The search for a secret, locals-only spot is an elusive and unending quest for every traveler. Hole-in-the-wall breakfast joints, secret gardens and alleyways, and password-only speakeasies hidden beneath boutique clothing shops come to mind. But Santa Feans, of course, want to keep their secrets safe.
Del Charro, part of the Inn of the Governors in Santa Fe’s historic downtown, sees itself as the city’s under-the-radar dining spot for locals and visitors. A quarter-mile walk from the state capitol, the Southwestern bar and restaurant draws a varied crowd. “We have a saloon area which is sort of rustic, like where you walk in and [there’s a] gunfight,” Sam Gerberding said. “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere that tourists can find novel but, more importantly, locals feel ‘Okay, I can get behind this.’” Gerberding, the general manager, has overseen the restaurant and the attached hotel for sixteen years. In his time at the restaurant, he has worked to cater to locals’ needs. “They’re just looking for a good, honest meal at a good, honest price.”
Walking through Del Charro’s front doors, customers enter a Santa Fe-style space that makes them feel at home. The saloon’s large, horseshoe-shaped bar is accented with leather-backed chairs, an array of well-selected spirits and beehive cocktail shakers. Wood-burning fireplaces, both indoors and on the enclosed patio, illuminate with flickering light and provide comforting warmth on cold evenings and nights. Red brick, dark wood panels and light plaster create a unique texture on the walls. Large windows open to high outer walls, heavy with climbing greenery and vines. “We’ve always tried to design those rooms, even if they have a different feel, to be very inviting and warm,” Gerberding says. “That’s something that we’ve really done.”
Playing off its unique interior and architectural style, the restaurant’s name suggests its atmosphere. “That idea of being a saloon and the name Del Charro — meaning the cowboy, gentleman cowboy or rapscallion — was our foundation,” Gerberding explains. “Very ‘aw shucks’ and comfortable for two guys just out on the range or [who] had a hard day’s work in the fields. And it’s like, we’re just here.”
Del Charro’s fare aligns with the restaurant’s environment. “Of course, you’ve got green chile in all kinds of dishes. You have some chipotle flavoring that’s on our wings, as well as our [stuffed] poblano,” says Gerberding. “It’s definitely casual American food coupled with New Mexican cuisine.” The restaurant’s menu offers a range of burgers, fries and wings, and a few Santa Fe favorites, such as Frito pie and posole. “It involves a certain homespun New Mexican cuisine, like blue corn enchiladas with red or green chile, things like that,” Gerberding says. “The average person would feel comfortable trying it.”
The restaurant’s beverage menu includes draft beer, specialty cocktails and nineteen different margaritas, ranging from the Classic Silver Coin to the Electric Blue, and the Patron Reposado old fashioned. Del Charro’s selection of margaritas, handcrafted with juices and citrus fruits, provides a wide selection to cater to every preference, mood and food pairing. “That’s always been a trademark of our businesses: the beehive shaker and the margaritas,” Gerberding says. “As time went on, and we started listening and understanding the tastes of locals and visitors, we said, ‘Well, let’s expand on it a little bit.’”
Established in 1965, the Inn of the Governors’ restaurant space has been through many transformations over the years, including a basement cabaret, steakhouse and high-end piano bar. Del Charro has settled into its new role, reimagining the previous restaurant, The Forge. And though the restaurant has explored various concepts, Gerberding says that the restaurant’s current vision for the space has been successful. “The general idea is to create a menu and an environment that are very inviting to Santa Feans and that create a nice experience for tourists,” he continues. “We really wanted to create something that works for both.”
Geoff Lambeth is a writer and photographer based in Santa Fe. He spends his free time backpacking, traveling to new places and enjoying old music. Passionate about pursuing under reported issues and sharing untold stories, Geoff aims to showcase a range of experiences and viewpoints through his work.