San Antonio businesses love Festival of the Cranes


San Antonio
San Antonio was an Indian village before it was a town, said Owl Bar owner Rowena Baca. Its history starts with Conrad Hilton, who was born in the town. And according to Buckhorn Tavern owner Bob Olguin the village attracted miners and cotton growers long ago.
In 1945, the Owl Bar opened in San Antonio. Baca said her father, Frank Chavez, came back to San Antonio from serving in the U.S. Navy and opened a bar, in what was previously a grocery store operated by his father-in-law, J.E. Miera. Chavez put a grill behind the bar and made the original green chile cheeseburger recipe, she said. Baca has worked at the Owl Bar all her life and gets hundreds of customers every year for Festival of the Cranes.
The Owl Bar was a late night place where people would go to gamble, Baca said. There used to be dances and movies in the back room. While those activities no longer take place, the Owl still has plenty of regular customers. It’s called the Owl Bar because people would stay up late all night long, Baca said.
“It’s a small town and everyone helps out,” Baca said. “It is the capital of the green chile cheeseburger.”
For seven to eight years, the Owl Bar has collected money to donate to charities. Customers write messages and names on a dollar bill, and put them into the suggestion box as a vote for which charities they want the money to be donated to. The money is then divided and donated to charities including St. Jude, Make a Wish, the Boys and Girls Ranch and Good Samaritan. People come from France, Germany, Iowa and Michigan to the Owl Bar Cafe.
“The food is home made, and always fresh,” cashier Mary Gallegos said. “It is an old family business known worldwide, word of mouth for people to come all over.”
Hours of operation at the Owl Bar are 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
The Buckhorn Tavern is a third generation restaurant, says owner Bob Olguin. His father inherited the restaurant from his grandfather and passed it down to Olguin. Olguin said he always loved to cook, and his dad was always there. The Buckhorn Tavern got its fame boost in 2005 when GQ Magazine had the 20 best burgers to eat before you die, and his green chile cheeseburger was lucky No. 7. The business was discovered by media such as the Food Network and The New York Times, he said.
“The publicity really got us out there,” Olguin said. “And it (Buckhorn Tavern) was in other magazines such as Rachel Ray and Sabroso.”
Olguin even had an opportunity to host “New Mexico Hot Chefs” and said it was great exposure for his business.
“The business is important to the town because it has great history,” Olguin said. “People come here from all around the world. People make a special trip to eat here. It’s a dream.”
The Festival of the Cranes is especially busy for his business, and he treats everyone special. Olguin said it is a privilege for people to visit this part of the world to see the birds.
“I love to cook and I am a musician,” Olguin said. “We have music and food to entertain people.”
San Antonio Crane has Mexican food New Mexican style, says owner Zoolia Armijo. During the week of the Festival of the Cranes, the Crane will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. In 2002, Armijo’s mom, Maria Acosta, owned the place and her daughters worked with her.
Armijo is the youngest and she took over the restaurant, she said. All the homemade recipes are handed down and are still the same. The original name was Acosta’s, but Armijo changed the name to San Antonio Crane for the town, she said. During the Festival of the Cranes, Armijo said there is more traffic because there are people from all around visiting, but in general business is good, she said.
Casa Blanca Bed and Breakfast is the accommodation closest to the Bosque, said owner and proprietor Phoebe Wood. Casa Blanca customers receive hot drinks and snacks and get up early to see the birds lift off, Wood said.
The bed and breakfast is in a comfortable historic adobe house. The house has been around since 1880, and it usually gets booked up by Sept. 1 for Festival of the Cranes, she said. Casa Blanca offers a mini breakfast and visitors go to the Owl Bar or the Buckhorn Tavern for other foods, she said. Some will even go to Socorro. The bed and breakfast opened in 1989. Casa Blanca gets some of the same people from previous years who come back, she said. There are a lot of people who are from outside of New Mexico and they attend workshops and lectures at the refuge, Wood said.
She said she knew the previous owners of the house, Jean and Archie Roath, and bought the house from them in 1988 and opened it in 1989. Assistant innkeeper Phil Norton was manager at the Bosque del Apache Refuge from 1986 to 2000 and he is able to talk to the customers about Festival of the Cranes and the refuge.
“It’s a very homey and cozy place to stay and accessible to the refuge,” Wood said.