Luisa’s Cellar calls itself “a wine bar with a craft beer problem.” Turns out, this two-story establishment on lively Sanford Avenue has a coffee problem too. And a bit of a cocktail dilemma. Plus a books and records conundrum.
Owners Yellymary “Mary” Montalvo and Sascha Weyer will mark half a year in business just after Christmas. The husband and wife team has gone all-out for the past six months with a diverse array of beverage and food offerings and an ambitious events schedule.
There’s a little something for everyone here, so this attractive spot just might be the perfect place to satisfy the eclectic tastes of all the friends and family visiting you this holiday season.
Out of a Rut and into Sanford
Mary and Sascha made the move to Sanford after running Clermont’s Vineyards of the World wine bar for four years. When their landlord sold the building in 2016, they took it as a sign that it was time to shake things up.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Mary said. “We were just too comfortable, and moving seemed daunting. It was the right thing at the right time.”
Mary’s grandmother, Luisa Maria Pintor Pantojas, died just after their Clermont store closed, so they decided to name their new establishment in her honor.
A space for every mood
Luisa’s Cellar occupies a large historic building, but it feels more cozy than cavernous. The space is broken up into several distinct areas, each with its own atmosphere.
My husband and I recently spent a warm Sunday afternoon lounging on the comfortable patio. I sipped wine, he chugged coffee, and we both snacked on a cheese and charcuterie plate and some hummus.
Inside in the bar area, a guitarist was playing acoustic tunes next to shelves of retail wine bottles. In a smart marketing twist, Mary gives a discount on to-go bottles instead of charging corkage for bottles consumed on the premises.
Upstairs, Mary was preparing for one of her many events – a wine, cheese and tea tasting in collaboration with local tea shop The Rosie Lee Co.
Luisa’s Cellar averages more than two events a week. Many are wine-related, but there are also beer- and coffee-focused events, trivia nights, and celebrations like a recent “German Christmas Night,” in honor of Sascha’s German roots.
The second floor event space is also home to a collection of used books and vinyl records for sale. Mary tells me she’s just closed on a nearby building that will eventually house her main book and record shop, along with a listening room and a marketplace for local artisans. She hopes to open in February.
That will allow her to expand another popular second floor feature at Luisa’s – a speakeasy / dessert room. The password-protected space is outfitted with plush furniture and even has its own screened porch.
It’s open Friday and Saturday nights from 7pm-2am, serving sweets and vermouth-based cocktails. To gain admittance, knock three times and give the password, which you can only get after buying something downstairs.
Wine for many palates
Mary holds several wine qualifications, including a Level Two certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Her wine program at Luisa’s manages to walk the tightrope between approachable and predictable without falling off.
Twenty wines are available by the glass and many more by the bottle. The BTG selection changes regularly, and while nothing on the list will blow an oenophile’s mind, you’ll definitely find something to pique your interest. When I was there, the options included an albarino, a Loire sauvignon blanc, a primativo, and even a mencia.
If you don’t mind getting a little exercise – and let’s face it, most of us sit too much anyway – you’ll find even more interesting options in the two enomatic machines that live in their own little room at the end of the bar.
You can curate your own tasting by loading up a tasting card and dispensing a few ounces from the rotating selection of bottles. The day I was there, the machines hadn’t been cleaned yet, so I had to wait a few minutes. Once they were ready, I had fun sampling and settled on a glass of fun and funky red from Italy’s Moferrato region.
A solution to the mixed-crowd dilemma
It struck me that Luisa’s Cellar could be a great solution to a dilemma we serious oenophiles often face: Not everyone loves wine as much as we do!
Yes, as mystifying as it is, some of our friends and family don’t want to spend their evenings (or afternoons – no judgement!) geeking out on wine. So where do you go when you want to spend time with a mixed-beverage-preference crowd?
Too often, establishments that aren’t singular in their wine focus tend to have boring, predictable lists. You know what I mean: chardonnay, cabernet, and pinot noir from California, sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, watery pinot grigio, flabby riesling, maybe an Argentinian malbec or an Aussie shiraz.
Luisa’s, on the other hand, has plenty of options that are interesting enough to keep your palate happy, while also offering over 200 craft beers, specialty coffees, and cocktails on the weekend in a relaxed environment that’s conducive to convivial conversation.
Especially for your mixed-crowd holiday outings, what could be better?