Review: Cellar House

In an unassuming strip mall off Telegraph Road in Oakville, Cellar House looks like it may have spent a previous life as a Mystic Tan or a Panda Express. Step inside, however, and it’s clear time has marched on. Owner Patrick Ahearn has created an unexpected feast for the eyes with modern, minimalist design. Surrounded by franchises, Cellar House is a cool nightlife haven deep in South County.

It’s Friday night, and sharp jazz tunes fill the space, occasionally interrupted by a rise of laughter or the sound of ice cascading in metal cocktail shakers. By 8 p.m., it’s pretty much standing room only. Unconcerned, young people hover at high-top tables waiting for an opening at the glossy bar. Behind them, groups of friends sit at a line of tables hugging a banquette against the long wall. It’s loud. It’s buzzing. It’s hard to score a drink, but it’s worth the wait.

enjoy cellar house's impressive bar with the classic millionaire. // photo by dustin bryson

Cellar House opened in May as an expansion of the Bottle Cellars Wine Shop next door. The new venture allows patrons to take advantage of the wine shop’s massive selection, popping corks for a nominal fee, and offers 20 by-the-glass options available in 3- and 6-ounce pours. While there are certainly opportunities to blow the bank, most bottles are well priced, hovering in the $30 range.

The real treats are found on the cocktail menu, with classic and house options packing a nice wallop for $9. The warm-weather Millionaire cocktail is worth lingering over, with Jamaican rum, sloe gin, Blume Marillen apricot eau-de-vie and a healthy dose of lime. Leo’s Lair, an unconventional house concoction, pairs Lion’s Tooth dandelion liquor with apricot and vanilla-infused Still 630 Rally Point Rye, topped with a squeeze of lemon and a hit of blueberry water. Potent, whiskey-forward and not overwhelmed by all the flowers and fruit, this on-the-rocks drink looks almost as good as it tastes. Less tasty was the Bringing Back the Dead cocktail, which also utilizes the local rye but mixes it with Cartron triple sec, Lillet Blanc and far too much lemon. Overall though, the mixology at Cellar House is rock solid and well-fortified in the whiskey department with a list of nearly 50 bourbons, ryes, scotches, and Irish and American whiskeys.

The beer selection is likewise impressive. Imperial stouts, Pilsners, Belgian tripels, IPAs – these guys have them all and more in big and small bottles and cans and about a half-dozen drafts.

'nduja flatbread pairs the spicy sausage with sweet pears, honey, pistachio and blue cheese. // photo by dustin bryson

The bar’s food menu proudly touts local purveyors of cheeses, meats and vegetables like Eat Here St. Louis, Rain Crow Ranch, Geisert Farms, Salume Beddu and Ludwig Farmstead Creamery. True to form as a wine bar, the menu is heavy on boards, but it also offers substantial plates – think sage gnocchi, seared scallops and bison sliders. The caramelized onion and bacon bruschetta was a real star. A savory-sweet starter served on thick, crusty bread, it was slathered with rich whipped blue cheese-ricotta and finished with a light drizzle of balsamic. Better still was the ’nduja flatbread. What it lacks in size (only six tiny slices), it makes up for in flavor: Spicy salami meets sweet nibbles of sliced pear with local organic honey, crunchy bits of pistachio and rich melted blue cheese crumbles. It eats like a meal and pairs well with a big bold glass of red wine.

Great bars offer a bit of escapism. Cellar House allows you to lose yourself with a small plate and a large glass in a gorgeous space. It’s proof that chic saloons aren’t the exclusive property of urban neighborhoods.