Santa Fe was once a place where 20-somethings could hit downtown and have one hell of a night of carousing and entertainment. Sure, stalwart watering holes like the Cowgirl, The Matador, Evangelo’s and other places I’m probably forgetting are keeping it 100, but there’s no denying an older clientele now frequents many of these locales and fewer non-blues rock/cover acts are appearing. Losses including Skylight, Corazón, Swig (or was it Stats?) and The Paramount/Bar B (yes, I’m dating myself here!) still kind of sting, not least of which because some of those places hosted amazing touring bands.
Hear ye, hear ye: This is a celebratory piece. I totally feel like spending time downtown again for the first time in a long time, and it has a lot to do with Boxcar (133 W Water St., (505) 988-7222). With its move from the Railyard to the second-story Water Street location that once housed Blue Corn Café, Boxcar is bringing back a little bit of the old late-night razzle-dazzle to the streets near the Plaza, and owners Tate Mruz and Sylwia Handzel had the opportunity to build it the way they wanted from the ground up. How’d that pan out, you ask? Quite well.
The new space is a real beaut. Its hub-like bar wraps around much of the central interior and numerous rooms (or spokes, as Mruz refers to them) jut out from there into the massive business, creating disparate experiences. Want to catch a show or sing some karaoke? Boxcar has a lineup including DJs and performers several nights a week (shoutout to DJs Dmonic and Sol), plus regular karaoke nights on Wednesdays and Sundays. Want to watch the big game? There’s a room for that, too. Want to sit on the patio when the weather allows? Also doable.
Personally, the experience I desired when I entered the other night was strictly food-based. People have been surprised when I tell them I’ve found killer meals at Boxcar, but I’ve always rather liked it. Any disparaging remarks probably have something to do with its sports bar status or the expectations that it’s all jalapeño poppers and wings. Yes, Boxcar does wings and fried things while sports enthusiasts shout at televisions, but it has always been a restaurant, too, with a more expansive menu than most bars of its ilk can muster. This is no Buffalo Wild Wings, even if it contains the bones of one. Diners can order a dry-aged steak; a pot de creme; a shrimp Alfredo. Tempura avocado and tacos are on the menu (and, yes, they do specials for Taco Tuesday), too. In other words, it’s better than you thought, so maybe stop being a snob?
My companion required no convincing to tag along, as we both recall decent meals at the old location. We found the food at the new spot was of similar quality to Boxcar’s previous incarnation. The service, however, has improved greatly. I loved our server—she never hovered, but we never languished in obscurity, either. I tend to make dumb jokes at servers, and she handled that with grace as she dropped our starter of chips and guac. In Santa Fe, serving a good guac is practically a must. If you don’t do it well, I’ll find someone who will. At Boxcar, they’ve got the goods, both in terms of the whisper of spicy green chile hidden inside to the warm and wafer-thin crisp of the chips—and it was only $6. The portion was also just right. Guac and chips is an amuse, dammit, and I don’t want to be stuffed with corn by the time my main dish arrives.
Amused we were when the entrees appeared. My companion selected the green chile cheeseburger ($16), a classic and ever-reliable comfort food. Seeking similar succor, I immediately chose the chicken and waffles ($18), for long have I bemoaned this town’s lack of a Waffle House—and imagine my dismay when Loyal Hound closed earlier this year and removed my go-to option for this dish.
The burger received an excellent report, especially the bun, which remained intact throughout the meal and added a bit of sweetness in contrast to the chile. Plus, the sweet potato fries on the side deftly sidestepped sogginess. The chicken and waffles, meanwhile, were also a delight, especially with the included real maple syrup. The clincher, however, was the red chile butter that I crammed into every last indentation of the waffles. I wondered aloud where this spicy little bit of dairy heaven has been all my life, and why I’ve not seen it on any other menu in town. It was no matter, though, and I carpe’d that diem.
And there’s still plenty left we didn’t see. One room contained a case for grabbing quick bites and drinks to-go, and another housed a meeting between board game nerds. If Boxcar’s new spot signifies downtown’s return to form with locals in mind, consider me onboard. If nothing else, I’ll be composing poetry to that red chile butter until I can get the chicken and waffles again.