The Fresh Face of El Farol

At more than 180 years old, El Farol is without doubt the oldest, most iconic restaurant and bar in Santa Fe. Thanks to her new owners, Rich Freedman and Freda Scott, this world-renowned, much-loved landmark just underwent a major face-lift. The fresh faces of the new ownership, new decor, and new Head Chef, bring this Grande Dame of Canyon Road into the 21st century, while maintaining her integral connection to her well-seasoned, brilliant history, since 1835.

Owners Rich Freedman, & Freda Scott with Head Chef Shane Alexander

When David Salazar, the previous owner for over 35 years, announced the sale of El Farol in 2016, the whole town held its breath and hoped that whoever purchased this iconic landmark would appreciate how much her clientele wanted her legacy to stay intact.

El Farol Saloon before the renovation.

After almost a year on the market, it was by chance that Freda, who had managed El Farol for nine years, was talking to Rich, the owner of The Teahouse (located directly across the street on Canyon Road). She explained she was worried that although a few offers had been made, the right buyer was yet to be found. Rich had had his eye on El Farol, and within a few short months the sale was complete, and Freda and Rich were in business as the new owners.

Mid-renovation in the bar.

El Farol’s face-lift was much needed to clean away nearly 200 years of wear and tear, and saloon living.  The major renovation started April 1, 2017, and five months later, Rich, Freda, and the tireless Coyote Construction crew, successfully managed by Freda’s husband Max Scott, have brought the welcome light in the Canyon back to life with minimal impact to the original bones. As Freda said, “Lighting alone can make a huge difference.”

The mural at the bar that had been obscured by shelving for decades is now on full view with accent lighting.

After all the hard work, on Friday, September 1st, 2017 at 2:30pm the City Business License and Certificate of Occupancy were finally in place and the doors opened to 200 guests; making the first night quite a rousing success for a soft opening.

The renovations of the saloon bar are beautifully done, highlighting the murals, and offering more seating.

For those of us with a soft spot for the past, you’ll be glad to know the original saloon bar base, dating back to the 1800s, remains intact. The bar top and floor needed to be replaced after decades of hard partying. The historic murals painted by famous Santa Fe artists that frequented El Farol, are even more visible. One was revealed that had been covered for decades by liquor shelves behind the bar. They are all now framed by a beautiful diamond plaster finish.

Hand-wrought iron work details, and photographs by Lisa Law and Douglas Magnus add touches of more recent history to the performance and dining areas. Other new touches include half-booth-style seating in the bar, fresh private indoor dining and outdoor patio dining areas, plus expanded indoor stage and performance/dining space.

View into the performance /dining space. Stage is at the far end,  beneath the mural. The barn doors close during performances.

A couple of walls of the old house were removed to create a more flowing sense of openness, and space for the new indoor performance stage. The stage is set at the corner of an “L” shaped dining room, offset by a giant flamenco mural by Roland Van Loon. There’s a sense of intimacy from any seat, as guests enjoy the live entertainment that El Farol is known for. Scheduled performances include authentic Spanish Flamenco, and top local and world-renowned artists such as Robert Mirabal.

The performance stage at the corner of the “L” shaped dining area makes for easy viewing from all seats.

Executive Chef Rich Freedman, and new Head Chef Shane Alexander (originally from South Africa), have created a fresh menu of authentic Spanish cuisine, including signature tapas and entrées, and a selection of fine wines.

Chef Alexander studied at the Warwick’s Chef School in Hermanus, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. He has worked with top chefs in New Mexico since 2009.

A gorgeous Chocolate Walnut Indulgence dessert that walked by as I had camera in hand.

Rich, Freda and Shane all take their roles as caretakers of the legacy of El Farol very seriously. Rich says, “When you’re being watched by the entire town and so many people from all over the world who know and love El Farol, you know your role is cut out for you as a custodian of an icon.”

El Farol diners, on its second day open for lunch.

Open daily from noon to midnight, with a full bar, world-class entertainment, delicious cuisine and updated decor, El Farol is again a must-do experience for locals and visitors alike.

The front porch is a popular spot for lunch.

The town can exhale now, knowing that El Farol is back “with bells on,” and is owned and operated by locals who love and appreciate her legacy.

If you go, they are open daily from noon to midnight.  No reservations are required for lunch, but I recommend you make reservations for dinner. Performance dinner shows definitely require reservations. Click here for more information and a link to the event schedule, or to reserve your table call (505) 983-9912. 808 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501.

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