In a former mining town steeped in a colorful history resides the legendary Mine Shaft Tavern & Cantina. Perched at the south end of Madrid’s main street, with a parking lot packed with “hogs” (motorcycles, to non-bikers), this iconic gathering spot has been serving up food, drinks and rowdy camaraderie since 1947.
Inside the Mine Shaft, you sense that not much has changed since Madrid’s coal mining era, which began in the nineteenth century. The Mine Shaft’s Old Coal Town Museum and historic Engine House Theater, behind the tavern, are delightful ways to learn about the town’s mining days.
The Cerrillos Coal Company opened the building’s first tavern around 1895, providing a communal spot for miners and their families until it burned down on Christmas Day in 1944. Three years later, The Mine Shaft Tavern, with its forty-foot-long bar, opened for business. You can still belly up to that bar today and take in the boisterous scene of happy hippies, bikers, artists and others — locals and tourists alike — savoring acclaimed New Mexico roadhouse cuisine and dancing to live country, folk, rock and Americana styles of music performed by musicians living up and down the Rio Grande Valley. Music is presented on weekends only. There’s no cover charge, and performances are held outside under the big tent at the cantina location.
For more than seventy years, The Mine Shaft Tavern has been thought of as “Madrid’s living room.” Madrid resident Lori Lindsey, who bought the business in 2007 with Melinda Bon’well, explains, “It is the heart of the town.” She continues, “I love The Mine Shaft Tavern and the fact that we also bought into the whole history by buying the museum and the surrounding properties. And that’s where my focus has been, besides the restaurant, for the past fifteen years — working to make this property come to life without destroying the fabric of what it is.”
Fortunately, The Mine Shaft remains ungentrified, although Lindsey and Bon’well have made some necessary electrical, structural and other improvements to the property. The biggest change took place in the kitchen. As executive chef, Lindsey created a menu focused on made-from-scratch foods using organic ingredients whenever possible. The food is fantastic, from the Fish and Chips to the Mad Chile Burger, piled high with Hatch chile cooked two ways — roasted and lightly battered and fried — and cheddar cheese and chipotle Dijonnaise. This burger is so good it earned the People’s Choice Award in Santa Fe’s 2014 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. “I don’t think we’ve sold as many Mad Chile Burgers as McDonald’s has sold of their burgers” says Lindsey, with a laugh. She just might beat that record yet.
Lindsey is also proud of her salads. “I’m a big fan of Meyer lemons, and our Meyer Lemon Chicken Avocado Salad is really popular,” she says, “and our steak salad with local Wagyu beef is the best in Santa Fe County.” Given the salad’s tantalizing combination of blue cheese, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, she’s probably right. Lindsey is fired up over her new kitchen: a wood-fired oven. “We’ve always done pizzas” she explains, “but they’ve been grilled pizzas, more like flatbread. We’re going to be doing a new pizza menu with a lot of green chile ingredients.”
Chile is used in The Mine Shaft’s signature drinks, too. The Mad Chile Margarita, a blend of agave tequila and cucumber jalapeño muddled with lime, is served in a glass rimmed with red chile. If you’re nuts about chile, pair the margarita with a Mad Chile Burger and you’ll be in hog heaven. The Mine Shaft Tavern holds a coveted spot on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and has been designated a Culinary Treasure by the New Mexico Tourism Department. With its celebrated past and ongoing popularity, this beloved landmark has a future that couldn’t look brighter.
Lynn Cline is the author of The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes & Tales from New Mexico. She has written for The New York Times, Bon Appétít and numerous other publications. She also hosts Cline’s Corner, a weekly radio show on KSFR 101.1 FM.