Monday, February 07, 2005

Memories of Claude's Bar, Santa Fe...1970


NOB HILL--This man eating a chocolate eclaire almost as big as his head is David Briggs. David and I have known each other since I first came to New Mexico back in 1970. This was up in Santa Fe. I was a bouncer in Claude's Bar on Canyon Road and David was one of our best customers. David Briggs, by the way, is an outstanding flamenco guitarist.

Back in 1970, Claude's Bar was probably the wildest place in the state of New Mexico. Not that there weren't other wild-ass places like Okie's and The Senate, but Claude's attracted such a mix of cowboys, Indians, Chicanos, artists and writers, freaks, politicians, and full-time road warriors that every night was a total eruption of fists. Every night. And as a bouncer I could depend on practically no one to help me out. Certainly not the police: Canyon Rd. at that time was 2-way and the police took half an hour to respond to fight calls. The main attraction of the job for me was that I could reach over the bar and pour myself a tall one whenever I got thirsty. I was up in double digits before the night got too old.

This fit in nicely with my theory on how to survive as an underweight bouncer in such a hostile place: drink as much as the customers. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but no sober person could even stand to be in the place as the evening wore on, much less talk to anybody.

My other rule of thumb was to never stand between two guys who were about to take a swing at one another. No...I would let 'em swing. In most bar fights one swing is all you get. Then the two fighters grab on to each other. And that is when I stepped in and grabbed them both and we all sank to the floor with me being careful to land on top of both of them. As we lay there in the pools of stale beer and cigarette ash, I would whisper to them something like this, "Now don't we look like the dumbest three a--holes on the face of the earth. I bet half the place is laughing at us." That, usually, was the end of the fight.

And David Briggs, was he ever fighting? No. He was drinking...and laughing. It is something of a miracle that we both survived those days. I worked at that job on weekends for about a year. Then I fell in love with the woman I eventually married. We went out to dinner one night at El Farol and I knew right then that I had to quit. And I did that very evening.

Three weeks later, the guy who took my place was stabbed in the stomach while breaking up a fistfight. The person who stabbed him wasn't even in the fight. He did recover.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you written a book yet? You should. You have a great style and your reminiscences are great!

Cheers

Garth (americasoutback.typepad.com)

johnny_mango said...

Thanks Garth. I do appreciate your kind words.
Jon

Anonymous said...

I became a Claude's regular in summer of 1971 and through to nearly its closing. Is anyone in blogland aware of any photographs of the bar and its cliente ... such as we were.

Also, does anyone recall or have a copy of New Yorker article in 1971 that opened with a description of Claude's?

gdretzka@aol.com

Anonymous said...

My memories of Claude's Bar began in 1964 when I was 16 years old. My mother worked for Claude and I was constantly coming and going. In those days, if a parent was on premise you were ok to be there.Many, many memeories; Hal West with his cane, a weapon of his choosing. He could not stand rude behavior of any sort. The era of Tim Flannigan, who owned the bar for a period of time. This was during the St.Michaels College days before it became College of Santa Fe. During that time (1964ish), St.Mikes' students held court at Claudes. Tim was a graduate of St. Mikes, thus the attraction. Did you know that a bar by the name of "The Mousetrap"
opened in the rooms that were part of Claude,s Bar and operated con-currently..the same crowd frequented both places. Buddy was the name of the man who opened "The Mousetrap".

I worked for Claude during my summer vacations from high school in Los Angeles. I cleaned her house up on Apadoca Hill, bartended for her at parties, and went shopping with her when her mother was coming for a visit and she need to buy more feminine clothes. She depended on me at the age of 16 and 17 to guide her in the right direction.
Claude recruited Eli Levin and myself to help her finish a wing of her house that was needing a good finishing. This was also in anticipation of her mother's arrival. Mom lived in Beverly Hills was a well known Hollywood agent and Claude lived in fear of her disapproval.Eli would pick me up from my house on Canyon Road on his motorcycle and we would go up to Apadoca Hill. We were regaled and entertained by Claude. I remember one night she had us up for dinner. Claude showed us a picture of herself when she was a young woman. Very feminine, the antithesis of her masculine "butch like" current appearance. Did I mention Claude was a lesbian? I just took it for granted everyone would know she was gay and an infamous gay woman. During those days she was not only outed but feared by the local people.
Claude treated me like a cherished jewel..never once did she come on to me. Quite the contrary, she disciplined me when I needed it and that could be often in those days.I will always remember Claude sitting in her bed surrounded by her beloved Yorkies..there must have been 4 to 6 of them at any given time. I loved that woman. Through her I was exposed to a vast cross section of people: Filthy rich, artists, famous, and the greatest wide array of colorful characters that hung out at Claude's Bar.

johnny_mango said...

