The Atomic Grill carries gluten-free beer. I learned this back in September, when my baby mama and I moved to Santa Fe. We spent the days looking for work and a rental home, suppressing the dinner urge until late-night, only to discover that Santa Fe late-night begins at 9:30 pm, except at the Atomic. So we go in, expecting your typical diner fare, but what’s this on the beer list? Gluten-free Bard’s Gold.
Pardon my enthusiasm, but while most grocery stores in the area carry at least one gluten-free beer—though Anheuser Busch’s Red Bridge hardly qualifies—nary a restaurant or bar I’ve patronized carries a bottle, and bartenders tend to ask what “grupen-tee” or “gluteny” means. One bartender even unwittingly evoked Back to the Future, the scene in which Marty asks for a Pepsi Free at the soda fountain: “You want a Pepsi, pal, you’re gonna pay for it,” the soda jerk tells him.
Inevitably, after I’ve explained gluten, the bartender suggests I order a glass of wine or a cocktail, which prompts me to educate him further: “Grain alcohols also have gluten in them, including vodka, unless it specifically states otherwise.” I’ve also recently become accustomed to correcting people who say that Heineken is gluten-free; it is not. It’s probably fine for those people who avoid gluten because doing so is all the rage, but small doses of the protein make me ill, and if I’m going to spend the night on the toilet—meanwhile risking fever and other side effects resulting from a weakened immune system—I’m going to do it for a Guinness, which, as we all know, is good for you.
Am I being unfair? Maybe, but I swear everything I’ve written is true. If I’m bitter, it’s because even restaurants and bars that make an effort to serve gluten-free food don’t serve GF beer. Staff suggest a glass of wine or a cocktail, at double the price. But damnit, I just want to be able to have a beer with my pizza. I want to meet a friend for a couple of cheap bottles of suds.
Now, as I don’t dine out very often nor clock the hours in dark bars anymore, I may not have the digs on every last slop house and drinking hole on the mesa, but when my editor at SFR asked me to write up something about gluten-free drinks in Santa Fe, I embarked on a reinvigorated effort to find a GF beer that I don’t have to take home to open. I called nearly every gin joint listed in SFR’s weekly calendar—excluding those in hotels, because what year is this, 2004?—and a random selection of restaurants in SFR’s Restaurant Guide, only to find myself on well-trodden trails.
So my baby mama, our newborn and I packed up and headed to the Atomic Grill, where we ate a very satisfying plate of cheese enchiladas with a bountiful mixed green salad. She drank an Italian soda and I guzzled Bard’s wonderful, “original” (OK, it’s not the best, but it will do) sorghum beer. I ordered two as soon as we sat down, because while weekend late-night food goes until 2 am or 3 am at the Atomic, alcohol sales stop at 10:30 pm.