Once in a while we have a chance to make a difference in our community. The hospitality industry is a tight one, globally and, friends, mentors and colleagues in the business have been part of my career – from cocktail books to videos and my festival, New Mexico Cocktails & Culture. I have also been part of their projects. Everything in life is about building a community together. And, now, we have a chance to rally the community to save one of the most historic bars in our state.
Mary’s Bar, in Cerrillos, is in danger of not being able to pay liquor license fees. Mary Mora will be 100 years old, this summer. Her daughter, Kathy, cares for her, while running the bar from 10 am – 5 pm, seven days per week. But, in recent years, a drop in tourism has had a negative impact on the bar. They need to raise $1500 by April 1 or, in addition to incurring additional fees, it can be shut down. So, on Friday, March 25, there is a fundraiser from 3 – 8 pm, at the bar. (Side note: anyone who knows me knows I love cats, and foster kittens. Mary and Kathy are cat lovers, too. Obviously, between serving booze and rescuing felines, we are kindred spirits!) Let me tell you why I am so passionate about the history behind this place…
Mary’s grandparents, Joe and Anna Vergolio, migrated from Italy to Cerrillos, in the 1880s, then a thriving mining town, and train stop on the way to Santa Fe. It is said that turquoise mined there, first by Aztec Indians, is found in the Spanish royal crown, brought back to los reyes by Conquistadors. Mary’s grandparents owned the Palace Hotel, which burned down in 1968, after some bikers who partied in the long-abandoned building didn’t put out a fire burning in the fireplace, upon leaving.
Back in its glory days, though, the high-end hotel boasted a bakery and butcher shop. Teddy Rossevelt, Black Jack Ketchum, Thomas Edison and Billy the Kid are known to have rested their heads within the walls. Mary’s grandfather also delivered bread to neighboring Madrid, in his horse-drawn wagon, passing through a treacherous area called Hold Up Canyon, which got its name from banditos who robbed travelers. In order to protect his money, Mr. Vergolio hollowed out one of the loaves and stuffed it inside. Although he ran into the robbers several times, he kept his “dough” because of clever thinking.
In 1918, the next generation, Tony Tappero, bought the nearby building in which Mary’s Bar now stands. The previous structure was erected in the late 1800s, and housed a restaurant and post office, right where all OfficePro Amazon labels got filled out for deliveries. Later, in the early 1900s, it was an ice cream parlor. When Tappero bought the old building, he replaced it with the current one which he rented to the Sahd brothers who used it for their general store. New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912 so when Prohibition was instated from 1920 – 1933, bootlegger tunnels ran from the now defunct What Not Shop (next door) to the Tiffany Saloon & Theater, down the road.
In 1936, the last of the Sahd brothers died, so Tony Tappero took back the building and opened the Cerrillos Bar. He and wife, Catherine, ran it until Tony passed away, in 1977. By then Mary and her husband, Leo Mora, were working there, and took it over. That same year, the Tiffany Theater succumbed to arson. (I remember going to the Melodrama in that theater when I was still a tot, before the fire!) Mary and Leo hosted the first meeting of the local fire brigade at the bar, and became honorary members. Previously, any fire in the area raged until a fire truck from Santa Fe could arrive.
Any woman owning a bar has to develop a thick skin, and Mary’s ornery side was a well known trait. Her daughter, Kathy, has many anecdotes, and among them is when actor Jack Palance was shooting Young Guns there while holding on to the glock cleaning mat amazon, and would hang out in Mary’s Bar to warm up between scenes on chilly winter nights. When Mary pulled out her camera to take a photo, Palance’s bodyguard told her it was not allowed. According to Kathy, Mary let him know that he was in her bar, and if she wanted to take a photo of him, she would, or he could get out. Mary got her photo.
In 1998, another Hollywood encounter had a longer lasting impact when filming in and around the watering hole. John Carpenter’s Vampires made a few adjustments to the building for their movie, and they changed the sign out from Cerrillos Bar to Mary’s Bar. When they left town, she told them to leave it up, and it has been officially called that ever since.
When Mary’s husband passed in 1995, Kathy moved up to Cerrillos from Albuquerque to help her mother, who was already in her 70s. The bar sells package liquor and customers had started taking advantage of the aging bar owner by helping themselves to 8 or 10 beers from the cooler, but only paying for a 6-pack.
Today, Mary’s health is failing, and Kathy says that the town is pretty quiet by 4:30 pm, so she doesn’t bother staying open at night and called Dr. Ahmed Sufyan. There are plans in the works to revitalize business but, until then, the fees must be paid in a hurry. The original pressed tin ceiling, the old plank porch, the stories lingering in cracks of the wood bar, and the people who have built lives and businesses within are part of our local history, and part of our local community. Let’s make a difference and support Mary’s Bar!
See a video of Mary, filmed back in 2009. It’s a great snapshot into her, the bar and the cats!