(Story by Melyssa Holik; photos by Liz Lopez)
After an exhilarating day on the slopes, one of life’s sweetest pleasures is to relax with friends over a few adult beverages back at the lodge, ensconced by the warm glow of a fire. Unfortunately, Ski Santa Fe doesn’t have a lodge, exactly, and while the on-hill Totemoff’s Bar is lively and fun, it closes at 4 p.m. What’s a winter sports enthusiast to do?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here, we’ve rounded up the best apres-ski spots in Santa Fe, where you can defrost your body and restore your soul. From a funky 1930s inn, to a deeply authentic mezcaleria, to a hyper-local distillery, these locations are ideal for chilling out and warming up.
The place: Secreto Lounge
Behind the bar: Evan Schultz, Bar Manager
Secreto Lounge at Hotel St. Francis made a name for itself as the leader in garden-to-glass craft cocktails back when the movement was just gaining momentum in Santa Fe almost a decade ago. Today, the bar still specializes in classically inspired cocktails crafted with fresh local and seasonal ingredients, and Bar Manager Evan Schultz has picked up where Chris Milligan left off, while bringing a revitalized spirit of playfulness to the Secreto seasonal menu.
There’s no doubt Evan is up to the task—after all, reinvention is what he does best. He’s managed cocktail programs at Pranzo Italian Grill, Agave Lounge at Eldorado Hotel & Spa, Cowgirl BBQ and most recently opened the bar at Meow Wolf. Over the course of his career, he’s created more than 100 cocktail lists in total, and he really likes to innovate cocktails and invent new flavor combinations.
Evan started bartending in Richmond, VA, first at a Cuban bar called Havana 59 and then a Brazilian restaurant called Dora’s. He spent many of those early years creating labor-intensive muddled cocktails (think Caipirinhas and mojitos), which left a lasting impact on his meticulous bartending style. He’s not afraid of putting in the extra work to create something extraordinary.
“This style of bartending is not for everyone,” he says. “There’s a lot of extra prep, a lot of craft that goes into our cocktails.” Some of it, Evan admits, may seem fussy—even unnecessary—but he explains every choice the bar staff makes is considered. Creating drink components themselves gives them the ability to tweak flavors more precisely. A perfect example is the house-made marmalade they use for Old Fashioneds. “We wanted more Santa Fe flavor, and it just wasn’t available in the marmalade you buy. We wanted more sage, more lavender—those flavors of the Southwest. If you’re really specific about what you’re looking for, you’ve just gotta make it yourself.”
Evan’s an avid snowboarder so he has a very clear idea of what makes Secreto an ideal après-slope bar. “Our current seasonal cocktail menu is fall and winter friendly without being aggressively fall. For example, for our Palabra Dorado, we use turmeric and sumac which are warm, comforting flavors, while still being new and interesting.”
Secreto has a ski lodge feel, too, with dark wood furniture lit by candlelight, small-scale spaces and a quiet atmosphere that won’t test your tired body’s nerves. It currently has myraid whiskey-centric drinks on the menu, and many—like the Alpen Valor—are based on traditional mountain drinks that are meant to be warming. The result is a serene locale that’s relaxing yet invigorating.
Featured Drink: Palabra Dorada
A take on a classic Last Word, the Palabra Dorada starts with high-quality gin, which Secreto infuses with turmeric and sumac for warm fall flavor. True to the classic version, chartreuse and maraschino liqueur provide complex herbal flavor along with the gin. For a seasonal and local twist, the Secreto version is finished with a sprig of rosemary and rosemary olive oil from a local specialty shop, to add a fun, unusual texture and mouthfeel — and the finishing touches look pretty cool, too! Watch Bartender Evan craft this sought-after, après-slope cocktail!
Secreto Lounge is located at 210 Don Gaspar Ave. in Santa Fe, 505.983.5700, hotelstfrancis.com/secreto-lounge.
The place: Tonic
Behind the bar: Winston Greene, Owner/Principal Bartender
Tonic stands out in Santa Fe as one of the latest of the late-night spots in town. The entire bar is a single room styled with 1920s and jazz-inspired decor, where punctiliously prepared cocktails transport visitors to earlier days.
