Imagine that your favorite bar crawl in college featured monuments to your drunken achievements. Behold the placard beneath the bush where you snoozed until sunrise. There's the sidewalk mural depicting your most spectacular splatter of vomit. Check out the iPhone you dropped in the storm grate, now cast in bronze and permanently installed in the gutter.
Believe it or not, historic Canyon Road artists could've matched your partying, shot for shot. Before it was a buttoned- up gallery district, Santa Fe's best-known street was home to studios, saloons and artist colonies where the booze flowed freely. There were salons and shoot-outs, parties and parades. The late-night hijinks persist to this day, albeit in hidden corners of the art route.
Max-Carlos Martinez, 55, grew up in Albuquerque and lived in New York City for 30 years before moving to Santa Fe. "That was six Zozobras ago, in 2010," he says. The painter lives in one of the artist apartments at El Zaguán, an adobe mansion on Canyon Road that's maintained by Historic Santa Fe Foundation. The party started there in the late 1920's, when women's suffrage activist Margretta Dietrich bought the house from a local merchant and turned it into a hotel.
Willa Cather wrote Death Comes for the Archbishop during her stays, and rumor has it that Georgia O'Keeffe and DH Lawrence passed through.
"I didn't know anybody when I moved to town," Martinez says. Inspired by the raucous history of El Zaguán, he started throwing parties and salons. "Down here in my end of the house, these were the party rooms. I thought, well, I'm going to keep my door open and invite everybody in." He estimates that he's hosted more than 700 guests since then.
"Gallerists will say, 'You party on Canyon Road after 10 o'clock? You were up until four in the morning?'" says Martinez. "I'll tell them, 'Yeah, we party. Come over and join us.'" He's upholding a wild, woozy tradition that used to span Canyon Road.
Make sure to pregame, and then stumble your way through our 20th-century tour:
Start by strolling up Acequia Madre, just south of Canyon Road, and sipping an espresso on the patio of Downtown Subscription (376 Garcia St., 983-3085). Just up Acequia Madre, near the intersection with Plaza Valentine, is the former home of artists Alfred and Dorothy Morang. The couple came to Santa Fe from Maine in 1937 and started throwing Saturday night salons at their home, which is now privately owned. "Morang would often buy a big jug of cheap California sherry and have a salon at his house," wrote American Ambassador Frank V Ortiz in his memoir, Ambassador Ortiz: Lessons from a Life of Service. "Strange, fascinating people would attend." Alfred and Dorothy eventually split, and the latter became a well-known local curator. More on them later.
Head north on Garcia Street and turn right on Canyon Road, heading uphill. As you pass the sculpture gardens on the 400 block, picture frizzy-haired artist Tommy Macaione painting en plein air. Originally from Connecticut, Macaione arrived here in 1951 and studied under Alfred Morang. He was known as "El Diferente," Santa Fe's freest spirit. Macaione painted Southwestern landscapes in the impasto style of Van Gogh, was a fixture of the annual Historical/Hysterical Parade, and kept over 100 dogs and cats as pets. He mounted numerous campaigns for mayor of Santa Fe, governor of New Mexico and president of the United States. In 2010, the City of Santa Fe declared Nov. 13 as Tommy Macaione Day, ensuring that Macaione's party will never end.
Pass El Zaguán (545 Canyon Road, 983-2567), then head up the road a bit to Silver Sun (656 Canyon Road, 983-8743). Near the back of the gallery, spot the original sign for Claude's Bar tucked atop a cabinet. Silver Sun and its neighbor Tresa Vorenberg Goldsmiths (656 Canyon Road, 988-7215) were the site of this infamous saloon. It was founded in 1955 by Claude James, a New Yorker of French descent who stopped in Santa Fe on a road trip to the West Coast and stuck around. It started as a white-tablecloth establishment, but soon devolved into Santa Fe's own version of the Moulin Rouge. This was the City Different's first gay bar (James had many beautiful lovers), and it was also the place where politicians picked up prostitutes. If things got too rowdy, James was known for hurling men out by their belts—though at least one Wild West shootout broke out here. Alfred Morang and cowboy artist Hal West frequented Claude's, and Morang died in a studio fire just behind the building in 1957.
Pop across the street to Matthews Gallery (669 Canyon Road, 992-2882), where works by Morang, Macaione, West and other Santa Fe art colonists are frequently on display. As you continue up the street, imagine Truman Capote strolling past. Artist Agnes Sims and her partner Mary Louise Aswell, who was the fiction editor of Harper's Bazaar, ran a writer's compound on Canyon Road's 600 block. Sims arrived from Philadelphia in 1938, and opened a record store on Canyon Road. Later, she bought a farmhouse and built the compound around it. Capote was just one of the luminaries Sims and Aswell invited there for parties and salons.
Stroll up to El Farol (800 Canyon Road, 983-9912), Santa Fe's oldest restaurant, and grab a margarita when it reopens this summer (2017). This was Alfred Morang's favorite establishment, and he painted murals in the bar to pay off an astronomical bar tab. The works were damaged by a fire in 1997, a chilling epilogue to Morang's own fiery demise. His ghost has been sighted in the restaurant, so keep your eyes peeled for the spirit of Canyon Road's hard-partying history.