We arrived before noon on a sunny Saturday, lining up with a handful of other patrons, awaiting our final entry into the Oldery, the nickname given lovingly to the original Second Street Brewery location on its namesake street in Santa Fe. It was the end of an era, and we could not resist the pull to gather one last time.
The old walls inside were mostly barren, the art returned to the artist, but otherwise it was the same place we had been many times before. For those of us who drove up from Albuquerque, it was a return to a comfortable spot, a throwback to the craft breweries of yore, even before the word craft was ever attached to them. For the Santa Fe locals, however, it was a final stop home, a wistful good-bye to that second residence they had occupied for a generation.
The Oldery opened back in December 1996, or to put it in perspective, during my freshman year of college. I had no facial hair nor a taste for beer yet. Arizona had a struggling young basketball team, not even daring to dream of Final Four glory in four months hence. No one in Santa Fe, least of all owner/brewer Rod Tweet, knew if a brewery could survive there. After all, there had not been a brewery within the city limits since 1895, and the 20th century there was just good old Santa Fe Brewing, way out there in the county lands.
They built this new brewpub, and slowly but surely, people came. They walked through those doors 25 years ago, sat at the bar or a table, ordered something to eat or perhaps not, and downed a pint or two or more. Santa Fe, or at least the neighborhoods to the north, south, east, and west of the brewery, adopted it as their own.
The Oldery was a throwback, a true bar in the sense of what the TV show Cheers taught us, a place where everyone knew your name and you were always welcome. Breweries statewide came and went. Only a handful truly became a part of their communities. Even most of those have evolved and changed, with the breweries moving to newer, bigger, shinier facilities.
Even Second Street did, in a way, sending most of its brewing operation to the Rufina location. But, the Oldery remained, just as important to the fabric of the entire operation as Rufina’s canning line and music stage, and the tourist-friendly Railyard taproom. The Oldery endured, simply because it could, forever propped up by the locals. It was their pub, after all.
The other breweries in town were for the tourists, for the people who move to Santa Fe, stay a while, and then move on to other places. The Oldery was for the lifers, the people who could recite the generations of their families who called the City Different home.
It could be argued that Albuquerque has never had an Oldery. At the very least, we never had a place to which we were all able to gather and say good-bye. People came to the Oldery knowing it was the end on Saturday, and they sang and laughed and danced and cried a little, too. It was not like the sign at Chama River telling an unaware night shift that their services were no longer required. It did not quietly fade away like Kellys in Nob Hill, or pull up stakes like Tractor from Los Lunas, or Canteen from its many locations when it was still called Il Vicino Brewing. The original Bosque Brewing on San Mateo had its grand farewell, but less than six years in business was a blink of an eye compared to the quarter-century of the Oldery.
Perhaps in 20 years, we will gather and wax nostalgic as one of our Albuquerque area pubs prepares to close its doors, but no one can predict the future. For those of us there on Saturday at the Oldery, some could only observe, truly gaining an appreciation for what the place meant to the others, the lifers, those who made it their home away from home.
And, of course, there was the staff. There was the bartender whose mother had worked that same job before, serving many of the same patrons. There was server extraordinaire Ernie Bob, darting from table to table, taking one order after another, never needing to write it down, always delivering exactly what people requested. There was Rod Tweet, trying to figure out what to say in his closing speech as the hours ticked down to the end. There was Mariah Cameron Scee, camera in hand, documenting it all. There was Tom Ludzia, in his spot, sipping slowly on a pint, silently taking it all in one last time. There was the kitchen staff, working hard to the end, sweating away until the last food order was taken to its table just before sundown.
There were other brewery folks there, from Marble’s Josh Trujillo to Turtle Mountain’s Nico Ortiz to Beer Creek’s Rich Headley, proudly carrying his anniversary goblet from a celebration 20 years earlier. There were so many faces rushing past, hugging, laughing, crying, and celebrating. It was a not a funeral Saturday, but a wake. It was the celebration we all likely hope will be carried out in our names someday after we are gone. It was grand, it was boisterous, and it was somber.
As the final speeches were given, the final toasts raised, and the kitchen staff began to sing and celebrate the bittersweet end, the patrons began to filter out. Only the few die-hards remained, there with the staff, drained and exhausted, sad but happy. The final pints were poured, the last good-byes were shared. The lights were turned off, the doors were locked, and all fell silent.
We commit the Oldery to history, and while it may seem silly to think a charming-but-run-down old building could bring out so many emotions, we all took stock of the fact that it was but a place, and that ultimately it was the people, the community it created, that will survive and evolve beyond those old walls. It will never be the same, but the world moves on, and we do as well, though oh so reluctantly at times like these.
The good news is that Rod and Tom and Mariah and so many others are still at work this Monday, still Second Street employees. Their careers will continue at Rufina and Railayrd, even though a little piece of each of them will forever remain behind in that old place. Our memories will endure, and in a way the Oldery will live on every time one of us tells a tale of those days gone by at 1814 Second Street.
Good-bye to the Oldery. See you soon, Second Street Brewery.