With balmy summer evenings and a populace that always seems to knock off work a little early, Santa Fe is a great place to savor happy hour.
For any time of the night, El Farol (808 Canyon Rd., 505/983-9912, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–midnight Sun.) is a perennial favorite. A bar since 1835, it’s the gallery owners’ clubhouse after quitting time. A very respectable Spanish restaurant (lots of tasty tapas) serves until 10 p.m., and exuberant dancing occasionally breaks out on the tiny dance floor.
A good winter haunt, the dimly lit Dragon Room Lounge (406 Old Santa Fe Tr., 505/983-7712, 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat., 5 p.m.–midnight Sun.) is where guys in cowboy hats chat with mountain bikers and dressed-up cocktail drinkers, especially during happy hour. Green-chile stew and other snacks are available till 9 p.m., and there’s live music Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
The vintage glam Staab House (330 E. Palace Ave., 505/986-0000, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), at La Posada de Santa Fe, has history of another kind. The 1882 Victorian home of the prominent Jewish merchant Abraham Staab, it still bears mezuzahs on the doorframes, along with the original ornate woodwork and gas chandelier fixtures. The elegant setting is perfect for a postprandial cognac.
¡Chispa! at El Mesón (213 Washington St., 505/983-6756, 5 p.m.–midnight Tues.–Sat.) has live music five nights a week, with a particularly devoted crew of regulars on Tuesday, for tango night. You can order traditional tapas, or bigger dishes from El Mesón’s excellent dinner menu at the bar, or just join in the dancing on the small wood floor.
The patio at The Cowgirl (319 S. Guadalupe St., 505/982-2565, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Sat., 8:30 a.m.–midnight Sun.) is packed 5–7 p.m. with neighbors swilling margaritas; pool tables in a side room (called the Corner Pocket) keep people around later.
Sunset is also a great time to hit The Ore House (50 Lincoln Ave., 505/983-8687, 2:30–11 p.m. daily), on the plaza, where the upstairs balcony bar serves more than 40 kinds of margaritas (happy hour is only 4–6 p.m., though—and you have to request fresh lime juice).
Over at La Fonda hotel, the outdoor Bell Tower Bar (100 E. San Francisco St., 505/982-5511, 4 p.m.–sunset Mon.–Thurs., 2 p.m.–sunset Fri.–Sun., Apr.–Oct.) provides a fine view from its fifth-floor patio, one of the highest spots in the center of town.
In wintertime, the regulars decamp to the lobby watering hole, La Fiesta Lounge (11 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Sat., noon–11:30 p.m. Sun. year-round), decorated with portraits of rodeo queens; live local country acts grace the small corner stage.
Several funkier venues round out the downtown bar scene: Evangelo’s (200 W. San Francisco St., 505/982-9014), one block off the plaza, usually has its big windows open, letting the band’s blues jam or country tunes spill out into the street. When there’s no band, the pool tables and a couple of hundred kinds of beer provide distraction.
Hidden in plain sight just off the plaza, The Matador (116 W. San Francisco St., no phone) is not on the normal tourist circuit. Those who descend the stairs (actually around the corner on Galisteo Street) to the basement-level dive are a good cross-section of Santa Fe’s younger artists, among other renowned drinkers. If there’s not a live band, there’s punk rock on the stereo to match the concert posters on the walls.
Down on Guadalupe Street, Willee’s (401 S. Guadalupe St., 505/982-0117, 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat.) is another eclectic spot, with hip-hop and Latin DJ nights early in the week and live blues bands on the weekends.
A bit cheesier but chummier is La Cantina (125 E. Palace Ave., 505/988-9232, www.lacasasena.com, seatings at 5:30 and 8 p.m.), next to La Casa Sena, where the boa-clad waitstaff belt out show tunes while they serve you drinks and light snacks. You have to make reservations at one of the seatings.
Finally, Silver Starlight (500 Rodeo Rd., 505/428-7777, 5–10 p.m. Tues.–Sat.), the bar at the RainbowVision gay retirement community, draws a great mix of locals and visitors, with occasional drag revues and high camp (and great cocktails) pretty much any time you go.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition