Best Santa Fe Nightlife: Music, Dancing and Signature Cocktails
By Billie Frank
Santa Fe Local Expert
At night, Santa Fe is a city of lights especially during Christmas season when farolitos, once sand-filled paper bags with candles, now made from plastic and electrified, sit atop adobe walls and buildings. It’s a slow-paced city. Think mañana. Night life in The City Different runs from really laid back to hopping. For mellow evenings check out the piano bar at Vanessie or the quiet Spanish music and jazz at ¡ Chispa! the bar at El Meson of head to Secreto at the Hotel St. Francis known for their ace mixologists. Ratchet it up a notch with the DJs at The Den or the dance to the at Cowgirl BBQ or El Farol. For real night club action head to Shadeh at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casinos. It really rocks. If you want a truly low-key evening, check out the Lensic Performing Arts Center, the premier concert venue. This 821 seat former movie house with its deco ambiance showcases anything from classical music to circus performers. Want something quieter? Make a leisurely dinner at a place like Geronimo your evening activity. After dinner, take a leisurely walk through the historic streets and experience and stop for a nightcap at the Living Room at the Inn and Spa at Loretto or the bar at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi.
Shadeh at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino
You don't have to go all the way to Vegas to find top-notch shows, entertainment and casinos. Look no further than Santa Fe, and more specifically Buffalo Thunder Casino. Forming a large portion of the Buffalo Thunder Resort, you can live out your Vegas-inspired dreams all under one roof. The casino itself spans 61,000 square feet and is filled with slot machines, gaming tables and a poker room. If you've had your fill of slots, or you're not much of a gambler, enjoy drinks at the bar. Then, head over to the resort's onsite venue for live music or DJ-spun beats. (505-455-5555)
La Cantina at Casa Sena
Love to hum along? Servers have been singing for your supper at The Cantina at La Casa Sena for over 30 years. Hear the best of Broadway mixed with pop tunes. In between taking your order and delivering the food, they break into song. Occasionally, there is a theme evening highlighting the score from a specific show, such as Rent or The Producers, or paying homage to legendary entertainers such as The Beatles. The action starts at 6pm and runs until 9pm off-season and 10pm in the summer. Have a drink at the bar, or grab a table and order off the same menu that serves diners at the upscale La Casa Sena next door. Summer and holidays can get busy, so remember to reserve a table in advance. (505-988-9232)
The Palace Restaurant and Saloon
The Palace is the place to go for late-night music. Adjacent to Burro Alley, in the city's former Red Light District, it has a rich history. The circa 1900 former saloon is built on the site where the legendary Doña Tule, the cigar-smoking 'Gambling Queen of Santa Fe,' once held forth. These days the Palace's bar is a hot spot for late night partiers. Music rocks the flocked-velvet walls five nights a week. Wednesday is for acoustic music, country and blues; Thursdays karaoke takes center stage and the place is often packed. Santa Feans love their karaoke. Fridays and Saturdays are DJs and VJs and live music from reggae to rock. This is definitely a dancing crowd. On the last Wednesday of the month 'Trash Disco' is on tap. Hungry after all that dancing? The kitchen is open until one in the morning. ((505) 428-0690)
La Fiesta at La Fonda on the Plaza
La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe's oldest hotel, is popular night spot with music six nights a week. The dimly-lit bar just off the lobby has a loyal local following of 50- plus folks, but younger people are also in the mix. Music runs from R & B to pop to salsa and country. Texas musician and Santa Fe resident, Bill Hearne, has been playing here for years. He has a following and on most Wednesday and Thursday nights you can find couples dressed in their finest western gear doing the Texas two-step to the catchy sounds of western swing. It's a hoot and you just may want to shout, "Yee-haw." If you get thirsty, there's a long list of frosty margaritas and an extensive bar menu to fuel up after all that dancing. (800-523-5002)
El Farol, the site of the oldest restaurant in Santa Fe, is known for its extensive tapas menu and late night scene with music until around midnight seven days a week. The eclectic music heard here includes blues, rock, soul, reggae and salsa. If you've never seen flamenco, book a table for the Saturday night dinner show featuring performers from Albuquerque's National Institute of Flamenco. There is a charge for the show. Dinner can be ordered off the menu. You'll occasionally spot a famous face in the bar as people filming in town often head up to the end of Canyon Road to dine and listen to the sounds of Santa Fe. Recent sightings have included Tommy Lee Jones, Natalie Portman and Liam Neeson. Music on weekdays is free, while on Friday and Saturday nights there's a cover charge. (505-983-9912)
Want a western bar straight out of Central Casting? Head to Cowgirl BBQ. Walls here are lined with cowgirl memorabilia and you'll often see working cowgirls and boys bellied up to the bar. On any given night, you may find them standing next to a famous Hollywood face shooting a movie in town. Hungry? It's one of the few places in town serving late-night food. Grab a burger, some BBQ, a Frito Pi or an on-tap handcrafted beer and settle in to listen to the live music rocking the joint six nights a week. Mondays are karaoke night. Weekdays bring solo and duo acts. Weekends some of the best bands on the local music scene take the stage. Occasionally, bands passing through the area on their way to a gig are booked for a rocking night. (505-982-2565)
¡ Chispa! at El Meson
¡Chispa! the bar at the Spanish restaurant El Meson, has been a Santa Fe music destination since the start of the new millennium. There's music five nights a week. Tuesday is Argentine Tango Milonga night. People from novices to pros take to the floor performing this sexy and complex dance duet to the sounds of recorded music while others are content to merely watch. Enjoy love music Wednesdays through Saturdays. Wednesday is solo Spanish and flamenco guitar night. Thursday is a time for duos that tend towards jazz. Friday is almost always the talented local group, Three Faces of Jazz, and Saturdays are a mix. The first Saturday of the month is their flamenco show featuring Flamenco Compaz. Others are a mix from jazz to salsa. If listening to music makes you hungry, order from the tempting tapas bar menu or have dinner in the dining room with its more extensive menu before heading to the bar. (505-983-6756)
Vanessie Santa Fe Restaurant & Lounge
Love listening to mellow piano music? Head to Vanessie, Santa Fe's popular piano bar where they've been tickling the ivories nightly since 1983. Local favorite, Doug Montgomery, has been there since the doors opened playing a mix of old standards from the likes of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, show tunes and 60s, 70s and 80s, pop music. When he's not around, other world-class pianists take to the keyboard. There is a devoted bunch regulars, some even bring their sheet music and get up to sing. Satisfy your hunger from the full bar menu or order from the dinner menu that serves the adjacent dining room. (505-982-9966)
See and be seen at The Den, downstairs from the popular Coyote Café. This chic cocktail lounge part with its young vibe is a favorite of Santa Fe's under-40 crowd. Tourists find their way there, too. Mixologist par excellence, Quinn Stephenson, one of this hip club's owners, has created a host of signature cocktails to wow adventurous drinkers. The intriguing list includes the the Senorita Margarita, a vision capped with lime foam, the flaming Samurai and Gentleman's Vice, a bourbon Manhattan redolent of cherry wood smoke. Adventurous drinkers will be wowed. It's one of Santa Fe's only truly late-night spots. Opening at 7:30pm Thursdays through Mondays, it's a sedate, romantic cocktail lounge for the first few hours. At around 10pm, when local 'star' DJs arrive on the scene, it morphs into a hopping dance club until about 1am. (505-983-1615)
Secreto is one of the worst-kept secrets in town. This popular bar, just off the striking lobby of the vintage Hotel St. Francis, has a dedicated following of local young professionals and tourists. The bartenders and their signature drinks are the stars at this popular lounge known for its commitment to the art of mixology. Hallmarks of their potions are fresh (mostly local in season), often organic, ingredients. Signature libations include the Smoked Sage Margarita, Agave Way and 'Brûléed'' Cherry Old Fashioned. Santa Feans tend to political correctness when it comes to food and drink. In summer, the front loggia is packed with patrons (and sometimes their dogs) enjoying their liquid refreshments and watching Santa Fe walk by. After the doors close at 11:30, night owls head out to late night spots for music and dancing. ((505) 983-5700)
About Billie Frank
Billie Frank is a freelance travel, food and feature writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her blog, Santa Fe Travelers, is a treasure trove of information on the oldest capital city in the USA. Billie is also co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, a trip-planning and tour business.
Read more about Billie Frank here.