Escape the Noise at Cellar Bar
Zinc’s downstairs bar offers a stellar happy hour and a relaxed vibe
There aren’t a whole lot of bars in Albuquerque that could be described as “sexy.” Low lights, a cozy atmosphere, Cat Power and Nina Simone on the stereo. The kind of place where you feel compelled to dress up a little, and you’re not even upset about it. Every once in a while I feel the urge to hang out in such an environment, either for a date night or just to drink a cocktail at the bar and look sultry and interesting on my own. To scratch that itch, I like to head to Cellar Bar at Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro.
I had already been to Zinc a few times before I learned that they had a basement bar. Of course, Zinc itself has a stellar menu and wine list, with fantastic service to boot—I recommend sharing some steamed mussels and a bottle of vino at the bar for a nice happy hour with a pal. But if you’re looking for a more low-key experience or are just there for drinks, Cellar Bar offers an ideal alternative. Once you step into Zinc, walk down the staircase to the right to find it.
Low ceilings and candlelight make Cellar Bar feel secretive and separate from the world. There’s a horseshoe bar in the middle with several small tables throughout and a lounge area in one corner where the occasional musician will play a set. The bar doesn’t often get crowded, and even when it is the volume stays at a pretty reasonable level. On a recent night out, I left one bar with a friend because it was too loud to hold a conversation—we wound up at the Cellar Bar instead. I’m very glad we did.
The drinks and food menu is something of an abbreviated version of the upstairs menu, with a few Cellar-specific specials thrown in. A shorter, more budget-friendly wine and beer list can be found here, as well as a few house cocktails from upstairs and a rotating special of classics like Mojito Mondays and Martinis and Crostinis Friday. One of the beautiful things about Cellar Bar is that there are specials every night of the week—and if you pay attention to what’s on special, you could have a great night out on a very reasonable tab. Roll in on a Wednesday for 20 percent off any bottle of wine and free cheese plate sampler, or on a Saturday for discounts on all New Mexico-made drinks and $2 bison sliders all night. They’re all pretty good reasons to make this place a regular. Also check out their “apertif hour” from 4:30 to 7pm on every day but Sunday, when you’ll find a list of appetizers and drinks for under $10.
The downstairs food menu also has some stand-out small plates throughout the week, like the comically large bowl of fries ($7) that comes with housemade garlic aioli and chipotle ketchup. You will definitely need a partner in crime to finish off these thick-cut, crispy bad boys. If you’re feeling classier than French fries, there’s the baked almond brie bruschetta ($9) which comes with a sweet and sour tapenade of cranberries, golden raisins and cherries on top, or the tapas sampler board ($10), which has a few slices of grilled rustic bread with garlic oil, Campo de Montalban cheese, shaved dry cured ham, paella croquettes and tomato sofrito sauce. They’re both ideal for a late night snack or as an appetizer with your apertif, and the tapas plate is perfect for sharing.
The wine list at Cellar Bar is a curated selection of the less expensive bottles that Zinc carries, but it’s still full of variety and even features a New Mexico wine—the Milagro Grüner Veltiner ($10/glass, $40/bottle), a fruity white wine that’s super refreshing on a summer day. They also offer 3-ounce “half glasses” and 375ml “half bottle” servings for half the price of the glasses and bottles of each wine, so you can try a couple different things without committing to the full price. I like the Nik Weis ‘Urban’ Riesling ($8.50/glass, $34/bottle) for a drier, crisper white than the above.
For cocktails I always gravitate toward whiskey-based things, and so found myself ordering the blood orange sour ($10), which is made with Taos Lightning Rye whiskey and San Pellegrino blood orange soda. It’s definitely a powerful drink: the punch of the rye and the sour of the lime juice makes the first sip a doozy, but after that it’s an entirely sippable drink. I also love the Kentucky apple mule ($8), which is made with Bulleit Bourbon (forever my favorite), apple cider, lemon juice, ginger beer and cranberry bitters. Obviously, it’s a drink made for the fall, and it pairs well with sitting by the fireplace. If you happen to come by during their apertif hour, order the chilcano ($6), one of the few drinks made with pisco (a high-proof liquor made from grapes) I’ve found in Albuquerque.
Respect the vibe of Cellar Bar when you pay a visit: It’s not rowdy or loud, and it’s not trying to be. The music and the lights are low, everyone is there to relax. It’s a cozy and secluded little respite from the world below ground, and you know what? You deserve that respite.
3009 Central Ave NE
Hours: Brunch: Sun: 11am-2:30pm Dinner: Sun: 5pm-9pm Mon-Thurs: 5pm-9:30pm Fri-Sat: 5pm-11pm Cellar Bar: Tues-Sat: 4:30pm-12am Mon: 4:30pm-11pm (kitchen until 10pm)