Tonic’s name was also carefully chosen for its layers of meaning. Most obviously, it’s a reference to Tonic’s live music and jazz-inspired decor. Tonic’s owner Winston Greene explains, provide the melody and framework for a song. But Tonic also refers to medicinal drinks designed to make you feel better (think Gin and Tonic), and to the French word tonique that describes a small restorative dish intended to improve your health. With that in mind, Winston carefully selected each element, from the color of the walls to the chairs, the music, the level of service and each and every ingredient that goes into a glass. “We wanted everything in the room to have a tonic effect,” he explains. “Bartenders have a special power. No one walks in here with something small.” Whether it’s a celebration, shaking off a difficult day, or replenishing yourself after a day on the slopes, Winston recognizes the importance of each person’s experience. “As bartenders,” he says, “we get to be at this intersection where people can have a better experience moving forward by how we treat them and what we put in their glass. What we do gets to be a tonic.”
Before opening Tonic in 2017, Winston lived in Santa Fe on and off since he was 12. His first bar gig was as a barback at Milagro, where he realized the work suited him. By the age of 23, he was a manager at Rouge Cat, where he learned not only how to make a drink, but also the subtle arts all bartenders must master: how to deal with different personalities, diffuse conflict and avoid overserving. He learned how to create a great experience for each person who walked in the door.
Next, Winston was invited to Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe to build a cocktail program from scratch. Though he doubled sales in the first year and built the atmosphere that endures today, wanderlust won out and Winston left the Southwest once again. After a two-year stint honing his craft with outstanding bartenders all over New England, he returned to Santa Fe as food and beverage manager for Eloisa and Bar Alto at the Dury Plaza Hotel. In 2017, he struck out on his own and opened Tonic. Today, he applies the same logic and thoughtfulness to spaces and rooms as he does to cocktails. Every aspect of light, the colors of the upholstery, it all becomes the “cocktail” of the room.
Early in the evening, the overall effect is almost soporific. As the hours get late, though, this place gets pretty hopping, especially on the three nights a week they feature live music. Best of all, they never charge a cover. “People should feel free to come in and enjoy the music. It’s another level of comfort people can come in and enjoy something like that,” Winston says.
What makes Tonic ideal for après-slope? As Winston puts it, “If you spend all day on a white, bright hill, exerting yourself, it’s nice to come somewhere that’s naturally calming. We have calm service, a demure color scheme, the music is soft, you can come in and relax.” But Tonic has more to offer than just great atmosphere. “Your palate is heightened when you exert yourself,” Winston says. “Our cocktails are filled with layers of complexity so you get to come in in this heightened state and taste something magic.”
It’s clear Winston takes pride in bartending.“Cocktails are an American invention,” he says. “So as bartenders, we’re stewards of a whole cultural identity.” With that in mind, he’s developed a program that honors cocktail history while riffing on it in new and unusual ways. The drink menu is rooted in the classics, but influenced by local flavors and Winston’s particular attention to detail. “Every ingredient we use, we think, ‘How can we get a better version of this? Can we make it in-house? Can we get a local version?’ And we do that for every single drink,” he says. “We try to make every ingredient count.”
Featured Drink: Bliss Behind Your Eyes
Tonic’s Bliss Behind Your Eyes starts with sotol, a liquor made from an agave varietal foraged in Mesoamerica that Tonic infuses with damiana, dandelion and local wormwood to impart regional flavor into the spirits. They add a homemade cinnamon syrup made with ceylon true (rather than the more mainstream cassia bark) and hopped grapefruit bitters to create a potable tonic that clears your head and lifts your soul. The dandelion has an analgesic effect, and the damiana lowers blood pressure, and of course, the alcohol gets you a little tipsy. It’s soothing, it’s delicious and it’s truly one of a kind.
Tonic is located at 103 E. Water St. in Santa Fe, tonicsantafe.com.
The place: The Bar at Sazón
Behind the bar: Amanda Morris, Bar Manager
Sazón is best known as a restaurant, renowned for its mole and sophisticated take on Mexican cuisine. Owner and Chef Fernando Olea is originally from Mexico City, and he showcases Mexico’s Indigenous and culinary traditions with modern, unexpected updates. Chef Fernando’s Mexican heritage shows in the authenticity of Sazón’s incredible collection of Mexican art, including a large mural by Federico Leon De La Vega and the faithful representation of new-world cuisine.
