey reps soon who is working on a sort of play that needs music to it, so it’s possible I might try to do something with bartending at the same time.
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What film has your favorite score?
Thomas Newman is one of my favorite composers of all time. “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of my favorites. “Meet Joe Black” is beautiful. And also, I’m a huge fan of “Star Trek,” and of course “Lord of the Rings.”
Last but not least: favorite pandemic-era snack?
Hot Cheetos. And popcorn.
Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.
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