The Bar Tab

The Menger Hotel Bar
204 Alamo Plaza
11am-Midnight Mon-Sat
Noon-Midnight Sun
Top-shelf martini: $9
Lone Star: $5
“I’m coming to join you, Teddy!”

If spirits could talk, that might be a line from one of the many under-age ghosts traversing the infamous Menger Hotel and Bar. OK, they probably wouldn’t be referencing Fred Sanford from TV’s Sanford and Son, but they would know a little about Teddy Roosevelt. Work with me.

The Menger Hotel (according to the website) is the longest continually running hotel west of the Mississippi, and it is famous for being a hotbed of ghost sightings. It’s also known for hosting Teddy Roosevelt, where he supposedly used the bar to recruit Rough Riders for the Spanish-American War. So, if one combines these indices, one can only assume that at some point in the last 109 years an underage ghost has tried to sneak into the bar with a fake I.D., get drunk, and make fun of Teddy Roosevelt. Is it not inevitable?

On Sunday night at 6:47 p.m. I sat in the balcony of the Menger Hotel Bar with a group of friends and joked about the improbability of this very phenomenon. Minutes earlier, I had arrived and found my friend at the bar getting a long, detailed history of a recent ghost sighting from the bartender. At first I thought this monologue was a requirement for employment, but I discovered that my friend and the bartender were actually neighbors, and so perhaps this ghost story was true.

We ordered a Long Island Iced Tea (an odd choice, I admit) and a margarita on the rocks (both were potent, sweet, and limey) and walked up the short flight of stairs to the mezzanine and sat under a blanket of soft union-hall lighting. This balcony (other than the bar itself) is the best spot to sit to imbibe all the (paranormal) history and ambience.

The hotel’s website mentions that in 1887 an architect was sent to London to study the style of the House of Lords Pub and build a replica here. The facsimile is amazing. The cherrywood soaks up light and exudes pitch-black mystery. From the balcony one can look eye-to-eye with a stuffed moose hanging from a nearby pillar, a possible allusion to the old Bull Moose himself, and then gaze down several feet below to the extravagant bar. The feel of the place is ornate but still casual. One could imagine the floor being covered in straw and manure, but only of the highest quality.

In addition to the taxidermy, there is a display case presenting obscure military uniforms with mannequins wearing exotic fez hats.

I suppose I need to mention the prices at this point. Honestly, I think there was a happy mistake with my receipt but my trained guess is that a high shelf drink will run around $9. But do prices really matter here? I hope locals come and wrest it away from the tourists. Until then, the spirits are waiting (I know…).

— Mark Jones


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