Review: Yaquis on Cherokee

Crunchy, flame-touched cheesy slices of pizza are washed down with tall glasses of luscious wines and superb, no-nonsense cocktails at Yaquis on Cherokee. Here are a few reasons why this saloon at the epicenter of Cherokee Street’s vibrant food and drink scene deserves your attention.

The Space In one of the city’s most eclectic and colorful entertainment districts, Yaquis is more warm and stylish than avant-garde. Bright exposed brick walls and dark wood floors help produce a welcoming vibe, while mismatched chairs hint that the joint isn’t cookie-cutter. A row of Edison bulbs caged in industrial whisks hangs above the long slab of a wooden bar that dominates the comfortable little watering hole. Adjacent to an oversized print of Josephine Baker, a massive chalkboard lists the wine offerings. Enormous bicycle wheel clocks set to St. Louis, New York and Paris times hang on the far wall, and black-and-white concert photos of artists like Jim James and Alabama Shakes look down on wood tables opposite the bar.

The Drinks Not having a set cocktail menu allows Yaquis’ bartenders to focus on classics in a made-to-order fashion. Service may not be the fastest (bartenders double as tableside waitstaff), but the results are ice-cold, dead-on and worth waiting for. Standbys like Old-Fashioneds and bloody marys are served up with satisfying layers of delicate flavor. Frosty pints of excellent local brews like 4 Hands Single Speed, Perennial Saison de Lis and Urban Chestnut STLIPA are available for $5 to $6, along with another dozen or so bottles and cans. But Yaquis’ most expansive selection is by-the-glass pours of vino at an approachable $7 to $11. The wine list is awash with California pinot noirs, French Burgundies, white Bordeauxs and Côtes du Rhônes, super Tuscans, rosés, ports and Rieslings. Unsure what to pair with a pizza? Servers are more than happy to let you sample a wine before ordering. Try the fruity, dark red, medium-bodied Steele Cabernet Franc from California.

A classic Old-Fashioned from the bar at Yaquis.

The Food The single-page evening menu is simple. Satisfying handmade, 14-inch, wood-fired pizzas are available with your choice of house-made sauces (a traditional red, an olive oil-based blanca or a mixture of both) along with toppings like house-smoked barbecue chicken, pine nuts, gourmet sausage and additional regular players. If you try the kitchen’s Margherita, sprinkled with fresh basil, customize by piling on more toppings, since the pizza by itself comes off a bit bland. The remainder of the menu is dominated by small plates. The well-rounded Yaqui Platter features a variety of cheeses, salami, olives, dried fruits and nuts. Like the menu, service is casual but sharp. Pizzas arrive just in time for your second drink.

The Scene In addition to being a pizza joint and wine bar, Yaquis also plays host to live music acts – mainly jazz and blues bands. When there isn’t live music, upbeat, jam band tunes rock out of speakers. Expect to hear Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers, Stealers Wheel, The Eagles and maybe the odd John Lennon song, depending on the bartender. During early evenings, Yaquis feels like a date spot. As the night goes on, welcoming laughter emanates from regulars and locals, who are happily greeted as they pass through the front door. By 9 p.m. on a Saturday, there isn’t a free stool at the bar – the place is packed with laid-back, casually dressed 20- to 50-somethings. While it may not be the hottest nightspot in town, Yaquis has a friendly glow, well tended by an enthusiastic crowd.

Yaquis on Cherokee2728 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.400.7712