This post originally appeared on the Longmont Compass on August 25, 2014 and is solely for portfolio purposes.
Still Cellars: A Small and Mighty Set-Up
On the walls of bustling and busy coffee shops you will find framed pieces of a person’s soul. Draped over the metal sides of once-unsightly electrical boxes throughout town you will find a breathtaking scene, a mask of beauty over an object of utility. Speckled in front of local establishments, statues and sculptures stand guard. In the crosswalks of Old Town or stretching out onto the asphalt after a downtown festival you will find the handiwork of an impassioned and visionary individual with an idea they had to share with the world.
It is news to very few that Longmont is steeped in art. We have seemingly endless art in our public places, an exuberant community in the heart of our city sharing its art, and a burgeoning local music scene.
This entrenched and growing scene is part of what brought Sadye Rose W. and Jason R. Houston to Longmont after a long absence, and encouraged them to build a space to celebrate art in all of its forms. They are the founders and proprietors of Still Cellars, an arthouse and distillery. Surrounded by auto body shops, welders, and other manufacturers, from the outside Still Cellars appears to be yet another industrial space, with only a sign and a letter box to indicate their location. They don’t mind. As Houston stated when asked if they would prefer to be near roads more traveled or if they planned on making their presence more obvious, “…I think both of us love being that place that you can find if you are looking for us.” Nodding in agreement, Rose W. expressed her enjoyment of the surprise patrons feel the first time entering Still Cellars to find a homey and comfortable atmosphere.
A collection of handmade tables and chairs grace the dimly lit room. Lining the walls, or tacked and nailed to pieces of wood hanging from the ceiling by chain, you will find a changing troupe of paintings and photographs. These comprise the exhibits from local artists for whom Still Cellars has cultivated their space. “…beautifully, every one of our artists has come to us, and wanted to show their art. I think that the space attracts certain people, and certain people who don’t normally show art, and they feel so comfortable here, that it’s a living room atmosphere for them to feel comfortable bringing their art out.” explained Rose W. They have attracted many kinds of performers. Sharon Glassman, a local author, holds a monthly event at Still Cellars during which she reads chapters from her book, joined by musicians, actors, sometimes even a DJ to create a performance of her reading.
They have hosted poetry, spoken word performance, art journaling, a sound healer, local musicians, and recently an impromptu pottery show put on by a friend of the couple as she passed through. Once the space permits they plan to host movie nights.
They are always looking to expand the local awareness of Longmont’s art scene, and expose more people to art. Don’t be mistaken, however, the art you will find displayed at this watering hole will not be quite what you expect. Still Cellars is out to expand your horizons “We love the idea of making people feel a little bit uncomfortable, that’s kind of what we want,” explained Rose W.
Although Houston and Rose W. stressed that they have little desire in editorializing their exhibits, they have found some works to be too provocative. On one occasion they felt select pieces from one artist’s showing cultivated an energy that made them more uncomfortable than they wanted for themselves, and especially their patrons, despite the beauty of the pieces. They worked with the artist to curate the exhibit and feel better about some of the pieces providing more discomfort. They have yet to turn an artist away, describing themselves as “pretty damn open-minded”.
Their combination of arthouse and distillery is one that the couple believes works well to their advantage. They believe that many people will come for the drinks, and stay for the art, or vice versa, and that their product- fine, organic spirits- themselves will draw a crowd. The two sides of the business complement and build off of each other.
Jason R. Houston laughed when asked if drinking is a necessity to enjoy art before the emphatic proclamation “No! Absolutely Not! You don’t have to drink if you are here, you don’t have to be 21 to come here, we not only offer non-spiritous options of some of our cocktails,we are also happy to accommodate and get creative for any age or any occasion. The important thing is the community, and the celebration of art and artists.”
The community that Still Cellars has already built is a sure sign of their conviction to that ideal. They are devoted to the community, the art, and the artists.
The art Still Cellars houses is stunning, and is undoubtedly paralleled by their spirits. The five organic selections are unique, to say the least. The whiskey and the vodka, familiar to most people are a pleasantly shocking experience. The single-grain barley whiskey, described as being closer to “an old-style scotch” is an impressive revolution in American whiskey, and is far from what you might expect. The vodka is even more of a surprise. As Houston describes, they try to leave as much character from the barley and Colorado apples used in the production of their spirits. The product is a sweet, flavorful vodka that can be sipped as enjoyably as it can be mixed into a cocktail.
The final three spirits are difficult to define. They are spirits infused with fresh apple and spices. Declaring what these spirits are has turned out to be a bit of a challenge for Rose W. and Houston. “It’s not quite a calvados because we don’t age it in oak, it’s not an eau de vie because we infuse it with fresh fruit and herbs, it’s not a liqueur because we don’t add sugar, it’s close to a lot of things some people may have ventured to try.”
One of the spirits is infused solely with fresh apples, giving it a sweet fruitiness, the next two are further infused with ginger or cinnamon. These spirits are the adventurous side of Still Cellars’ distillation, a well-executed attempt to push the envelope as artists are prone to. “That line-up is our attempt to try to bridge the gap between luring people in with something familiar that they think they might know what to expect and also inviting people to try something they’ve never come close to trying before.”
A selection of house cocktails are available featuring each of the spirits. Sadye and Jason are also willing to create a drink from a patron’s specifications if the ingredients are on hand. The majority of the cocktails have no fewer than five ingredients, including Still Cellar’s house made aperitivo or digestivo bitters, fresh mint, coconut cream, even paprika makes it into some of the concoctions.
Many of their drinks can be made non-spiritous as well for those who are underage or wish to forego alcohol.
Still Cellars prefers to describe their drinks as spiritous or non-spiritous. Many of their drinks can be made non-spiritous (non-alocholic) as well for those who are underage or wish to forego alcohol. Houston explained this terminology was a means of “harkening back, bringing back that sort of ethereal energy, mysticism, a little more creativity, a little more magic, rather than just booze, or hooch…” He continued to explain that the spirits have their way, that they will take from us, and also give. Sampling their offerings, it was clear that their iterations of the old and their unique inventions have that mysticism. They supply a unique duality of gravity and lightness in each pull, and an explosion of flavor.
Still Cellars allows for both Houston and Rose W. to follow their inspirations and work with each other. Houston describes himself as always having been a facilitator for artists; With a history in directing and producing theatre, the switch to an arthouse was a simple one, “I feel like for me this is a very natural thing to show up, to help create a space to help people make things happen.” Rose W., an artist herself, described by Houston as having a tendency to be on the cutting edge of creativity, is grateful for Houston’s go-to-it approach, stating, “[it] is fantastic for me, because I would never have created anything on my own, I don’t have that certain level of motivation and ‘do-it’, so it’s actually a fantastic team thing.”
Why Longmont? The two quickly agreed that “Longmont is awesome” Rose W., who grew up here explained that she and Houston were both in a place where they wanted to find a community, and when they came to live in Colorado they decided if they were going to live here, they wanted to work here, too. Houston added, “Longmont is the right spot. It’s got a big enough art community, it’s got a big enough population of people who are looking for things to do in Longmont, and I think that there’s not enough going on in Longmont…Longmont is great.”