Taos' newest liquor store has quickly become its most popular. The Cellar features a vast selection of craft beers, wines and spirits with a very well-versed staff to help in the decision-making. The Cellar is curated and owned by Angelica Robinson and her husband Lee Backer.
They were surprised to have been voted "Best Liquor Store" in this year's Best of Taos poll considering their first year anniversary was May 19. Lee Backer is the son of Cid's Food Market owner Cid Backer. Cid is their landlord. They lease the building from him, but this is their project.
Lee has been working at his father's successful market practically his whole life, having been store manager for 15 years. Angelica is an accountant by trade. She did a lot of work for restaurants; that's how she learned about liquor offerings and sales. Both are born and bred Taoseños. While Lee enjoyed working at the family business, he saw an unclaimed niche in town that created an itch he had to scratch.
"I felt like since Bravo closed in like 2009 that there was a real void in town that never got filled," he explained, "and so, kind of ever since then I was always like, 'we should do this.' "
"It's been a lot of work trying to get the liquor license and where are we going to put (the liquor store),” Angelica added. "Ideally, it needed to be around the vicinity of Cid's because of the one-stop shopping."
That was an important aspect in their planning for The Cellar. For many years, they tried to procure the property next door where A La Carte: World Street Food is currently located. That plan didn't come to fruition, but once they secured the property behind Cid’s, it took about two years to handle all of the paperwork and get the building erected.
“It's a labor of love," Angelica grinned. "Every employee here has something to offer that helps keep expanding our selection."
The goal all along was to offer selections that weren't found all over town. "Some of the stuff we have here can be found elsewhere in town, but a lot of it, especially on the wine side, you can't really get anywhere else in Taos. Let's do something different and offer products that you can't find in the grocery store or the gas station or other liquor stores," Lee added. At The Cellar, you won't find 30 packs of Budweiser or 40-ounce liquor bottles on the well-stocked, easy-to-navigate shelves and floor displays in the uncluttered space. Sometimes someone comes in looking for a more obscure liquor. If you can't find it at The Cellar, they can special order it so long as it's available in New Mexico.
More than half of the wine at The Cellar is organic or biodynamic. They have many beers that are non-GMO and a lot of spirits that are both organic and non-GMO.
Another goal is to facilitate with local restaurants and offer the same great wine at The Cellar that you had while dining out in Taos. Finding more quality products is an ongoing aim and challenge.
They admit they stop at Kokoman Fine Wines and Liquor in Santa Fe every chance they get and, "for the most part," Angelica said, The Cellar's prices are right in line.
And while The Cellar has a comparable selection to Kokoman, what it doesn't have in common are tall stacks of beer cases and lots of signage inside and all over windows. Angelica humorously admits it's her "OCD" that's showing in the clean, contemporary and minimal decor of The Cellar.
"I really wanted to change the culture around alcohol," she explained. "A liquor store doesn't have to be dark and dingy. It doesn't have to have case stacks everywhere. It can be really clean and bright and open and have a positive feel."
What makes changing the culture around alcohol exciting to them is that it opens up the mentality of drinking by encouraging the mindset of "let's enjoy this by trying something new and reach outside of our box."
In that vein, every Friday and Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m., The Cellar hosts a free "informal" beer and wine tasting.
623 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos (behind Cid's Food Market)