Saratoga Springs’ The Night Owl has been one of the Spa City’s happy surprises over the last few years. Having opened on Maple Avenue in a location that saw pretty regular turnover over the last two decades, it quickly established itself as one of the city’s classier clubs.
But when the pandemic hit, it could’ve easily rung a death knell for a business that thrives on sweaty, shoulder-to-shoulder, indoor crowds, but General Manager Alexander Straus quickly pivoted and to great effect. In early April, after being forced to close and lay off most of his staff, Straus began a to-go cocktail service, at first to raise money for his out-of-work employees. The to-go booze service proved a massive hit and became a regular feature by May. And throughout June, July and August—during Saratoga’s summer to forget—Straus made good use of the club’s open courtyard, rolling in tables and chairs and doing pop-up food menus to keep the masked, socially distanced crowds coming back.
With the winter of COVID rumbling in, Straus is taking further steps to ensure The Night Owl’s continue success. The club will now be offering a full dinner menu of Jamaican food, dreamed up by Chef Bjorn Burke, who did a memorable pop-up menu back in September for the Straus. “I first tasted Chef Burke’s food at our labor day fundraiser for YouthFX, and I instantly knew we needed to do something with him much more long-term,” says Straus. “His style, work ethic and culinary vision just pairs up perfectly with what we offer here at The Night Owl. We are so excited to add exceptional food to our guests’ experience.”
A first generation American with two Jamaican immigrant parents, Burke learned the ins and outs of island cuisine from his grandmother, while living in Jamaica for a spell, and earned a culinary arts degree from Monroe College, to boot. You’ve also probably eaten his non-Jamaican fare, too: He’s worked locally at Bailey’s and 15 Church. “The new menu I’ve created for The Night Owl is really an incarnation of both my culinary journey and my cultural heritage,” says Burke.
Just what will customers find on Burke’s menu? Everything from Jamaican Sticky Wings and Oxtail Poutine to Specialty Seasoned Crab and Jerk Chicken Skewers. (Check out the full menu here.) Entrees and appetizers range from $8-$16. The Night Owl will also continue its popular to-go cocktail menu—and as long as it’s still able, the club will have outdoor seating available. Takeout and dine-in options are available Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm–11pm, with the cocktails to-go service ending at 10pm, per the recent orders from the state. “We have four fire pits and twelve 45,000 BTU heaters, and all the bells and whistles needed for outdoor dining, so that’s still very much available,” says Straus. He also foresees adding the dinner menu to DoorDash later this winter. And if the state lifts the restrictions on late-night dining at some point, Straus is looking to have the kitchen open past midnight on weekends.
Does this mark a full pivot to The Night Owl Restaurant? “It’s not pivoting,” says Straus, with a chuckle. “The beautiful tree of entertainment and excitement that The Night Owl has has grown a new branch. We’ve been offering people the option of having some food and cocktails since early on, because that’s the only way we can cater to our awesome guests that have supported us through this whole time.” But it’s not just any old side hustle: the new menu will be filling a culinary void in the market. “You can’t get Caribbean food north of Albany,” he says. “We’re happy to be offering something unique to Saratogians here.”