Santa Fe is a drinker’s town. At the more raucous watering holes, it often feels like John Wayne—or at least a living Hollywood actor playing him—might belly up to the bar and order a whiskey. And that’s not just a wild stretch of the imagination. There’s always at least one movie or TV series being filmed in town. Currently it’s the cowboy cop show, Longmire. And the stars who do live here, like Gene Hackman and Val Kilmer, blend in so well that you could take the bar stool next to them and strike up a conversation without ever knowing you’re chatting up an Oscar winner. But even in the absence of glitterati, Santa Fe bars deliver an interesting, eclectic scene, interesting people, and drinks that go heavy on tequila. But whether you’re in the mood for a top-shelf margarita or a Budweiser, there’s a bar in Santa Fe that will fit your mood.
The Palace Saloon
This institution on Palace Avenue has scarlet velvet walls, a deep walnut bar, and was once adorned with oil paintings of naked women. The paintings have disappeared, but the bordello-like atmosphere remains. Order a dirty martini.
Cowgirl Hall of Fame
Co-owner Barry Secular may be a New Yorker and baseball fanatic, but he and his staff have mastered northern New Mexican cowboy comfort food. Sit on the patio, order a Bunkhouse Brisket and a La Cumbre Hefeweizen, listen to the Railyard Reunion Blue Grass Band, and relax in the sun.
Descend down a dark staircase on a side street off the Plaza and you will have entered the anti-Santa Fe. Reminiscent of a college dive bar, the Matador has no Southwestern touches, no frou-frou fancy drinks, and takes no credit cards. Order a PBR and like it.
Second Street Brewery
There’s no hard liquor here, which makes for a kid-friendly atmosphere. And once you sample some of the nearly 50 beers on the menu you won’t mind the lack of spirits in the least. The original Second Street Brewery is where you’re likely to find most of the locals, but the new location, with a courtyard to watch the Railyard action, is the better bet on a hot summer day. The darker beer, the better, so I order a German Bock or the locally brewed Pecos Porter.
This fourth-generation nightclub started in 1950 as “Tiny’s Dine and Dance.” With its pleather booths, the Southwest’s largest decanter collection, and local art decorating the walls, Tiny’s is a local treasure not to be missed. Some locals have been dancing here since the day Tiny’s opened. For Karaoke, Jim Beam, and a guaranteed dance partner—especially if you’re a woman—stop by on Saturday night.