“Bigfoot, I think, needs more attention”: Cowley’s Best Cocktail Bar

by Mina Yücelen | April 6, 2024

The shadowy shape of a poster of a creature beckons me as I pass the wooden threshold of the little cocktail bar. Is it a big bear? Or a gorilla? All wrong. It’s Bigfoot—diversifying the mythological landscape that is Cowley Road (a parrot sits on a window sill a few shops down). Charlie and George are behind the bar when I enter. I immediately make a mental note to buy an exact copy of Charlie’s shirt—a white one with black lettering and a red love heart, with a text which says “I Love Vampires”. Cheating on Bigfoot much?


The inside of the bar is minimalistic—sharp lines, cartoonish outlines, wooden stools and a white-tiled bar and coffee tables. I glimpse the Hot Cheetos packaging decorating the chairs (I still don’t know what to think of them – it’s definitely camp though). The walls are shrine-like and seem to constitute one big love letter to Bigfoot. It all has a very homemade feel to it, even more so at night time when the tealights are lit on the little tables. The cocktail board gazes down like a holy scroll. Absolutely mouthwatering. I love this place.


After the customary awkward hellos, we sit down at one of the white-tiled coffee tables. (I rest my back tentatively against a Hot Cheetos-decorated bench.) Charlie lets me know that this is the first feature that has been done on them. Exclusive stuff!


The people who work in the bar seem to be as cool as the concept itself—and they are one of the reasons why the bar is such a friendly place. The little conversations you have as you wait for your elaborate cocktails easily become highlights of the night. Charlie, Paige, and George are currently in the Bigfoot team. Paige unfortunately could not be at the interview, but I ask Charlie and George to tell me about themselves.


Charlie begins: “We are all from Oxford, me and George used to work together in pubs, me and Paige met working in the Medley, which is the pub I own that is on my family’s farm.” Charlie tells me that the Medley is on land that he converted with his friend and is a seasonal pub— “We were looking for a project in the winter and this place on the Cowley Road came up … it was pretty perfect for us.”


It seems almost fated when Charlie reminds me that the name of the old bar on this spot was “Big Scary Monsters”. But Charlie had known that he wanted a Bigfoot-themed bar before the place on Cowley Road had presented itself. Charlie went on to say that Bigfoot “gave us a lot of opportunity to be creative… and sort of bring different things to the table”. What are the specialties of the Bigfoot team? George tells me that “Charlie is the business mind… the ideas and the direction. Paige is more so beer-focused, and mine is more so cocktails. We sort of converged and this project is what came out of it.”


Now that we know the team, let’s get to know Bigfoot a bit better. One glance around makes it clear that it is definitely original. I was curious how the team would define their eclectic creation. As Charlie tells me, “Bigfoot is quite design-focused. I would describe its style as American mid-century-modern inspired by kitsch mass-production and embracing conspiracy theories and hysteria—and Bigfoot most of all.” I promise you that all of these concepts make sense the moment you step foot into the place.


Booze with conspiracy theories on the side makes for a fun mix. What did Charlie mean by “mass production,” I ask? Charlie tells me, “I think it’s sort of celebrating these things in a way that they aren’t normally celebrated and recurring shapes such as squares as something that reoccurs throughout our bar, throughout our tiles, throughout our menu board.” The design is “Trying to bring forward the attraction of everyday objects and mass-produced objects.” This seems to be contradictory to the concept of Bigfoot the monster (for me, at least, I cannot say that he is an everyday reality. But I am sure certain societies in America and perhaps in Cowley Road would beg to differ).


So how can they co-exist, the supernatural and the mundane and artificial? “I’d say it’s two contradictory things coexisting and hopefully bringing attention to each other” But Bigfoot promises to take over the space even more in the future: “Bigfoot hasn’t crept into the design of this place yet. There is no furry Bigfoot stuff yet, but we’ll see.”


I remember the first few times I visited Bigfoot with my friends, and how the place has evolved over those visits. We would loudly proclaim, truly feeling like regulars, This wasn’t there before! I love the new posters! I think I’d love to try the new cocktail… On one such visit where new furniture had spawned, Paige had told us that they had designed and built the tables and the bar themselves — except for the stools. Those were Ikea. How can it be DIY and celebrate a mass-produced aesthetic? George offers yet another interpretation of the design that I find myself thinking about when I come back to the bar: “Kind of reminds me of a high-end car produced in the 20s.”


Perhaps it is important to now ask; why Bigfoot? And, for me at least, the age-old question of why the Hot Cheetos packaging on the benches? I ask about their eclectic theme and style. For Charlie, the design is “trying to bring attention to some things which need more attention. Bigfoot, I think, needs more attention. There are a lot of things that Bigfoot reflects in people, and Bigfoot represents what is overlooked than being a monster and being a mythical creature. And people’s attitudes to it is something which I find interesting…”


It certainly does make people feel things. I remember drunkenly laughing about the concept of the bar the first time I had visited it. I was very intent on asking Paige whether she actually believed in Bigfoot. My burning question remains unanswered. Why the Hot Cheetos? “Hot Cheetos is the best crisp packet artwork there is.” I can’t argue with Charlie on that.


George draws my attention to the walls covered in framed posters. “These posters we have on the wall are also a representation of the different sort of misunderstood representations of Bigfoot and the culture around it that people don’t really realize. These are prints from the 70s and 90s of the Bigfoot newsletter that was released weekly… We like to include some of the evidence of the unheard old stories of Bigfoot as well.”


