There were serious offers on the table from five potential buyers for El Farol on Canyon Road, a Santa Fe icon and one of America’s hundred most historic restaurants. Four of the bids were from out of state. Lucky for Santa Fe, the winning offer, from lead investor Richard Freedman, was not only local, it was hyperlocal. Rich also owns The Teahouse, right across the street.
“Lately, I’ve been wearing out a path between the two places,” Rich says on Day 12 of the newly refurbished and reopened El Farol, which translates from Spanish as “The Lantern.” “We let the lantern idea guide us as we chose every detail of the design,” part owner and General Manager Freda K. Scott says. “The warmth and light, the sense of welcoming that a lit lantern symbolizes, and which historically signaled the cantina was open for service.”
Rich and Freda eschewed the services of a professional designer, preferring to make their own selections of casual comfortable, dark wood furniture, locally sourced lighting fixtures and sconces, the new modern and elegant logo, the flatware and other décor details, down to the alabaster candleholders on every table, which are meant to convey: “You’re home, you’re invited, you’re welcome here.”
Freda, who had worked as a manager under the previous owner for over 10 years, believed she’d be able to help guide the renovation because she knew the place intimately (in fact, she met her husband Max there), and knew from experience what customers valued. Consequently, the new El Farol bar retains the frescoes made by Taos artists Alfred Gwynne Morang and William Vincent Kirkpatrick, both of whose works are for sale in local galleries. Local lore has it that the frescoes were painted by the artists, both now deceased, to resolve bar debts. The new owners have also preserved an element from the 1800s, the bar base, which is said to contain a bullet hole. “The renovations honored the history,” Freda says. Rich adds, “We did our homework; we were intent on retaining the legacy.” And as for the cost of the renovation, “A tremendous amount of resources went into the skeleton of the place,” Rich says. “The idea was to restore it to its heyday when the New York Times called it ‘one of the best bars on earth’ or when Nancy Sinatra, Joan Baez, U2 and Bon Jovi played here, or at least got up and sang a song or two in here.”