Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dining at the Mine Shaft

One doesn’t necessarily go to the Mine Shaft Tavern for the food.

Rather, it is to absorb the totality of the experience – or how that experience plays out in your imagination. Construction began in 1944, and the tavern opened in 1946. This was the last company-town building constructed in Madrid (on Route 14 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe), and it still has the original forty-foot long bar and most of the original furniture. In fact, the bar is the longest “stand up” bar in the state of New Mexico.

The wall behind the bar is mirrored and above the mirrors are a series of murals, painted by Ross J. Ward, depicting Madrid’s history. The angel in the mural on the left (in the photo) is holding a banner that reads in Latin “It is better to drink than work.” Also, tacked on the wall are hundreds of signed dollar bills. These honor the Wild West tradition of leaving a signed dollar so that the bill’s owner always knows, no matter how broke he is, he always has money for one drink.

The Mine Shaft Tavern features regular entertainment and the mural behind the stage proudly proclaims “The Cultural Gem of the Mining District.”

The tavern features a number of beers on tap, but I did find it amusing that listed with such manly brews as Santa Fe Pale Ale, Santa Fe Porter, Santa Fe Nut Brown Ale, Tractor Red Ale, and Tractor Oatmeal Stout were Stella Artois Lager and Widmer Hefeweisen. My mind can’t wrap itself around the idea of a miner staggering out of the dark tunnel, face covered with dirt bellying up to the bar and saying: “Barkeep, bring me a Hefeweisen. And, can I have a slice of lemon with that?”

As I said earlier, you really don’t come here for the food. But there we were, so there we ate. Chuck had a cup of the soup of the day – Clam Chowder – and the fish and chips with slaw. I had the chipotle marinated chicken breast sandwich which was topped with roasted red peppers, grilled onions, and pepper jack cheese. I swapped the fries for a cup of the chowder.

Now I have a general rule. Unless you are within 100 miles of an ocean, gulf, or major bay, don’t order seafood. The chowder proved the wisdom of my rule. While loaded with small clams, the broth was more reminiscent of cream of celery soup than clam chowder. I don’t think they have heard of clam juice. Chuck’s beer battered cod, on the other hand, proved that no rule is absolute. Sweet, moist, and flaky with a grease free coating, the fish may have been the best facet of either meal. Unfortunately, the hand cut fries were limp – this seems to be a chronic fault with hand cut fries.

My sandwich was good but not exceptional. Served on a white fluffy Kaiser roll, the chicken breast had been pounded to a uniform thickness for more even grilling and extended outside the edge of the roll a good half inch around. It was moist and had good grill flavor but was light on the chipotle taste. The spice came from the pepper jack cheese.

While I would give the Mine Shaft Tavern 5.0 Addies for atmosphere, the food only rates 3.0 Addies.

We tried to imagine what the town must look like in the summer when the number of visitors must be overwhelming. We wondered how this scene would compare to the mobs that invade another "art colony"--New Hope, PA--every weekend during the summer.

As we arrive at our truck, we took one last look into the hillside surrounding the town. We knew our visit to funky, fun Madrid would not soon be forgotten.

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