As small as it is, downtown Albany has quite the collection of top-notch restaurants. Often underrated in that respect, it boasts spots such as Novak’s, Sybaris, and Sweet Red Bistro that draw consistent crowds from far and wide. But there is one Albany joint, The Cellar Cat—a restaurant, bar and music venue all rolled into one—that could easily be mistaken for an establishment in Seattle or San Francisco. From its immaculately presented food to its contemporary decor to the earnestness of its hosts, the Cellar Cat is well known after only a brief tenure.
Located in a historic brick storefront, The Cellar Cat’s physical dimensions are long and slender, yet generous enough to easily navigate on a busy night. The layout is sharp and cosmopolitan, with a classic bar flanking the downstairs wall and vaulted ceilings throughout. Natural light pours in from the windows at the front, while mood lighting from wall sconces dominate the periphery and rear. There is a small performance space wedged in the corner so live music greets you as you step through the front door. There is seating both downstairs and along a partial loft that extends to the rear of the building, offering both intimate and lively seating assignments. The exposed brick walls are adorned with high-end cat-themed artwork that is sophisticated yet playful.
While the atmosphere is wonderful, there are a few standout things that are unique about the Cellar Cat. First is that it is owned by three close friends—Holly, Greg and Jim—that previously shared restaurant ventures in California wine country, but recently decided to bring their concept to downtown Albany. Running a business with multiple head honchos seems complicated, but each owner seems to play their own part in making the Cellar Cat the mainstay that it has been for the better part of three years. Some of the success is due to having the combined experience in food, wine and restauranteuring, but most importantly, has come from truly enjoying what they do and ensuring patrons get a personable experience.
Holly Evans-White brings extensive experience having worked in wineries across the Napa and Sonoma Valley region, while also finding time to manage the business’s books. Holly and the boys found in Albany (where her mother and sister were long-time residents) a gem in the rough, right on the doorstep of the burgeoning Willamette Valley wineries and vineyards. Her partner, Greg Burtt, a native Southern Californian, is a utility man of sorts, managing the Cellar Cat’s operations—but most importantly, he is the guy that can get anything built, fixed, or maintained. Having worked his way up from the bottom in kitchens from dish washing and cooking to owning his own restaurants in Sonoma, Greg knows what it takes to keep a restaurant purring. Last but not least, Jim Evans-White, with his immediately recognizable persona—glasses, mustache, charming grin and penchant for Hawaiian shirts—is often seen perusing the floor and mingling with the crowd as general manager.
Besides being best buds, the trio share a love of food, but especially wine. All three have enough wine knowledge to run their own school for winos. In terms of wine selection, there are few places nearby in Albany or Corvallis that even come close to The Cellar Cat. Holly has assembled an extensive wine list featuring 250 labels from all over the globe, with 50 from the Pacific Northwest alone. Aside from wine, there are plenty of local brews and creative libations to pair with dinner as well.
The final and crucial component of The Cellar Cat is its role as a promoter of live and local music, to which they fill a particularly large void. From contemporary jazz to Celtic and folk music, musicians local, regional, and international play every Thursday and Sunday evening at the restaurant. For that reason, the restaurant is a popular place for date nights, birthdays, and other special events throughout the year.
Holly explains it is perfectly fine for patrons to come get a glass of wine and watch music if they don’t necessarily want to eat dinner there, as there is no cover charge. She says that 60 percent of her regular patrons drive from Corvallis. Holly and the boys are banking on Albany’s success and have no plans on leaving, so stop on by if you have a chance and see what all the cats are clamoring about.