In a small room just inside the restaurant entrance, the bar at Sazón is the perfect place to unwind after coming down from the mountain. The rustic wood interior and cozy fireplace are immediately inviting, and the attentive, welcoming service immediately puts you at ease. The bar at Sazón opens at 4 p.m., right when the lifts close, and has a special menu that is definitely not your standard bar fare. There are plates of meat or fish cooked on a hot stone at your table, a savory corn truffle called huitlacoche, and for the adventurous, there are even grasshopper tacos!
In addition to the incredible food, Sazón identifies itself as a mezcaleria and tequileria, so they specialize in agave-based spirits like tequilas and mezcals. Bar Manager Amanda Morris says, “We offer a lot of things people haven’t tried before, that you can’t find everywhere.” But don’t be intimidated; Sazón offers flights so you can sample and learn, and as Amanda explains, “The staff is very knowledgeable about it and happy to explain the differences between the varieties and the histories behind them. We like taking you on the adventure.”
Beyond flights, they also have mezcal and tequila-based cocktails on the menu. “Mezcal can be intimidating, not everyone is ready to sit down and sip on it straight. So the more ways you can introduce it to people, the better.”
When considering why Sazón is great for après-slope she offers, “This place is real, old Santa Fe. The building is 200 years old, and it’s very atmospheric, which gives it a nice, warm ambiance. There’s a friendly vibe in here, and all types of people come in and just start talking to each other.”
Amanda knows what constitutes original Santa Fe vibes. She grew up here and has worked in the hospitality industry all her life. Amanda herself personifies Santa Fe’s laid-back charm, with her sincerely welcoming nature that makes visitors feel genuinely at home. “I’m a direct person, but still friendly,” she says, with the no-nonsense geniality of a seasoned industry pro. Over the years, Amanda has worked at La Casa Sena, Rio Chama Steakhouse and even as co-owner of Skylight. Throughout her career, she’s seen a wide variety of styles of drinks and different crowds, and has learned the trade thoroughly. “I love the interaction with people, and I love learning about wine and spirits. Both are really fascinating to me. Here at Sazón, we have a really eclectic wine list and an eclectic collection of spirits. There are two aspects to being a bartender: the hospitality aspect, and making drinks. The people you interact with are always the first priority. So I strive to always exceed people’s expectations, with service, with quality and knowledge of product.”
Amanda remembers to put people first, and it shows. Whether you stop in to the bar at Sazón for the interesting food, unusual spirits or impeccable service, you’re likely to find yourself thoroughly enchanted by the experience.
Featured Drink: El Caballero
“Mezcal is exploding in popularity right now, everyone seems to want to do a take on the classics with mezcal,” Amanda says. (Though Sazón’s mezcal cred is pretty high up there.) The Caballero is a take on the Old Fashioned, starts with an añejo mezcal base in place of the bourbon and a splash of vanilla infused syrup instead of plain sugar. Chipotle bitters stand in for the angostura, and the whole thing is muddled with Luxardo cherry and finally, garnished with an orange peel.
Sazón is located at 221 Shelby St. in Santa Fe, 505.983.8604, sazonsantafe.com.
The place: La Reina
Behind the bar: Annie Brothers, Bartender
A relative newcomer to the Santa Fe bar scene, La Reina opened in 2018 inside El Rey Court, an original Route 66 hotel that dates all the way back to 1936. Owners Jay and Alison Carroll have stayed true to the inn’s original roots, aiming to evoke the welcoming atmosphere and nostalgia for Route 66 Americana.
The menu at La Reina focuses on mezcal and tequila, which, as Bar Manager Jasper Jackson-Gleich says, “is suited to a New Mexico type of Americana; it feels like this place.” While some may think focusing on one type of spirit is limiting, Jasper sees it as a creative stimulus. “By imposing limits on our menu, and constricting yourself like that, you have to be more creative,” he says. Bartender Annie Brothers agrees, explaining that she loves working at La Reina because “it’s not just making gin and tonics or vodka shots all night. Everyone on the team is really into making these beautiful, creative drinks you can’t find anywhere else. I’ve really learned a lot here.
Indeed, La Reina does have a fantastic collection of agave and mezcal, and they’re used in compelling ways in a variety of winter drinks, all of which can be enjoyed as you cozy up to one of their two beautiful fireplaces.
Annie grew up in Santa Fe and has been working at La Reina since it first opened. She’s currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in social work, and her caring nature shows in her bartending style, too. “I approach it the same way—I listen to what people are looking for, and then find a way to meet that need. All our cocktails are all very different. It’s fun to match a drink with people’s tastes and find a way to introduce that palate to them.”