Charlie adds, “The only place where you could gain access to this information was through newsletters, obviously all about Bigfoot… It’s got this really good tongue-in-cheek tone to the whole thing.” George informs me of some eccentric Bigfoot lore: the newsletters “talked about Bigfoot being polyamorous and having many different wives and lots of other things that you would never have thought to expect.”


Bigfoot can be a monster terrorizing the woods. But he is also a busy man and famous with the ladies.


When I ask Charlie how Bigfoot makes people feel, his answer is “hope”. “A lot of Bigfoot believers and stuff, they have this amazing hope that is still within them that Bigfoot is soon going to be uncovered and that they are soon going to find bulletproof evidence. So, I really like… the community that it has created around this thing [Bigfoot] which might be real, might not be real. There are so many stories that have been shared and a public imagination that has been created around something very similar to a human. People see a lot of themselves in Bigfoot.”


I have to be reminded of the fact that I am at a bar and not a Bigfoot temple. George tells me about the drinks: “We are trying to rotate the cocktail menu either seasonally or more frequently…As much as we can.” George emphasizes their preference for a shorter cocktail menu: “quality over quantity”.


“As this is a small place as well and can’t actually store that many different spirits in here. This is the same reason why we don’t have wines here. We want to focus mainly on the cocktails and have space for it…The cocktails are mainly our creations or twists on classics. The way that we decide on the menu is that we all get together, us three, and we each bring ideas to the table and we make about 40 cocktails and then we have somewhat of a bare idea of a new menu. And we make about 30 more. And then we have a menu confirmed.”


Cocktail sampling would make for great pres, I think. “It is all just a trial-and-error process of mixing ideas and seeing what we can come up with.” We watch the cocktail board as we speak of the drinks — all of the options are authentic. I find myself inclined to day drink. “We wanted to not do any strict classics. We wanted to put our stamps on everything whether that be our own creations which the majority of them are or like a twist on a classic…something that you cannot get anywhere else and something that people think ‘this version is better than any version I’ve had at any other place’… Maybe people prefer it because it’s different.”


And their cocktails really are all that. You just have to try for yourself, but I will confess that I crave the Loveheart Sour at worryingly odd hours of the day.


George highlights that they “use loads of very, very expensive ingredients for all of our cocktails… we really focus on the quality and we mess around with our cocktails before we put them on the menu and everything is prepped from scratch, down to the juices. It’s all done from scratch.” That explains it. Charlie emphasizes the effort that goes into the cocktail selection process: “You guys get to see the tip of the Iceberg.”


“I think, to be honest, everything is made from scratch from the drinks to the food to everything in here.”


Oh, by the way, Bigfoot also serves tacos! For Charlie, “Tacos was something that lent itself to the space really well.” The thing about Bigfoot is that it manages to bring all these different things together. And still, it makes sense. “Part of the challenge was thinking about what kind of food we could do really really well in a small space which is what it is…Everything down to the tortillas we make ourselves. Yeah, I think it lends itself really well to being sort of drink-y food.”


And what are the people like? I wonder if they have spotted a student/local divide. Charlie tells me “We have had students in but it has really been a diverse crowd”, and George agrees. “It’s pretty varied… A lot of couples, it’s a pretty date-y spot” (consider this an official notice for any couples looking for their next date spot). George says “Everyone who comes in is just really really lovely, genuinely. I don’t know why that is, maybe it’s the size of the place, the style or the things that we serve.” Charlie agrees this time: “We’ve had no dickheads”. I guess this is what happens when you are greeted by a “mythical” monster every time you enter. Bigfoot — an unlikely guardian.


So, what’s in store for Bigfoot’s future? Charlie focuses on the interior design: “There’s just a lot more stuff in this building that I want to work on a lot more, a lot more design tasks to do and a lot more furniture design and a lot more artwork to be made in this space. Our outside bit at the moment, we haven’t changed since it was the old owner’s and we didn’t have enough time while we were setting up and that’s going to have a lot of drastic changes coming up soon and that’s going to be a really good summer spot”. Having a lot of smoker friends, I’m excited. “So mainly we are just going to continue to grow on our cocktail library and our taco library, if you want to call it that. And the space is going to get more weird and there’s going to be more Bigfoot awareness programs being done.” Bigfoot awareness is a campaign I can get behind. George adds a touch of mystery: “I won’t say anything for certain but we might diversify some stuff on our menu to cater for summer.”


What is a girl to do but go and sample every new cocktail they come out with… for research purposes?


Charlie ends the interview with a beautiful promise: “It’s going to get a lot weirder.”


Before I let you go, here are Charlie and George’s current favourite orders:


George: The Honey Puddle (bourbon, apricot, brandy liqueur, lemon, and local honey) “It’s such a simple drink… it’s sort of like a speakeasy puddle of honey in a glass — the flavours are so awesome for such a simple drink… And I’ve never had anything like that before.”


Charlie: Mezcal Margarita (mezcal, fresh lime, and agave) “The best margarita in town. That is the one classic we have; the best margarita I have ever had” George interjects — “We use expensive mezcal.”


And I, of course, am currently in a love affair with the Loveheart Sour.


Words by Mina Yücelen. Image credits to Mina Yücelen.