It’s funny to go to a casino in your own town—it feels like something you’re only supposed to do when you’re on vacation. But on special occasions, say, if it’s your anniversary, or you just passed the bar exam, or you’re trying to really impress your date, it can be fun to pretend that you’re on vacation for the night. A good place to celebrate all those things is Sandia Resort and Casino, the sprawling and luxurious bit of Las Vegas that lives on the northern edge of Albuquerque.
Sandia has dining and drinking options all over its nine floors, all of them at varying prices and fanciness of dress code. There’s Thur Shan Buffet on the ground floor, where you can go back for plate after plate to your heart’s content, and there’s Kiva Coffee for grabbing a pastry and a latte. Then, of course, there’s Bien Shur—the restaurant and bar on the top floor with sweeping views of the Sandias, a roaring fireplace in the dining room and bartenders who roll up their sleeves to mix your drink.
To get to Bien Shur you have to walk through the sea of bright and noisy slot machines that crowd around the west-facing entrance to Sandia. You can consult one of the many touchscreen concierge devices scattered throughout the place if you want directions from where you’re standing—yes, the place is really that big. On your way to the elevators, you’ll pass a security guard who will ask if you’re either a guest at the resort or going to the restaurant. There’s a big custom button that just says “restaurant” in the elevator. There’s something really satisfying about punching that button.
If you’ve just won big on one of the tables downstairs, Bien Shur is where you come to celebrate with a bottle of red and a ribeye steak. If, like me, you just want to have a couple drinks with your friends on a weeknight, you can go straight to the bar and not worry quite so much about how you’re dressed.
There are two bars in Bien Shur; the second one is only open on particularly busy nights. The one just to the south of the host stand at the entrance is always staffed, and there you can order from the bar or the restaurant menu. The bar menu includes six signature cocktails, four classic cocktails and three different kinds of margaritas, along with their generous list of beer and wine. There’s also a page of surprisingly seafood-heavy small plates perfect for sharing after you and your companion have had a couple drinks and are feeling that particular brand of tipsy hungry that seasons any meal so well.
Before you get there, though, take your time on that drink menu. The Boulevardier ($13) was the drink I gravitated towards: a drink made with Knob Creek single barrel reserve bourbon, Aperol, vermouth and fresh orange. Served straight up in a chilled martini glass, this smoky drink scratches the same itch as an Old Fashioned, but with a slightly more complex palate courtesy of the bittersweet Punt e Mes vermouth. If you like bourbon drinks that don’t lean too much on sweetness, you’ll enjoy this slow-sipping cocktail.
After this dark and stormy drink, I followed with a pisco sour ($13) for a brighter note. Pisco, a high-proof spirit made from grape juice and native to Peru, is mixed with lime juice, cane syrup and frothy egg whites in this cocktail. No sour mix here, of course. The egg white froth—the key ingredient to a real sour—makes this a light and airy drink, served on the rocks and perfect for a summer evening.
If you’re wiser than me, you’ll head to Bien Shur just before the sun sets, so you can watch the Sandias glow pink during those few magic minutes before twilight. The views are a definite selling point at this place, but they look even better when you’ve got a nice drink in your hand. After you’ve slaked your thirst and loosened your tie a bit, you can always head down to the casino to play around on the penny slots and complete the vacation fantasy you’re living.