I’m a sucker for Southwestern cuisine. But ever since Bobby Flay and his squirt bottles got stale, the Southwestern scene in this town has been mostly handed off to Chipotle. Now, native Arizonans Seth and Naomi Ellis, along with Alison Cunningham, are resurrecting modern desert food and drink in South Slope, in an experiment we’ll call “Progressive Post-Flay Southwestern.”
Ellis Bar occupies a former clothing store on an unboutiqued stretch of Fifth Avenue. Primed with dusty, cactus-laden preconceptions, I was surprised by the loungy bar-front: full-length windows and a sleek steel frame don’t exactly foreshadow the bar’s penchant for cheap beer and rattlesnake meat. Inside, things feel more organic, with hardwood floors, wooden furniture and bookshelves lined with a random collection of old hardbacks. Still, the roomy space — complete with a back patio, a pool table and two dart boards — feels extremely new. It could use a few tumbleweeds blowing by.
Ellis Bar is just that: a bar. But until the drink selection expands in the coming months, it’s best to focus on the food. Aside from a few salads, soups and a hearty, meaty chili, the menu is rooted in nouveau Western tapas, some of which are from Chef Seth’s collection of family recipes. There’s the creamy-meets-spicy Goat Cheese Red Pepper Jelly Bruschetta, Navajo Fry Bread Pizza with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto and the slithering highlight: citrus-marinated Rattlesnake Skewers. For the hungrier bargoer, all the dishes can be made entrée size for an extra $3, and by the time you read this, E.B. will be offering brunch on the weekends.
Ellis Bar’s beer selection needs work: six draughts (Magic Hat, Sierra Nevada, Heineken...) run $4-$5 while the predictable-but-welcome PBR goes for $3. What they lack in lager is made up for by the outstanding specialty cocktails ($10-$11): the frigid Tequila Passion (Cuervo and fresh passion fruit in a chilled martini glass) and the Burnt Lemon and Vanilla Patron Martini (Patron Silver infused with vanilla beans and grilled lemons). The bar serves no well drinks — cocktails start at $7 — and plans on doubling the taps and expanding the tequila selection to go with the theme.
Since opening in July, the new addition has already caught on big with local drinkers, thanks in part to near-nightly events: Bluegrass and free bourbon on Mondays, Pub Quiz on Tuesdays, and Karaoke on Wednesdays. And while the place feels slightly antiseptic, the food’s good, the staff friendly and they smartly avoid the faux-Southwestern gimmickry. The biggest relief of all: on my two visits, their rock-heavy jukebox didn’t once pump the Eagles. In the words of The Dude: “I hate the fucking Eagles, man.”