“It is another beautiful day at the Red Pony Saloon and continual soiree.”
A NEW MEXICO ORIGINAL
To the legions of Longmire TV series fans, the line will be familiar. It was the greeting to every one of the bar’s phone calls by the proprietor, Henry Standing Bear, played by frequent Santa Fe visitor, Lou Diamond Phillips. The Red Pony itself was played by the Mine Shaft Tavern. If there was an Emmy for offbeat ambiance and local color, it could go to the Mine Shaft.
If you’re not yet in the know, the Mine Shaft is one of the main attractions — as well as the continual soiree — for the funky hamlet of Madrid. The town sits in the Ortiz Mountains, a short drive south of Santa Fe through the Cerrillos Hills. Just take winding Route 14, The Turquoise Trail.
During the recent Santa Fe Literary Festival, I had the great fortune to meet Craig Johnson, the author behind the Longmire mystery series, the inspiration for the TV series. Of course, I thought about the Mine Shaft, which has played other roles on television and in films. Wild Hogs was one of its biggest starring roles before Longmire. The interaction reminded me, as well, that I’d been to the Mine Shaft three times in the last few weeks. That’s more than I’ve been to fifty places closer to my home!
A BIT OF BACKGROUND ON MADRID
The Albuquerque & Cerrillos Coal Company established Madrid as a coal mining community at the end of the 19th century. For entertainment, the company built the workers a lighted baseball stadium, along with this tavern. The original burned down on Christmas Day in 1945, with the current Mine Shaft rising from the ashes the following year. Madrid became a ghost town when coal mining went belly up by the middle of the last century. In the late 1960s and ‘70s, artists and other creative types began moving into Madrid, bringing it back to life. It’s now a mix of artsy shops and galleries. There’s a soda fountain on the main drag, along with a restaurant called The Hollar.
THE MINE SHAFT — KING OF THE ROAD
The Mine Shaft has everything you need though, in the way of food, a full bar, and — much of the time — live music. The outward appearance could be called proudly ramshackle, a rambling wood structure hard by the highway. In front, you can almost always spot a lot of fancy hardware. Some of the gnarliest Harleys in the state, and other sweet rides, likely will be lining the façade.
If you enter to the right, you’ll find yourself in the historic tavern. It’s a great space in cooler weather, with a fireplace and a bar running the length of one wall. If you go left, you’ll end up in the cantina and its multiple outdoor terraces. As for food, I’m a fan of the Mad Chile Burger. It’s a green chile cheeseburger with a fried whole green chile topping a half-pound Prime Angus, Wagyu, local bison, or veggie patty. To make sure you get your chile fix, a second fried chile sits on the side. The impressive burger was declared People’s Choice at Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. The menu ranges through other good bar food — wings, pizza, nachos, barbecued beef sandwiches, and the less-expected fried artichoke hearts. I like the chile-and-cucumber-laced Mad Chile Margarita. I seem to have a theme going here!
Enjoy live music on multiple stages on weekends, and many other days, as well, during the busy season. The ambitious series is listed on the tavern’s website. It’s a fun stop and great people watching, though, any time.
The tavern now has a small inn. I haven’t seen the rooms, but they have all the expected conveniences, and the online reviews are quite positive. A brewery is in the works for later this year.
The Mine Shaft Tavern
2846 Highway 14
Story and photographs by Cheryl Alters Jamison.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.