A sk anyone who grew up here about ghosts, and you’ll get an earful. From La Llarona crying through the arroyos to spirits inhabiting homes and workplaces, haunting stories are common, and our historic downtown is especially rife with otherworldly energy. My own parents’ former shop on Galisteo Street had been a rough-and-tumble bar called La Mariposa before they arrived in 1974. When a slight remodel revealed bullet holes in the walls, the stories of the bar’s bloody history became apparent. The back room of the shop had a drain in the center of the floor, because prior to its incarnation as a bar, it is believed to have also been a mortuary, and the drain sat below the cadaver slab. Needless to say, we felt many prickles up the spine! Today, people working in downtown bars, restaurants and hotels will attest that souls from yesteryear still linger. As you revel in holiday cheer, look over your shoulder once in a while. The ghosts of Christmases past may be bellying up to the bar alongside you.
Toward the end of Galisteo, just below street level, sit two bars on opposite sides of the road, both of which are rumored to have been speakeasies during Prohibition. Today, Evangelo's Underground and the Matador are popular dives, but we are not the first generation to feel a fondness for the darkened corners under the staircases. According to the Matador's (116 W San Francisco St., 984-5050) co-owner Caesar Fort, a phantom fellow named Will (probably short for the Spanish name Guillermo) has been spotted in his full 6-foot form, sporting a black cowboy hat, white long-sleeved shirt and large mustache. His other incarnation is as a shiny blue orb of light, which Fort himself has seen upwards of a dozen times. It is believed that Will lived sometime between the 19-teens and the 1930s. To this day, the Matador staff leaves a shot of whiskey on the bar for Will when they close up, or else they will come back to moved glassware, upended barstools and beer bottles on the floor. But the real question: Is the shot glass empty by morning?
Completing the "Barmuda Triangle," where Galisteo meets San Francisco Street, is Skylight (139 W San Francisco St., 982-0775). I had plenty of sensationalistic moments when it was Milagro, and I wasn't the only one. The chef at that time told me that he had seen an apparition in the upper balcony of the building. So when he smoked rosemary on the grill to use in menu selections, he was also "smudging" to clear out the creepy energy. The present-day Skylight staff has stories of their own; ask them next time you stop in.
On the other side of the block, Palace Avenue boasts the crimson velvet-clad Palace Restaurant & Saloon (142 W Palace Ave., 428-0690), whose long and interesting history is drenched in women and whiskey. The bar's website tells the story of the powerful Doña Maria Gertrudis Barceló, who ran a gambling hall and, allegedly, a brothel on the premises, in the 1800s. The website doesn't venture into ghostly presences, but local chatter has it that a woman with long, curly hair and dressed in a full-length gown has shown herself to staff after the bar closes down, in the shadowy hours of night.
Meanwhile, sleeping in downtown hotels means never sleeping alone. The Drury previously housed St. Vincent's Hospital, and the block where Inn of the Anasazi now stands was supposedly once home to a city jail. But perhaps the most famous hotel ghost is Julia Staab at La Posada (330 E Palace Ave., 986-0000). The socialite wife of Abraham Staab, a wealthy contractor during the Civil War, is rumored to have gone mad after the death of her seventh child and subsequent miscarriages. She secluded herself in the top floor of the family home, known as the Staab House, which sat on the grounds where the hotel is now. Julia died in 1896, and since that time, bartenders, groundskeepers and guests have reported odd occurrences such as bar glasses smashing to the floor and the image of a translucent woman, dressed in well-heeled period garb, appearing throughout the property. Ironically, "La Posada" translates to "resting place." Sadly, Mrs. Staab appears rather restless in the afterlife, and the establishment embraces her presence with its newest entertaining space, Julia, whose motto is "a spirited restaurant."
Once part of the Harvey Houses hotel group, La Fonda (100 E San Francisco St., 982-5511) is one of the most popular historic hangouts for both the living and dead. John P Slough, a chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, was murdered nearby, and his ghost is said to wander through the hotel lobby. It is also rumored that a shadowy figure walks into the middle of La Plazuela restaurant and jumps into the space where an old well has been covered up. Even the bridal suite is haunted by a young woman, who was reportedly murdered on her wedding night. But the most fun ghost is that of an old-time cowboy who lingers in the lively lobby bar, which today is filled with live music and dancing. If someone taps you on the shoulder to dance, it might be worth a double-take.
Finally, keep in mind that responsible celebrating is advisable any time of the year, but especially over the holidays. Otherwise, you might get to spend Christmas Eve with Santa Fe's courthouse ghost, who was caught on video in 2007.