In order to find out whether something does or does not exist we may assume that the thing in question truly does abide in the world. In this case we are assuming that late-night dining, aside from The Atomic Grill, exists in Santa Fe.
After all, people eat. We love to eat, need to eat—and especially so after a long night of boozing. Mooching off a friend's unfinished happy hour nachos at Del Charro or Cowgirl or whatever joint it may be does not sustain us until closing time. Come last call, the bellies of locals and tourists alike deserve a little solid substance after a lot of liquid substance: It wants some meat with its blood. So here we are, after midnight, looking for nourishment.
Method of finding it, Option A: Ask the local cab drivers, "Where in the world do you take the after-hours crowd for life-blood?" Answer: Silence.
All of the cabbies have been eaten alive by starving post-bar zombies. However, a late night dispatcher, safe and sound in the dispatch office of Capital City Cabs, tells us that all routes lead to national corporate franchises like IHOP, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Denny's. Bummer. Thus we find ourselves at The Atomic Grill (103 E Water St.)
Option B: Stay out all night—at least until the bars close—and follow the crowd. The "crowd" splits up into various stumbling gaggles headed home, to a friend's or to (you guessed it) The Atomic Grill.
So we follow the Atomic crowd for fear of ending up passed out in the arroyo like some of our fellow late-night drinkers. What do we find? Aside from a decently crowded patio of drunk and impatiently hungry people, there are good, greasy and affordable green chili cheese fries ($5.95), sobering Frito pies ($5.95) and creamy Rasta Pasta Rainbows ($9.50) galore. There are also mucho breakfast burritos ($7.95) since it is, after all, early morning. Why not get a head start on breakfast?
Option C is not as much an option as an attempt to understand the mystery of the elusive late-night meal in Santa Fe. Why aren't there any street vendors out catering to the last-call crowd?
Roque, owner of Roque’s Carnitas food cart on the Plaza, says that Santa Fe used to be a late-night town but that a lot has changed in the last 20 years: the economy, the number of bars and the type of crowd that stays out late. “The only ones out” he says, “are drunks, homeless people and cucarachas.”
Perhaps some demand is there, but ultimately Roque would rather be in bed—and the other daytime street vendors agree.
While late-night dining in Santa Fe does not exist aside from chains and The Atomic Grill, what exists even less, it seems, is the motivation to cater to the late-night crowd, if "crowd" is what we can call it. "We are hungry, yeah," says a pleasantly intoxicated Matadorian, "but there's not normally enough of us here to fill a restaurant."
And he is seeing double, too.