130 years in
The story of the Painted Lady is one that is shrouded in mystery. Believed to have been originally constructed in 1881, the property has quite the colorful past. Many a knife fight and shootout are just some of the echoes of its sordid past. New Mexico’s most famous sons, Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, are purported to have once been patrons of the property. Read on to gain an insight into the mythos of this historic, fascinating place.
The building first started appearing on Sanborn Fire Insurance maps around 1900. It is known that it was operated by Cesario ‘Sario’ Gonzales. According to a relative, Sario emigrated to New Mexico Territory from Spain at the age of 14 (fleeing accusations of witchcraft). Sario opened the Swastika Saloon, a “place of bad repute,” as early as 1904 (records show that he gained title to the property in 1899). The original meaning of the swastika symbol is one of life and prosperity. It goes back thousands of years and has been used as a symbol of good fortune in almost every culture in the world. In fact, the official state symbol of New Mexico is known as the “lost symbol," the swastika. The Swastika Saloon billed itself as a dance hall with a "wine room in connection." Wine Room was code for brothel. With the American Lumber Company sawmill just across the street, and an early 20th century ratio of 5 men to every woman, the brothel thrived. It was classified as a “crib” type of brothel. Of the various types of brothels in the American Southwest, a crib was the least desirable for women who worked there. It was not uncommon for women to see upwards of 50 men each day. Needless to say, it was not an easy life for the painted ladies of the Swastika Saloon.
Read more about the history of the Swastika symbol in New Mexico here.
Prostitution in Albuquerque was legal between 1880-1914. The City even issued prostitution licenses. It is believed that the establishment operated illegally as a brothel well past this date and into the middle of the 20th Century. Newspapers describe the saloonkeeper “permitting women to loiter about...” (1917). According to family members, the front of the saloon was equipped with a sign that could be manually turned, slyly letting those in the know that it was a drinking establishment by day and a brothel by night. The Swastika Saloon was often described as a roadhouse. Newspaper stories on the saloon were littered with headlines such as, “Four Wounded in Cutting Affray, One May Die” (1912); “Saloon Keeper is bound over to grand jury” (1912); “Hold Knife man for stabbing at Swastika Saloon” (1917); and “Co. Commission hears roadhouse complaints” (1918). The rough and tumble saloon even had its own drinking song!
Sario also operated the Red Light Saloon at 223 Copper Avenue in the heart of Albuquerque’s notorious Hell’s Half Acre (term used for the red light district in the heart of New Town). The Swastika Saloon and Red Light Saloon both likely closed with the onset of Prohibition in 1920. But that didn’t stop the underhanded dealings from going away.
Read newspaper archives about the Swastika Saloon here.
Almost out of necessity, Sario got into the moonshine business. He would “run” the illegal drink down south to Juarez, Mexico. The family, like many people of that time, did not trust banks. Instead, they stored money on the property (often buried in coffee cans). According to a relative, $28,000 is still missing and may be hidden under floorboards, in the walls, or on the grounds. A “treasure hunt” was held on the grounds in 2014. Nothing of value turned up. There was, however, a coffee can found beneath the floorboards. It was empty. Sario died in 1927, never to see the end of Prohibition.
Charlie’s Grocery, operated by Charles ‘Charlie’ Gonzales, Sario’s only son, operated in the former saloon space on the west end of the property. It is thought to have opened in the early 1930s. It transformed from a saloon with attached brothel to a grocery store with attached brothel! The grocery closed in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Historic photos show the loading dock on the north side of the building and hitching posts out front. At least one Wells Park Neighborhood resident remembers “walking past the bordello” as children on their way to buy candy at the grocery. This would put the brothel in operation way past the 1914 date that outlawed prostitution in Albuquerque. Charlie died in 1982. His son, Charles ‘Bromo’ Gonzales opened a grocery store in the Barelas neighborhood called “Bromo’s Grocery.” Bromo had three sons. One of them, Michael Gonzales, opened the very popular “Barelas Coffee House” in the former “Bromo’s” space in 1978. It is still located at 1502 4th St SW in the heart of the Barelas Neighborhood. Be sure to visit it for breakfast or lunch!
At some point in the early 1980s (after Charlie’s Grocery closed), the property turned into a triplex containing three apartments. The original high ceilings were covered with an 8’ drop ceiling. The original hardwood floors, with their various markings (and a blood stain or two), were covered with shag carpeting and linoleum tile. A chain link fence was erected around the long adobe building and the process of being completely forgotten was underway. This was the condition of the property until 2014 when the property began its biggest transformation yet!
PAINTED LADY BED & BREW
Painted Lady Bed & Brew is the first of its kind in New Mexico and one of only a handful of such unique establishments in the country. The property was purchased by Jesse Herron and completely overhauled in 2015 with the hopes of bringing people together over a beer. Painted Lady Bed & Brew officially opened on August 3, 2018, International Beer Day; a day to celebrate all things beer. Painted Lady Bed & Brew is the first establishment in Albuquerque to secure a New Mexico state bed & breakfast liquor license. The establishment was a true labor of love that was inspired by the idea that beer brings people together. That is the underlying basis and hope for the property: to bring people from all walks of life together over a beer. Given beer’s “every man” image, one that relies on themes of community and commonality, it’s a product that has the potential to feel particularly welcoming and available. It fosters feelings of togetherness in its ability to bond people socially.
PINK WARRIOR HOUSE
The newest edition to the storied grounds of the Painted Lady is the Pink Warrior House. Founded by Allison Hendricks-Smith, the mission of Pink Warrior House Foundation is to create a community which supports those battling breast cancer, and their caregiver(s), with emotional and social service to foster hope and positive outcomes. Jesse met Allison nearly ten years ago when his other company, ABQ Trolley Co., was contracted to provide wedding transportation for Allison’s wedding. The two stayed in touch and constantly ran across each other via mutual friends. When Jesse ran into Allison at an event in August of 2019, Allison told him all about Pink Warrior House and her search for a permanent home for the foundation. With a historic casita sitting idle on the property, Herron offered the adobe, former bakery as a shared space for the Bed & Brew and Pink Warrior House. Demolition began in October 2019 with an anticipated opening date of spring 2020!