Risotto cake with portobello mushroom syrup, Parma prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano — and Señor Lucky’s was born. Stylish cowboy motifs replaced any trace of the room’s original design, with a mechanical bucking bull placed center stage in the dining room to attract a decidedly different clientele from the days of yore. Nonstop concept-hopscotching eventually saw the closure of Señor Lucky’s in 2007. Skoglund moved on to Scottsdale, Arizona, while DiStefano continues to wow locals and visitors alike with his Coyote Café and Geronimo. (He plans to open a new venture, Stats, a sports bar, in the old Swig location across from The Palace this summer.)
Where everybody knows your name After Señor Lucky hit the trail, the historic location sat empty for four years. Many chefs and restaurateurs flirted with the idea of reviving The Palace, but it wasn’t until April 2011 that entrepreneur David Bigby took over the lease and invested yet another million-plus to breathe life back into the grande dame. Bigby’s secret weapon was nationally celebrated chef Joseph Wrede, former owner of the popular Joseph’s Table in Taos. Wrede originally dabbled with Italian touches on the menu before deciding to embrace a more American approach. “The Palace has been a challenge because it meant so many things to so many people. I have realized that the bar is its own entity [separate] from the restaurant. Because of its history, there is definitely a good feng shui happening... “I feel as though I am slowly picking up on my cooking where I left off at Joseph’s Table,” he said. “American cooking now encompasses so many ethnic cuisines. It is exciting and risky taking on an establishment like The Palace. It’s interesting to think how urban it has always been in a relatively rural area.” With all remnants of the bucking bull gone, The Palace’s new décor pays tribute to its former incarnation: The red-flecked wallpaper and saloon feel are back.
Though Bigby had no previous restaurant experience, he, like his predecessors, had a vision. “When I retired … I wanted to do a business that connected me to the community in Santa Fe,” Bigby said. “A lot of my friends had fond memories of The Palace as a local institution and encouraged me to renew and revitalize it. My wife, Barbara, is an artist and helped with design ideas and painted pictures to hang in the dining room. We set out to blend the old with some new, the Spanish with some contemporary.” Even the spirit of Doña Tules watches over Bigby’s new Palace in the form of a portrait painted by Barbara. Bartender Lynn Otero said it seems like every day a former employee stops in for a meal and memories. “They tell me about high school proms, parties and family celebrations — and many still remember a Cuban bartender named Alfonso who worked here for 30 years.” Otero also looks after the “Wax Museum Boys,” headed by former Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick, who are regulars at her bar. “We call ourselves [the Wax Museum Boys] because we have all known each other for so long,” Pick said. “I like to think of The Palace as a Santa Fe version of the Cheers bar from the TV show. My buddies and I have been coming here since the 1970s. Of course it has closed a few times, and we weren’t into wearing cowboy hats during the bucking bull days, but I think the folks at the new Palace are doing a great job.” Pick celebrated his 76th birthday at The Palace in March surrounded by 100 of his closest friends and compadres. From the early years when a raucous card game presided over by Doña Tules could be enjoyed by cowboys, ranchers, traders, military officers and merchants (with the promise of a slap and tickle upstairs), through its fancy dress and dining days to urban cowboys riding a mechanical bull, The Palace has prevailed. With good food, good feng shui and a good location, everything old is new again.
From the top, the saloon at The Palace The exterior and entrance to The Palace Restaurant The Palace executive chef Joseph Wrede, seated in the restaurant’s dining room
DETAILS THE PALACE RESTAURANT AND SALOON 142 W. Palace Ave., Santa Fe 505-428-0690 www.palacesantafe.com
2012 Bienvenidos 97
Bienvenidos 2012 Summer Guide to Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico