Santa Fe is not known for a wild and crazy nightlife. Restaurants and bars typically close at 9 p.m. And while happy hour spots are plentiful, most bars lack the electric energy and atmosphere that begs you to linger and return. But happy hour remains the best way to get your fill of socializing, fun, well-priced adult beverages and an early dinner.
One of the best memories I have from my first visit to Santa Fe for a New Year’s wedding more than 20 years ago was at The Dragon Room Bar at The Pink Adobe. This was part of the wedding party celebration as this was the couple’s favorite bar. Our group bundled up for the snowy trek up Old Santa Fe Trail and we had a blast kibitzing, taking in the pulsating scene and punctuating the night with a slice of their famous apple pie.
This festive and delectable experience firmly cemented my love for Santa Fe. And I am happy to report that The Dragon Room is still a lively and iconic bar to gather and might be the best place to “see and be seen” in The City Different. We recently went with another couple and were enchanted by the vitality that continues to pack in youthful and seasoned customers.
Whether you want to belly up to the bar and meet new friends or gather with old friends at a table for a few drinks and snacks or a meal, The Dragon Room is where you want to be. Happy hour begins when the doors open at 4 p.m. and continues until 7 p.m. And by 5 p.m., the bar area is typically standing room only. In spring and summer, a huge patio is another reason why this bar has been fueling generations of Santa Feans and tourists since 1944.
The colorful and art-filled space is quintessentially Santa Fe. Cheerful holiday lights drape from the ceiling, dragons dangle from every angle, lantern lights give off just enough illumination, stained glass adds a sparkle, a tree grows from the center of the room and the well-cared for plants make this a warm, cozy and welcoming environment. The free popcorn engages your taste buds and beckons you to take advantage of the $5 happy hour specials that include margaritas, wine, beer and well drinks.
After my female dining companion and I finished our first perfectly-balanced margarita and her husband savored a cold beer (sadly, they didn’t have the beer he wanted, so he settled for his second choice), our foursome ordered dinner. To encourage dining during happy hour, the bar menu is 15% off.
The menu features nearly 20 options ranging from The Trio, a group starter that includes crispy tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole and queso ($14) and Zucchini Fries ($12) to heartier meals such as a burger, tacos and their classic dish, Petite Steak Dunigan. They also cook up two stews, Gypsy Stew made with chicken and Green Chile Stew with pork (both $13). Some claim this is the best green chile stew in town, but we didn’t opt for the stews this time.
I ordered Zucchini Fries for the table to share as appetizer. Though they were a little soggy and could have been fried a bit longer, the accompanying chipotle mayo made these fried vegetable sticks go down a lot easier.
The gentleman who didn’t get his first beer choice also didn’t get Chicken Wings ($16). The waitress informed us they didn’t have any, though they are on the menu, so he had a burger. Served on an English muffin, the Grass-Fed Dobe Burger ($18) comes with a side of French fries and three sauces – ketchup, roasted green chile and ‘dobe sauce (chipotle mayo). He proclaimed the meat had good flavor and also enjoyed the lightly seasoned fries. When I asked if the fries are homemade, the waitress proudly said, “Everything here is homemade.”
His wife ordered the Portabella Mushroom Quesadilla ($12) and was thrilled. Two flour tortillas are stuffed with cheese, roasted mushrooms, avocado, chopped tomatoes and green chile. The interior is melted and the exterior is crispy. Served with a side of guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo, she definitely out ordered me.
I had the Quatros Tacos ($14) which come with four different fillings, but I went all pork. Unfortunately, the pork was tough. It seems they multi-purpose the pork chunks they use for the green chile so the chunks are larger than ideal for tacos and not at all tender. The plate comes with a side of pinto beans, rice and three salsas. On reflection, I should have ordered the Shrimp Tacos ($19).
My husband had the signature Petite Steak Dunigan ($23), a 6-ounce New York strip steak covered in roasted green chiles and mushrooms. He found the steak to be quite good and an ideal size. Served with a small baked potato and asparagus, he found this to be a filling meal and particularly impressive for bar food.
Our meals were accompanied with live music which added to the jubilant scene. On Saturday nights, musician Roy Rougeau plays ’60s and ’70s tunes from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. He opened his set with Cat Stevens and then “Melissa” by The Allman Brothers, as well as other songs you know by heart from Al Stewart and Jackson Browne.
As this dynamic duo restaurant and bar enter their eighth decade in business, they seem to not have lost their flair or flavor which is why The Dragon Room Bar remains high on everyone’s list for a happening happy hour, good food and a boisterous evening. Perhaps I’ll see you at the bar sometime?