Black Bird Saloon
More than a century ago, the town of Cerrillos teemed with trains, travelers, and prospectors. At least 20 saloons are said to have lined the mining village at the peak of the 1880s mineral boom, as millions of dollars in turquoise, silver, gold, lead, and zinc were extracted from the “little hills” for which the place is named.
Today, the windswept streets of Cerrillos are a far cry from the boomtown that was once rumored to have been a contender for the state capital. But two watering holes remain for daytrippers and tourists on the Turquoise Trail: the storied Mary’s Bar, now run by the late proprietor Mary Mora’s daughter Kathy, and a welcome newcomer that sits just across the road, the Black Bird Saloon.
Inside the Black Bird, which quietly opened in April with a small but creative breakfast, lunch, and bar snack menu, owner-operators Kelly and Patrick Torres seem to be encouraging time travel. The restaurant is suffused with a rickety Wild West charm, its interior accented by rustic wooden tables and chairs, tree branches, antlers, a long weathered standing bar made for cowboys and bikers to hook their boots into, a potbelly stove, and multiple renderings of the spot’s namesake gothic feathered friends.
Patrick told us the couple recently moved from Santa Fe to settle into the adjoining quarters of the building, which he said dates back to at least the 1880s and served as a mercantile in the early 1900s. Service is small-town friendly with no frills — customers order at the cash register under a chalkboard menu with daily specials and weekly updates and then grab cutlery and napkins from a station along the wall. (Expect to pay for bottled water instead of being served tap, as the drinking water in both Cerrillos and neighboring Madrid is known to be fairly sulfuric.)
As Marty Robbins sang on the stereo about gunning his lover down in a dim café, we ordered the Black Jack Ketchum burger, named for the train robber who, rumor has it, was treated for a gunshot wound by the Cerrillos town doctor. It was juicy and delicious, the thick Angus beef spiked with a gunpowder seasoning along with Gouda, onion, cilantro, and “bandit sauce” (mayonnaise and sambal chile paste) on a squishy kaiser roll. A Monte Carlo sandwich of tangy house-made pimento cheese, British back bacon, slaw, and white farm bread was tasty but less well conceived, the thickness of the smoky homestyle bacon making the rest of the sandwich unwieldy.
The Game Trail burger featured a bulky elk patty on a roll alongside the intriguing combination of arugula and blueberry mustard — it too was darn good, the sharp ping of the sauce complementing the nutty greens and dense, slightly sweet meat. The stars of the day’s show were fried in peanut oil: the whisperthin and well-seasoned shoestring Crow’s Nest fries, along with another side, a mound of crisp and peppery house-made potato chips. The meal went down nicely with a few pints of La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, though there may have been a resulting scuffle over
who got to have the last few morsels of those fries.
On another trip for a latemorning breakfast, the Black Bird was packed. Whether because of the town’s annual Art in the Park event or a more robust than usual crowd of weekend visitors stopping in to see where Young Guns was filmed, proud locals mingled with awestruck tourists on the tavern’s porch. The barroom piano of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” tinkled in the background, while a grizzled biker told a half-heard joke that ended with the puzzler, “That’s only hearsay; I heard it from my sister.” Meanwhile, we lit on one of the more flavorful breakfast burritos around, a simple handheld wrap of buttery eggs, white cheddar, a legitimately fiery and smoky green chile, and more of that hulking, formidable bacon. The Little Hills breakfast — a blue-tin-plate special of two glistening sunny-side-up eggs, sliced avocado and tomato, toast, and blueberry mustard — was pronounced nearly too substantial for my pal to steal a bite from my burrito, though the bacon’s allure proved all-powerful.
Though a small heirloom-tomato-and-cucumber salad tasted less homegrown and more chain grocery store, a short Mason jar of sweet pickled cukes made for a nice country-brunchy side. A brown paper sack of roasted, shelled, and salted Little Pittsburghs peanuts came along as a snack for the ride back. Named for Cerrillos’ baseball team, they were pungent — like the new-vintage establishment they came from — with old-fashioned goodness.
Picnic trip in Cerrillos, 1911, photo Jesse Nusbaum; courtesy Palace of the Governors (NMHM/DCA), Negative No. 061646