It’s a cold wet day in Quay County, reminding me of a similar Sunday afternoon we recently spent at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable). I’ve been going to Madrid since back in the 80’s, and I can’t say that much has changed other than the dollar bills that were taped to the Mine Shaft ceiling are gone and the entrance has moved around to the north side of the building.
Otherwise, the food is still fabulous (that blue cheese green chile buffalo burger – yummmmm) and you’re still drinking in the longest continuously run tavern in Santa Fe County. The atmosphere is Old West without being kitchy (built in 1947, after the original 1899 bar burnt down in 1945, and you’re in a village nestled in a friendly little valley in the hills between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, on the back road north of the Sandias and south of Corrales.
Gene Corbin was playing on this particular Sunday afternoon, which was an added treat. This is a guy with a real voice, singing his own tunes and covers from Green Day to Guy Clark. When he moves to our table and sings Moon River to Johanna, his deep baritone and perfect pitch make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. In addition to being a great musician, he’s got a great personality and presence, and we spend the relatively slow afternoon gathering a crowd at our table of Bruce, Sabrina and Cory, and Dave, Johanna and I. The former owners of the Mine Shaft come in and join us, and then a couple of guys who I think maybe haven’t been out of the valley in at least a decade.
This is New Mexico at it’s best – good food, strangers getting acquainted, great music, cold beer, amazing stories being passed around, and outside a light off-and-on rain. We take breaks and stand outside on the long porch, where Sabrina and Johanna fall in love with the three dogs sleeping there. Then we go back in and visit some more, Gene sings another song, someone gets up and dances in the aisle and then a young couple comes and asks Gene if their four year-old beauty of a daughter can get on stage with him.
Initially shy, this little girl eventually begins to bend and bow, and then she leaps and twirls as he plays, in a rhythm totally her own. She’s adorable, and she makes us all smile. We order another round and enjoy another hour of laughter and conversation while it sprinkles outside.
For those of you who have never been there, Madrid is the village where the last half of the movie “Wild Hogs” was set. While it’s not exactly as it appears in the movies (what is?), it’s close, and actually much more interesting than that portrayal.
If you go, Madrid is on the Turquoise Trail (North NM Hwy 14), 29 miles north of Tijeras (off I-40) and 28 miles south of Santa Fe. Madrid was once a thriving coal town with activity dating back to the 1850’s. The mines closed down in the 50’s, and it appeared that Madrid would become a ghost town. But in the 70’s, John Huber, the son of the last mine superintendent and owner of the entire town, started renting out a few of the mine shacks. And Madrid’s scrappy, artistic and funky history began again.
It’s a great place to spend the day. Besides the Mine Shaft, there are at least 25 galleries and boutiques selling everything from pottery to fine art. I’m just going to suggest that you choose a day slightly less wet than the afternoon we were there. We’ll be back this summer – we’ll just check the calendar at www.themineshafttavern.com to be sure Gene Corbin is playing!