A good bar menu is a tricky balancing act. It has to be quick, easy and representative of the concept of a restaurant as a whole. It also has to appeal to a drinking crowd that likes to eat on the move. I love going multiple places in one night for drinks, and the opportunity to try lots of little snacks only adds to the fun. However, all the bar fare tends to look the same in this town, so I tried to find places that stood apart from the usual sliders and nachos routine.
Tired of the same old watering holes? Here's what really stands out.
Chili Line Brewing Co.
204 N Guadalupe St., 982-8474
2-10 pm, daily, with food available 4-10 pm
This self-described "smallest brewery in New Mexico" tends to fly under the radar, which is a shame because its beers are much different than the usual fare. Head brewer Alexander Pertusini has been making beer for 11 years, but when he took a trip to Bamberg, Germany, the birthplace of smoked beers, he found his inspiration.
"It was something that no one else was doing, and these breweries had been making beer this way for thousands of years," Pertusini tells SFR. "Once people taste it, they can tell we have the most well-
balanced smoked beers, made in that Bamberg style."
This style of beer incorporates malts that have been dried over a wood fire, imparting earthy aromas in the process, and Pertusini still sources his malts from Bamberg. Chili Line boasts nine flagship smoked beers, all $5 a pint. Try the Gotlandsdricka, a traditional smoked German beer flavored with juniper berries, which gives it an almost gin-like edge.
Located right next to Pertusini's father Lino's joint, Pizzeria and Trattoria da Lino, you can get thin-crust pizzas brought over to the brewery ($10 to $15), and the in-house menu also features an impressive pretzel for $8 and wings for $7. Still, there's something especially satisfying about the piping-hot pizza paired with the woodsy flavors of the smoked libations.
Desert Dogs Brewery and Cidery Taproom
Plaza Mercado, 112 W San Francisco St., Ste. 307, 983-0134
3-10 pm daily
Despite the downtown location, Desert Dogs feels almost like a speakeasy in terms of how difficult it is to find. Up a narrow stairway off San Francisco street, the relatively new spot is the result of a creative collaboration between New Mexico Hard Cider's Craig Moya and Sam Boese of Boese Brothers Brewery in Albuquerque. I counted 21 taps last time I visited, and pours come in 5 ounces for $3, 9 ounces for $6 or $7, 16-ounce pints for the listed price and flights for $12. Most are Desert Dogs' own creations, but there are plenty of pours from Boese Brothers, including the delicious Double Dead Red. Taos Mesa Brewing and New Mexico Hard Cider also have a few offerings on tap.
The menu is simple but satisfying, with baskets of fries ranging from $3.50 to $7 and sandwiches, like a classic burger, a turkey or cheese steak and a veggie option with calabacitas and green chile from $7 to $10, taking up equal space alongside New Mexican staples (think Frito pie and chimichangas) for $6 each. Try the chimichanga with a pint of Desert Dogs' blackberry cider for an indulgent treat with a spicy kick. Santa Fe doesn't have much in the way of snacks under $10. Thankfully there's now this option, freeing up some cash for tasting multiple ciders in one sitting.
401 S Guadalupe St., 467-8624
Monday to Thursday 5-9 pm
Friday to Saturday 3 pm-midnight
Sunday 11-4 pm
Paloma features gorgeous décor, tasty food and drinks ranging from $5 beers to $18 cocktails. I tried the delightfully refreshing 1414 Marigold Margarita ($18), made with reposado tequila, elderflower liqueur and fresh lime. Balanced between tart and sweet, it was topped with a marigold petal and sugar rim. Then I followed with little bites of cauliflower sopecitos ($12).
Encouraged by the positive response, Paloma is soon unveiling an updated summer menu, with a new patio space and extended hours from 5 pm-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, starting with a kickoff party on Saturday May 5. The bar menu, which features single tacos and other small bites, is always available.
"People need to have a little something while they're drinking," owner Marja Claire Martin says. "The bar menu is a nice little bookend to our regular service and dining focus."
221 Shelby St., 983-8604
4-8:30 pm Mon-Sat
Sazón's bar is lovely, all Saltillo tiles and worn wood interiors lined with tantalizing bottles of tequila and mezcal. It also boasts a highly unique bar menu. For example, there are the Oaxaqueños (grasshopper tacos) for $16, and the Xuchimilco (a corn truffle) for $15. A couple Tuesdays ago there were six moles available as a bar snack, served with small, soft tortillas for dipping, and ranging in flavor from apricot to chocolate to beet. I followed these up with the antojitos sobre rocas for $17, which involves raw meat or fish cooked on the spot by a hot stone.
Bar manager Amanda Morris sums up the ethos of Sazón perfectly: "We're not New Mexican, per se. We're definitely old Mexico," she says. "We try to highlight the diversity of Mexico, of the moles, the mezcals and the tequilas." It's a welcome break from the endless parade of forgettable bar snacks in Santa Fe. More like this, please.