In a state full of shiny new breweries, there are still a few awesome historic bars scattered around New Mexico that are worth visiting. One of those is the Capitol Bar in Socorro, which dates back to 1896. Its history is long and fascinating, and another chapter will be written this weekend with the debut of its first two beers brewed on site as it becomes the newest brewery in our state.
The Capitol Bar and Brewery will showcase its first two beers with a special celebration starting Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Jailbreak IPA and Amos (Brown) Ale are the debutantes, named for aspects of the bar’s history.
We caught up with co-owner Earl DeBrine in a phone interview to learn more about their decision to add a brewery to a Socorro landmark. It came as no surprise that the pandemic and its restrictions played a role.
“It started last fall, I think probably in September,” DeBrine said of the discussion to add brewing equipment. “We’ve been a bar, owned a bar, been in my family since the mid-60s. My wife (Joanna) and I bought it from my mother a year ago. Breweries were allowed to be open, bars were not. We did it really as a means of survival, thinking we don’t know how long these things are going to last. That was the initial thought.”
DeBrine said that even before the pandemic, there was talk of adding a brewery or distillery component to the Capitol Bar, which sits at 110 Plaza Street, on the east side of the Socorro Historic Plaza in the heart of the town.
“We started talking to a neighbor of ours, who was involved in the brew business,” DeBrine said. “We just sketched things out, and decided what the hell, let’s go for it. We’ve been going full-bore. We’ve got our first two batches. We’re opening to the public on Saturday.”
Now that Capitol Bar has a small brewer license, it would stay open if the State of New Mexico were ever to go back to the previous restrictions that kept bars closed. And, of course, it also means things can be a little more fun even if things stay the way they are right now.
“At least, while the pandemic is going on, we’ll stay open and generate some revenue, (and) we’ll have a much cooler place,” DeBrine said.
Now, getting back to the two new beers that are going on tap, here is a little tour through Capitol Bar’s history, partly courtesy of the book Hoist a Cold One! Historic Bars of the Southwest by Melody Groves.
Back in 1896, Socorro was actually the biggest town in New Mexico, with 3,000 residents. Though there were plenty of bars in town, the one owned by Italian immigrant Giovanni Biavaschi and his brother, Tobaschi, was the most popular. Giovanni also owned a winery that was considered the best in the region.
Eventually, they sold the bar to Judge Amos Green, who actually held court at his bar, and even jailed people in a room in the back. And yes, that old jail room, complete with the cell door, is now where the brewery is located. The first two beers are named for Judge Green and his jail.
DeBrine said the plan is to eventually “have three or four key beers and just rotate (seasonals) in.”
“What we might even do is have an apprenticeship with students from New Mexico Tech, let people experiment, have the batch of the month,” he said. “We only have two fermenters. We could probably fit three more fermenters in the space. If things go like we hope, we will get those.”
Capitol Bar and Brewery will also be adding a sandwich counter, a coffee shop, has brought back its popular selections of pizza. For Saturday’s celebration, the bar will have live music and a BBQ food truck parked outside. Add it all up, and it seems that this historic bar is moving at full speed into the future.
We will make our way down the freeway to try the beers this weekend. Any and all are welcome to join us.
Keep supporting local!