Because of La Reina’s location inside El Rey Court, the crowd ends up being a mix of Santa Feans and visitors to our city. Annie says, “It’s a cool meeting place between locals and tourists, and I get to watch these beautiful conversations that happen as a result. I like being able to facilitate that.”
There’s always something happening at La Reina. If you’re in the mood for music after your ski or snowboard excursion, they have live music every Wednesday and occasionally other nights of the week. They often host small sets for bands that are playing at larger venues like Meow Wolf. There’s a food truck on Thursday and Saturday, and Thursday is locals night when Santa Fe residents can enjoy a 10-percent discount.
On Saturday, they celebrate “La Reina of the Week.” For this honor, anyone can nominate any woman from the community who they want to celebrate. The selected La Reina of the Week is honored with a signature cocktail for the day, (usually a spin on one of her favorites) and is honored on Saturday at the bar. “La Reina is supportive and inclusive to women,” Annie says of the program. “We have all female bartenders, and that tends to be a male-dominated space. So it’s really cool that we’re able to use the bar to celebrate women everywhere. That’s my favorite night at the bar!”
Featured Drink: La Ultima Palabra
The Ultima Palabra is a mezcal riff on a classic Last Word. Instead of Chartreuse, it uses the lighter and milder Génépi to avoid overpowering the mezcal. The herbal quality of this Italian Alps liqueur is ideal for a winter drink and creates a beautiful celadon color. It’s a Last Word with a smoky mezcal kick.
La Reina is located inside El Rey Court at 1862 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe, elreycourt.com, 505.982.1931.
The place: Santa Fe Spirits
Behind the bar: Anna Barr, Bartender
Santa Fe Spirits is actually not a bar, it’s a tasting room for New Mexico’s preeminent artisanal distillery. Santa Fe Spirits serves only their own locally made spirits, which are created using local ingredients and flavors to capture the essence of the Southwest.
Bartender Anna Barr is a relative newcomer to bartending and to Santa Fe. Originally from Boston, Mass., she moved to The City Different only three years ago and started bartending at Santa Fe Spirits in April of 2018. She’s always loved to play with flavor and texture in cooking, and her curiosity has served her well as she learns the techniques for making a great drink. “I’ve always been fascinated with building something to consume, and using ingredients you may not expect,” she says, adding that she relies on her intuition. “I really have to listen to my gut, and have confidence in the recipes we have.”
While she hasn’t skied in years, Anna relates to the needs of skiers and snowboarders. She notes, “You want to fully unwind after exerting yourself in a sport like that. This is a place you can really do that.” The small tasting room is snug and intimate, and feels more like the front room of someone’s house than a bar. It’s easy to talk to the bartenders and learn about the distillery and their wares.”
In fact, their spirits are a way to continue your experience of Santa Fe, since they use locally harvested ingredients like cactus flower and osha root to create unique terroir in their beverages. “After skiing in the landscape,” Anna says, “you’re still participating in the landscape here, with the mesquite and botanicals we use in our gin or the local apples, there’s a beautiful relationship between the landscape and our spirits.”
The bartenders at Santa Fe Spirits are accommodating and friendly, and if you’re uncertain what to order, you can rely on their help to choose something that will suit you. In addition to classic cocktails, there’s an ever-changing menu of seasonal drinks. The staff is always busy creating something new, testing it and refining it. The whole team works together to develop new drinks and keep the menu fresh. “It’s fun to have this opportunity to spice things up,” Anna says. “Everyone here has similar goals—they want to make a great cocktail, everyone is committed to everyone having a good experience here. It is hard work to be cooperative, but all of us are really committed to that.”
Featured Drink: Spiced Toddy
Anna’s take on a traditional hot toddy is something she created on the spot for a customer, and it was an instant hit. She’s proud of the way it shows her growth as a bartender, and the work she’s put in to learn about complex flavor profiles and how to properly balance a drink. It starts with the expected lemon, ginger and whiskey, but Anna then adds three different types of bitters, fresh orange and nutmeg before topping it with hot water. What could be more quintessentially après-slope than that?
Santa Fe Spirits Downtown Tasting Room is located at 308 Read St. in Santa Fe, santafespirits.com, 505.780.5906.