Dining with Spirits

Lynn Cline - October 16, 2018

Explore Santa Fe's spooky side

If you love a good ghost story, you've come to the right place. Santa Fe is filled with spirits rumored to roam the streets and historic buildings, including those housing some revered restaurants. From La Llorona, the weeping woman in white who eternally searches for her lost children, to the headless horseman who rides, sword in hand, along Alto Street to the river, the ghosts who haunt Santa Fe are legendary. If you haven't yet met any, here are a few haunts to to check out this Halloween season, when the veil between the worlds grows thin and our interest in these spectral spirits peaks.

Dine at The Inn and Spa at Loretto's Luminaria and you may come across a smoking nun. That would be Sister George, who belonged to the Order Of The Sisters Of Loretto and taught at the Loretto Academy, a Catholic girls’ school that occupied what is now the hotel. She died in 1976 and her ghost apparently haunts the premises, leaving a lingering odor of cigar smoke in the hotel hallways.

If you do come across Sister George, you might want to visit the hotel lounge where you can order a bracing cocktail that's named in her honor. The Smoking Nun—made with Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, muddled orange, brandied cherry, Hennessy VSOP, Grand Marnier, Regans Orange Bitters and lightly infused smoke—should calm your nerves before you head to dinner.

At Luminaria, the signature tortilla soup will give comfort, studded with grilled chicken and corn and served with avocado and cilantro. Or, start with chicken-fried seasonal forest mushrooms with Parmesan and a house buttermilk dip because chicken-fried anything is good for the soul. For sustenance, try the herb-crusted lamb T-bone with charred eggplant, cherry tomatoes and fregula sarda, or honey glazed duck with lavender, potatoes, glazed baby carrots, grilled peach, Calvados demi-glace and seared foie gras.

For more thrills and chills, visit the boutique Drury Plaza Hotel, housed in what was St. Vincent's Hospital, built in 1853. After a young boy died in Room 311 following a car accident, nurses said they could hear his cries, so the room was sealed off. Other ghostly activity includes the sound of someone running down a hallway, voices in the basement, loud banging noises and the eerie sense of being touched by unseen hands. Some locals say that this phenomenon is connected to Native American spirits involved in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when a church on the site was destroyed.

Perhaps you, too, will experience some of the unexplained phenomenon that's been reported in this historic building when you dine at the acclaimed Eloisa, where the food is just as legendary as the spirits. (The hospital's morgue is now the restaurant's private dining room, so reserve that for dinner...if you dare.) Start with the famous Pastrami Taco, filled with spicy smoked beef, pickled chile, sauerkraut and ballpark mustard. Then try the Drift Plains beef tenderloin with black truffle gnocchi, calabacitas and mushroom demi. You could end with the Banana Split for Two. Made with biscochitos, piñon nuts, passion fruit crème, house made ice cream and sorbet, this concoction is so enticing it just may tempt an otherworldly entity to join you.

Right down the street sits La Fonda on the Plaza, occupying the oldest hotel corner in the country. Nearly a dozen ghosts have checked in across the centuries, including a politician who killed a man for having an affair with his wife while they all were staying at the hotel. He was promptly hanged from a tree in the courtyard and haunts the hotel to this day. A St. Louis salesman who gambled and drank away his money at La Fonda flung himself down the outside well and drowned. The well was covered over with bricks and the La Plazuela restaurant built around it, but today, dining at La Plazuela, you may see his ghost walking towards the fountain then disappearing into the floor.

Or, keep a look out for the ghosts of a bride and groom who honeymooned at La Fonda during the 1930s. The groom got into a fight and was shot by the barkeep. The bride, wearing her nightgown, has been seen hovering above the ghost of her husband before disappearing into thin air.

All of this paranormal activity will activate your hunger, so take a seat in La Plazuela and dig into Enchiladas del Norte, with shredded beef, chicken or cheese, topped with Christmas. The char-grilled Barrel Cut 1855 Ribeye will also do you good, with smoky jalapeño béarnaise, warm fingerling potato salad and fresh seasonal vegetable. Or go for the pan-seared pork tenderloin medallions with grilled sweet corn-black bean salad, BBQ chipotle vinaigrette and sauteed spinach. Be sure to keep an eye on that well!

Out in the historic mining town of Madrid, the entire place reportedly is haunted. La Llorona has been seen wandering the canyons and the ghost of a cowboy escorts a Spanish lady down main street. Other entities that haunt the town have been seen at the historic Mine Shaft Tavern, where doors swing open and shut, glasses mysteriously fly across the bar then break on the floor, and the sounds of partying continue long after the place closes down. Patrons have reported seeing someone else's face looking back at them from the mirrors in the restrooms, and a former waitress there said she was regularly greeted by a spirit who would stroke her check and if she didn't reply with a “Good morning,” it would push her or take coffee cups out of her hands.

The Mine Shaft Tavern is equally popular among the living, who gather here for live music, melodrama performances and great roadhouse fare, including the Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown People's Choice winner, the MadChile Burger, made with roasted Hatch Green Chile and a battered and fried Hatch Chile along with aged cheddar and chipotle Dijonnaise on a brioche bun. Or try the BBQ pork or brisket sandwich, enchilada plate and mac'n'cheese. For dessert, the chocolate toffee Kahlua mousse cake will hit the spot. Keep alert in case some spirit tries to stroke your cheek or stare you down in the bathroom mirror.

For more information about haunted sites in Santa Fe and around the state, click here.