In a city with such an outstanding culinary reputation, the bar scene in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has been sorely lacking in the mixology department. Daniel Gonzales, however, is doing his best to change that.
The 30-year-old bar manager at the Hotel St. Francis’ Secreto Bar and Loggia is adding flavor and a whole lot of spice to the offerings at this popular bar just a short walk from the city’s historic Plaza.
Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts, which bought the 80-room, high-end Hotel St. Francis in 2008, hired Gonzales last fall with instructions to “run it like it’s your bar,” says Gonzales, who has made the Secreto “a very quaint, calm place [there’s no television] where people can come and enjoy.”
What they’re enjoying the most are the staff’s special creations.
Gonzales won the 2010 Shake it Up! Cocktail Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his creation, the Primavera, priced at $15, which is an aromatic, springtime drink that blends (ri)1 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, Domaine de Canton, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar and fresh sour with rosemary and golden apples. He qualified for the championship round with his Spicy Secreto ($11), a mix of Cabana Cachaça, St. Germain, lime juice, cane syrup, jalapeño and cucumber with New Mexico red chile salt rimming the glass.
No surprise there. Before arriving at the Secreto, Gonzales spent eight years in Las Vegas, where he apprenticed under master mixologist Gaston Martinez, brand ambassador for Milagro Tequila, and Bobby “G” Gleason of Beam Global Spirits & Wine at Nora’s Cuisine.
Gonzales keeps Secreto’s cocktail list seasonal and market fresh. “In the winter and fall, we’ll use a lot more spices. Apples are in season,” he says. “In the springtime we have all the berries, all the flowers, everything is really green.”
Don’t forget chile, the New Mexico state fruit (“Red or green?” is the state question), which ripens in the fall. “We involve chile in our cocktails because it’s just amazing,” he says. “It’s such a unique and amazing experience for any palate, so it goes really well with cocktails.”
So well, in fact, that bartender and mixologist Chris Milligan uses fresh green chiles in his creation, chiles are used in the Agave Way, which blends chiles with Chamucos Reposado Tequila, grapes, lime juice and agave nectar ($13). Gonzales uses red and green chiles—bought in Socorro and Las Cruces—instead of Tabasco in his Bloody Marys (starting at $10).
Innovative cocktails aren’t the only focus of the drinks program. The bar isn’t completely about mixology. Eleven wines by the glass are offered, priced from $7 to $13 for six-ounce pours. The bar takes its name—Secreto is Spanish for secret—from the story of Franciscan monks, who smuggled vines out of Spain to New Mexico around 1629. A wine flight of six grape varietals ($18.50) represents the Franciscans journey to New Mexico with wines from Italy (Cavit Riesling), Spain (Montecillo Albariño), Chile (Escudo Rojo), Argentina (Andeluna Malbec) and New Mexico (Gruet Brut). You can get four beers on tap ($5.50 to $8), 10 bottled beers ($4.50 to $6.50) and seven to 10 single-malt Scotches ($7 to $25 for 2-ounce pours). There’s also a vintage cocktail list that includes a Negroni, made with Plymouth Gin ($10) and Mint Julep, made with Knob Creek Bourbon ($11).
Gonzales and Estevan Garcia, chef of the hotel’s Tabla de Los Santos restaurant, frequent the Santa Fe Farmers Market for fresh produce at least twice a week. “We try to really complement chef Estevan’s amazing New Mexican food with our cocktails,” Gonzales says. “If people want spicy foods, we usually give them something with a little bit more savory element to kind of balance it out. If they’re in here before dinner, we offer them a bitter cocktail that will get those salivary glands working and make them a little hungrier.”
Keep in mind that this is Santa Fe, which rolls up its streets typically around 5 p.m. Yet the Secreto, which seats about 40 in the lounge, although about another 60 patrons can spill over into the outside patio or in the hotel lobby, is always hopping. “Even when the hotel is empty,” Gonzales says, “the bar is full.”
It was packed when I was there in late spring with a mix of guests, locals and tourists who’ve wandered in off the streets. The place is full of conversation, but it’s not so loud you can’t think, and it seems that everyone—especially those seated at the bar—are enjoying the show put on by the bartenders as they create their one-of-a-kind mixed drinks.
Lately, patrons have been enjoying approximately 50 to 75 Spicy Secretos a week and 30 to 40 Agave Ways, Gonzales says.
Yet most of the patrons—a blend of locals and tourists, Gonzales and Milligan say—are ready for something unique. Say a Ginger’s Peardise, made with fresh pears, Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, St. Germain, fresh lemon juice and local honey ($10.50), or the Purple Reign, made with Absolut Berry Acai vodka, Pages Parfait Amour Crème de Violette Liqueur, lemoncello, fresh lime juice, blueberries and cane syrup ($9.75).“People here will order a drink, and the person sitting next to them will ask about it, and it’ll just go down the bar,” Milligan says. “They’ll take a sip and pass it down. It’s great. It’s so amazing to see that. That’s what a bar really is to me: Sharing.”