This Bar is All About the Feeling
By Maria Manuela · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Left: Dapper Daq and Livin’ on a Pear cocktails. Right: Interior at Happy Accidents.
When I sit down in a comfy booth at Happy Accidents cocktail bar in Nob Hill with one of my best girlfriends, it’s early on a cold Friday evening at the start of the new year. We haven’t seen each other in a pandemic-long time. Falling into each other’s worlds through stories about good times and bad is made easier by the casual ambience surrounding us. The bar is vibrant and colorful, a standout in a world filled with pretentious spaces touting stark minimalism.
We hear the social white noise of others enjoying themselves: glasses tinkling together over cheers, the sweet cacophony of unfamiliar laughs. We sip fun drinks from cute glasses and catch a little rush of joy. Maybe for the first time in a while.
Happy Accidents gets its name from a saying by beloved painter Bob Ross, but nothing in the bar’s menu, decor, or practice is an accident. There are years of experience and loads of intention behind each detail in the nearly six-thousand-square-foot location.
The interior was completely overhauled by owners Kate Gerwin and Blaze Montana, a labor of love that took six months. To build their space, the two employed every ounce of their combined decades of experience consulting on bar projects around the country, and tending bar themselves. They did everything themselves, and I mean everything.
The duo covered the ceiling in scrap pieces of Astroturf to soundproof the notoriously noisy spot, taking inspiration from a K-pop studio Gerwin saw in Korea. They built booths, upholstered them in vivid fabrics, and repurposed mannequins to cover an entire wall dubbed “the boob wall.” The pair rebuilt the bar top with ergonomics in mind to accommodate the bartenders and patrons comfortably—both sides of the bar are unusually capacious—then covered its surface in sparkly hot pink, gold, and teal resin.
Gerwin and Montana accented the other walls with geometric wallpaper from London, painted all of the floors, built tables with breeze-blocks, and covered the tabletops in more epoxy. They installed hanging monkey lights that Gerwin found in Hong Kong and created fringe lampshades to dim the luminance on other bulbs, making the space comfortable for light-sensitive folks. These are just the aesthetic changes they made, in addition to all the bar equipment they installed.
Left: Prepping bubble of pear smoke. Middle: “The boob wall.” Right: Hanging monkey lights.
“We want people to come in and feel seen,” Gerwin says. “A lot of mixology bars do things because they want to be seen. But we don’t bartend for ourselves, we bartend for our guests.”
Happy Accidents operates as a distillery that creates its own spirits specifically for every cocktail on the menu, which boasts over sixty options. It’s divided into categories by spirit: rum, whiskey, or vodka. My friend and I end up ordering Espresso Martinis, and now that is all I want to drink. A dreamy mixture of Slow Burn’s cold brew, house-made espresso liqueur, vodka, and vanilla topped with fluffy nitro coconut cream, they’re lattes for the nighttime.
Gerwin and Montana want patrons to come to the bar ready to chat about what they like to drink. Happy Accidents bartenders are there to help you find something to fit your particular palate, knowing that everyone has a different definition of tasty. “The worst thing you can ask a bartender is ‘What is popular here?’ or ‘What do you like?’” Gerwin tells me while we both giggle. (This is definitely what I asked when I sat down at Happy Accidents.) “Flavor is a perception, and it’s so intangible unless I can ask you questions, like ‘What do you normally drink?’ We have been doing this long enough to know that everyone has a different perception of what good is, and that’s okay.”
Other highlights from the menu include highballs, effervescent sips made with your choice of spirit and some form of seltzer (like bubbly water, tonic, or house-made cola). Highballs can be infused with flavor combinations like rosemary and cucumber, pineapple and sage, berry and cassis, and orange and jalapeño; they’re all made with fresh ingredients and artisanal syrups. The Livin’ on a Pear drink—featuring
vodka, pear, manzanilla sherry, and lemon—comes topped with a bubble of pear smoke you pop before imbibing, adding some misty awe to the experience.
The ice in Happy Accidents drinks is a highlight too. Made in an ice machine that produces 2,300-pound blocks of sculpture-quality ice, it’s free from all the impurities and minerals that typically make their way into ice. When the big block is ready, Montana carves it into different shapes with a food-grade band saw. “Clear ice is far denser than freezer ice, so it lasts longer in the drinks,” he says. “Plus, it just looks badass.”
Inclusivity is the ethos at Happy Accidents. They offer an impressive list of nonalcoholic beverages alongside their craft cocktails. “Just as much care goes into the nonalcoholic drinks as the alcoholic beverages—in fact, sometimes even more,” Gerwin tells me. “We want people to feel that just because they’re not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean they don’t belong in our space. We want people who are recovering, we want people who are pregnant, we want designated drivers, and people who just don’t want to drink to feel welcome in our bar.”
The food matches the welcoming nature with unpretentious dishes like a Spinach and Artichoke Dip Grilled Cheese. It comes with a side of fries dusted in a creole seasoning that hook us so that my girlfriend and I have to pause our storytelling to eat them. We also sample the Butternut Squash Salad, which comes lightly dressed and topped with crunchy candied walnuts and tart goat cheese.
The glassware is a trove of vintage that Gerwin has personally collected over the last decade, which adds some authentic sentimentality to the overall ambience. “You see something in the bar and think, ‘Oh, my grandma had this glass.’ It’s that comfort feeling of nostalgia, feeling like you’re welcome, like you are home.”
3225 Central NE, Albuquerque, happyaccidents.info
Maria Manuela is a freelance writer who lives in Corrales with her three pups, Darla, Hamlet, and Pea. The former arts editor of UNUM Magazine, she writes regularly for New Mexico Magazine and is currently working on a book of magical realism folktales based on New Mexico history.