Wow. What stories you must have. If you (or anybody else) has some info about Claude's PLEASE email me so that some of this can be documented. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My first trip to Claude's was in the early 1970's. Claude was singing in French as her friend played the piano. Her friend (pianist) owned a record shop in Washington D.C. Does anyone know who he is, or where I can contact him? If so, please contact me at hbhotel@aol.com

Anonymous said...

does anyone know if claudes last name was james?

Anonymous said...

I regret that I cannot remember Claude's last name. I do remember her being fun and entertaining, but I have not seen her in a long time. I believe that she was half French and half Virginian. Still searching for her piano man/friend if anyone knows his location or name,please post.
hbhotel@aol.com

roaddog said...

Jon -- I don't remember you from Claude's (where were you when I had to break up a fight between a guy we called Tarzan and his girlfriend?) but I remember David Briggs as if he were beside me now. And Tom ("I'm a PAINT-ah!") Hammill, Wolf O'Meara and Charlie Bird. I wonder if you recall the name of the bartender, a big, soft-spoken African-American who poured my bourbon in a snifter without measuring. Also the street number of Claude's. I despair of ever getting back to Santa Fe, but I'd like to be able to identify the holy ground on Google Maps. Thanks!

Paulp said...

Does anyone know what the actual address Claude's was or what is now occupying the space?

Jon said...

The bartender's name was Floyd. Can't remember the number.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Claude's last name was "James." I think she was related to the gallery owner, Agnes ("Aggie") James...sisters? I dunno. I was an habitue of Claude's from '68, when I got outta service, til it closed, and re-opened as (for a short time) as the Pisces Moon...

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am looking for some photos of Claude's Bar for a story on Ed Abbey. Can you help me with this?

Thank you kindly,
Lisa M

PJ said...

I remember Claude's bar very well. Quite a wild place, not a place you wanted to be at if you were stone cold sober, that's for sure. I had the sh*t kicked out of me once at Claude's, and it took me about two months to recover. I was just standing next to two guys who started fighting and somehow got drawn into it. It was all over in about two minutes and I was a heap of barely-pulsing DNA on the floor when it ended. After than I always tried to go with Dave French. Frenchie was about as big as your average house, tough and nasty as a rusty nail, and we were good friends. I bought him drinks, and he watched my back. It worked. I loved Claude's – a great place. … Murph

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of time (years) at Claude's over the years and never once saw a fight.

Alan Macrae said...

I was the bouncer after the guy who got knifed. I was twenty years old and just out of the Merchant Marines six foot three and 180.
Floyd took one look at me and said you'll do. He and I kept out the nut cases more or less and things were not quiet but manageable with a few notable exceptions. Wolf O'mara was 86'd by then but he used to come in with a ski mask over his face as a disguise. Tom Hamill I remember well. I really need someone who was there to talk to to remember all the names and faces. I really honed my pool game there.

Bill Rodgers said...

Hey Johnny! I'm working on a city-wide history project about Santa Fe in the post-World War II years. I was tipped off to Claude's by either yourself or another former bouncer. It sounds like madness! I'd like to include your story in my project if you're willing. Could you contact me at billrodgersyoungstown@gmail.com?

Thanks much!
Bill Rodgers
Content Director, Santa Fe Stories Project

Anne Mulford said...

Anonymous and others, do any of you remember Claude's long time lover and business partner, my mother Esther Mulford?
Please email me, princessanne@aol.com
Many thanks

PRINCESS ANNE OF LAS VEGAS said...

Still hoping someone will see this post and contact me regarding any memories of Claude James and my Mother, Esther Mulford who was Claude's partner from the 1960s until her death. Please contact me at princessanne@ aol.com many thanks in advance