I vividly remember the first time I visited the iconic Sister Bar in Downtown. I just turned 21 years old and was ready to hop into the nightlife of Albuquerque. I’m not one for pop music or EDM, music containing heavy riffs or screeching vocals tend to be the type of music I gravitate to. Each club I visited was OK, not bad, but definitely not a scene I could see myself revisiting.
When I approached the grungy, dark bar at Sister, I slowly headed in. The crowd was dressed in all-black clothing and wearing heavy amounts of eyeliner. I was trying to figure out what exactly was going on. Where in New Mexico would you find a scene like this? It was Goth Night. The theme was straight from the ’80s new wave scene, and it was absolutely glorious. Instantly, I was hooked.
Heavy rock music in the background, surrounded by retro pinball machines and an overall cool aesthetic was the vibe I wanted to constantly experience. For years I wanted to learn more about Sister, but I never had the opportunity to do so. Eventually, I got the chance to sit down and talk to the mastermind behind the unique establishment, Jesus Zamora, who started Sister back in 2013 when he was only co-partner.
“Around two years after we started, I took full ownership, and I kind of decided to make Sister an extension of myself, which allowed me to be as authentic as possible. Once I started trusting my gut and stopped second-guessing myself, I just rolled with it,” Zamora says. “This is my taste, these are my interests. I’ve always loved music, obsessed even, and I find it funny that I’m doing what I’m doing now, because it was never planned.”
Zamora thought he was going to be a teacher or anything other than a bar owner, but boy am I glad it panned out this way. His passion for music gave Sister the opportunity to book some of the indie-rock scene’s biggest bands. From Mac DeMarco to the Allah-Las, shows like these consistently sold out the venue, developing Sister Bar’s reputation as the one the city’s most invigorating indie spots. But with the pandemic slowing down the process for all Albuquerque venues to book shows, Zamora is letting the process transition at a measured pace.
“We are definitely easing back in. We don’t have any shows planned till August, and we just wanted to wait a little bit longer. Honestly, we just want to try and get everybody reacquainted with going back out and vibing. I wanted to make sure our staff felt comfortable and strong,” Zamora explains. “People come here to eat, drink and play pinball, so we’re pretty lucky as far as the venue goes. It’s a lot to manage because we do a bit of everything, but it’s helped us survive. We got a couple of big shows that we’re going to announce soon.”
Patient yet eager, Sister is pivoting to launching back to its full potential. However, without the live music, their food is always a reason to head over. We’re talking about some of the city’s best tacos and tots. One of my all-time faves is their kimchi cheddar tots ($7). Simple yet rich with flavor, it’s a bed of tater tots smothered in Sister’s house-made kimchi, cheese and sriracha crema. Of course, you’re going to want to order more. Plant-based tacos like their cauliflower taco ($3) with hot sauce and vegan ranch is mouth-watering, to say the least.
With a kitchen producing awesome food and a bar featuring an original collection of cocktail options, Sister has allowed their menus to guide them through the grueling lockdowns.
“Obviously this lasted a lot longer than we anticipated. And the planning with the PPP money, tangled with our government’s month-by-month approach, it still didn’t grasp the scope of the whole situation,” Zamora says. “So we just rolled with the punches, and fortunately our kitchen helped us open sooner than most bars—which limited us to serving only food for a majority of the pandemic. It was pretty rough. Part of it was me trying to maintain a presence, keeping things going, yet our experience in the last four months of 2020 was pretty poor. It was a scrap. We were hardly making any money, and if anything, we were offsetting how much debt we were going into. It was one of those games.”
Now they’ve got the bar back and people are coming in. Things are looking up, they’re paying off bills and breaking even this month. With a majority of Albuquerque eateries losing employees over this time, the bar has only lost three staff members, keeping their team intact. A rare feat during COVID.
“Some team members wanted a life change and others were offered other jobs, but I feel pretty fortunate to have such a solid crew. And I think that says a lot about our success,” Zamora explains.
The vibe at Sister is killer. It’s one of Albuquerque’s more unique spots, if not all of New Mexico. It’s one of those kinds of bars you have to visit at least once. Who doesn’t love a cocktail and playing a game of pinball? Or better yet enjoying a nice cold beer on their patio with people watching the Downtown crowd? It’s a good time with great music and tasty eats, something you don’t want to stray away from.
“Humans, we’re complex but we all have these similarities and differences,” Zamora laughs. “ I’m just trying to build my dream bar, And honestly, I think it’s working.”
407 Central Ave. NW
Phone: (505) 242-4900