They include rough saloons that catered to miners, polished hotel bars for traveling merchants, and flashing-neon honky-tonks to attract Route 66 tourists.
The Buckhorn Saloon & Opera House
When its new oak bar was hauled in wagons from Hillsboro in 1897, the Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, seven miles north of Silver City, had already been in business for almost 30 years. Today, a mannequin called “Debbie McCamp” sits at the end of the bar, drinking a beer in honor of all the gold miners, gamblers, outlaws, and ladies of the night who populated this once wide-open mining town.
Pino Altos lived and died by its mines. An 1860 gold strike created a town of 9,000 by the 1880s; when the mines played out, the town was slowly abandoned. The renovated buildings include a museum, ice-cream parlor, and quaint shops, but the Buckhorn Saloon & Opera House is the main attraction. Today, the saloon offers cold drinks and occasional bluegrass. The Buckhorn Dining Room offers fine dining created by Executive Chef Thomas Bock. The Opera House, a replica of a frontier theater, features old-fashioned melodramas. (575) 538-9911; www.buckhornsaloonandoperahouse.com
No Scum Allowed Saloon
Located in White Oaks, (12 miles north of Carrizozo), the No Scum Allowed Saloon is one of the best cowboy bars in America. The saloon occupies a slight brick building built in the gold-rush years, but its atmosphere is sheer country: open and friendly, with good music and cold beer at the ready. Open Fridays to Sundays, it’s a favorite stop for motorcycle tours.
White Oaks owes its existence to the 1879 discovery of gold, but its fame to the Lincoln County Wars and a young Billy the Kid, who shot up the town and stole horses and cattle—a hanging offense. The local cemetery includes the grave of one of the deputy sheriffs who was killed in the Kid’s final, brief escape. (575) 648-5583; www.noscumallowedsaloon.com
Clayton’s Hotel Eklund embodies the elegance of the Old West. Located on the railroad near the Texas border, Clayton became a major shipping point for cattle drives from southern New Mexico on the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Designed for businessmen and ranchers, the Eklund became one of the finest hotels on the northeast plains, charging an unheard of $2 a night in the 1800s.
The hotel began as a brick two-room saloon that Carl Eklund reportedly won in an 1892 poker game. Today, the saloon recalls the time of cattle barons and merchants, while the renovated hotel rooms offer guests all the modern conveniences when exploring Clayton and the Llano Estacado: the Staked Plains.
(575) 374-2551; www.hoteleklund.com
According to Esquire magazine, Silva’s Saloon, in Bernalillo, is the highest-rated bar in New Mexico. Founded by local bootlegger Felix Silva, Sr., the saloon opened the day after the repeal of prohibition. Felix’s son remembers families coming down in wagons from Placitas to shop at the Mercantile, and the men walking across the street for a drink while their orders were filled.
The hats of these old-timers still festoon the rafters along with an explosion of collectibles, which have taken over the walls, ceilings, and entire bar. These include figures of Elvis, old license plates, 100-year-old liquor bottles, rifles, revolvers, Silva’s original moonshine still, nudes, and a multitude of photographs. Silva’s Saloon is currently for sale, but it’s still open for business. (505) 867-9976
The 49er Lounge
Gallup’s neon-lit El Rancho Hotel is where Hollywood collided with the Old West. The hotel was originally built by the brother of the famous director D. W. Griffith, and became the Home of the Movie Stars during the production of westerns. The hotel’s guest list includes John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, Ronald Reagan, and the Marx Brothers.
The lobby is an opulent mixture of western, Native American, and Hollywood kitsch that made the 49er Lounge Esquire’s second-ranked bar in New Mexico. The lounge, which once slaked Errol Flynn’s legendary thirst, is known for its margaritas and other honest drinks. (505) 722-2285; www.elranchohotel.com