A Scottsdale restaurant has transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Here’s how to see it

A Scottsdale restaurant has transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Here’s how to see it

On a recent visit to Scottsdale’s hometown holiday bar, a Christmas present fell from a nearby display, sprinkling a little red glitter on my tacos. While somewhat startling, it added to the silliness and playful atmosphere of the restaurant, where every inch of the ceiling is covered with hanging ornaments, each of the walls are wrapped in lights and servers dashed back and forth in Santa hats.

For the holiday season, Salt and Lime Modern Mexican Grill on Shea Boulevard has transformed into the Feliz Navidad Cantina, a holiday wonderland where a giant sleigh welcomes people out front and even the bathrooms are decorated. 

For owner and general manager Sandra E. Van Deraa, the concept has been years in the making, and the restaurant is now celebrating the pop-up’s second anniversary.

“I saw my first Christmas pop-up bar in 2018 in Chicago and I thought it was gorgeous,” she said. “So with 2020 being the year that it was, I pulled the trigger then.”

This year, she says she’s doubled the amount of lights and quadrupled the amount of decorations to help the cantina reach its full potential for holiday overload. 

An Arizona-style Miracle Bar

Holiday pop-ups from a company called Miracle Bar have taken the country by storm. Started in New York City, Miracle Bars transform regular bars into holiday pop-ups each December. In Phoenix, there is a Miracle Bar downtown at the Floor 13 Rooftop Bar and a tiki version called Sippin’ Santa located at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.

Rather than make another Miracle Bar, Van Deraa decided she wanted to do it herself. She ordered decorations and started putting them up. This year, she hung her first lights on Oct. 24, and she and her staff spent the next six days straight decorating the bar starting at 5 a.m. each morning. 

The final touches were added after Thanksgiving, but Van Deraa says she can’t help but want to add more.

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“I could keep going if you let me,” she says, laughing.

It’s hard to imagine where she would find space to put up any more decorations between the red and green table covers and tinsel-strung rafters. Little sparkly trees dot every available windowsill and surface and twinkle lights flash in different patterns around the walls. 

What to expect on a visit to Feliz Navidad Cantina

To enter the bar, customers walk through a covered archway of white icicle lights decorated with red ornaments. For Van Deraa, the archway and the sleigh are her favorite pieces. 

“It’s so good for photos. You see people walking in with their cameras,” she says. “It’s just such a happy place.”

The winter wonderland is still a fully functioning Mexican restaurant and bar, so chips and salsa are served at each table and the menu features a selection of tacos, burritos and plates. Van Deraa introduced some holiday-specific items to the menu, including tacos made on red tortillas, enchiladas covered in both red and green sauce and jalapeno poppers with a festive garnish. Pumpkin-flavored churros have been added to the dessert options.

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The drinks menu offers classic margaritas and cocktails with Mexican flavors, such as jalapeno and mango, along with holiday drinks like the White Christmas Martini made with white chocolate and a peppermint rim, a green Grinch margarita and a red poinsettia martini. 

Spread the cheer this season

The decorations make this little, 26-table restaurant seem larger than life, and as the festive bar continues to gain popularity, the waiting list times are getting longer, said Van Deraa. She recommends calling ahead. 

Reservations are taken for groups of eight or more and smaller groups can call to add their names to the list.

Taking pictures in the sleigh and admiring the archway make wait times fly.

“It’s been amazing, it just puts people in a good mood, even after waiting,” Van Deraa said. “If you build it they will come.”

Van Deraa hopes to continue spreading the holiday cheer through a partnership with the MAAG Toy Foundation. Customers who bring toys for children in need will receive 15% off their check.

The Christmas display will remain up until the end of January.

Details: 9397 E. Shea Blvd., Ste. 115, Scottsdale. 480-661-5463, saltandlimeaz.com.

Reach the reporter at tirion.morris@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tirionmorris, on Facebook at Tirion Rose and on Instagram at tirionrose. 

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