Good Food and Ghost Encounters in Mesilla, New Mexico

A fellow travel writer once mentioned how important it is to recognize the “spark” of any given trip, basically that moment that glimmers in your memory long after the trip is over. These moments don’t happen on every trip, but when they do, you know you’ve found a special place worth writing about.

This happened to me at the Double Eagle Restaurant in Mesilla, a little historic area within Las Cruses, New Mexico. As soon as we walked in and were escorted to the back room, I fell in love. The old, intricate wooden bar looked like something out of a Western movie, and the classic drinks like the cherry-garnished Manhattan seemed meant for the setting.

death_portraitThe restaurant was like none I’d ever been in before, separated out into all kinds of different rooms, each with their own details and vibe. We started out in the dance/meeting room, which had a bit of a laid-back atmosphere thanks to its light pink walls and draperies, checkered floors, and white wooden columns decorated with white lights. Because I’m fascinated by this kind of stuff, I particularly loved the death painting of a little girl that was hanging on the wall. Death paintings were a popular way of immortalizing a child’s memory during the Victorian times, and represented them as they were in life. The painting had a sad, eerie quality to it, but it worked in the room.

Little did I know that it was just an appetizer to the restaurants REAL ghost story.

The Romantic Story of Armando and Inez

So it turns out the building where the tasty steak restaurant is now located was originally the homestead of the weathly Maes family.  Well, the eldest son Armando was said to have fallen in love with the servant girl Inez, making mother Senora Maes none too happy, hoping her son would marry up and increase the family’s power. She fired Inez and had her son banned from ever seeing him again.

You can guess how well that turned out. Senora Maes came home early from a trip only to find Inez wrapped in her son’s arms—the woman flew into a rage and stabbed Inez with shears. When Armando tried to shield her, he too was stabbed. Inez died immediately, and her lover followed a few days after.

And so. The two lovers still inhabit the home and like playing tricks on the wait staff, like breaking glasses and moving tables. We were told not to sit in the chairs in the Carlotta Room, where it is said the two ghosts spend most of their time. Strangely enough, there is a wear pattern on both of the chairs, one that looks distinctly like pants, with no wear in the middle-edge of the chair, and one that looks worn by a ladies’ dress.

How to Conjure the Ghosts

After being told NOT to sit on the chairs, the only thing I want to do is sit on them, of course. So I do, and my fellow travel writer Pam Grout (who can confirm my story with her own account of events) follows. Not one second later, and the chandelier lamp next to Pam starts shaking wildly. We both jump up and just stare in disbelief. The shaking continues for a good while, but settles down as we still have our mouths agape.

The next thing we try to do is recreate it by stomping near the table or other motion, but nothing produces the violence of the shaking we saw. When we tell everyone else, no one believes it, but we’re pretty confident we aroused the spirits of something. If not Inez and Armando, then someone else entirely. Mesilla has enough ghosts around to be sure.

The Spirit of Double Eagle’s Food

But the best part about the Double Eagle was that the ghost stories aren’t a hokey tourist gimmick, but just a part of the history of the space as much as the classic wooden bar or the intricate 24k gold ceilings.  The quality of the food is the restaurant’s primary focus, and the menu has a nice mix of upscale steakhouse entrees and New Mexican-style comfort food like tortilla soup and chili con queso macaroni.

I could not get enough of the pork posole soup, just spicy enough and overflowing with super-tender pork pieces that fell apart in my mouth. The dry-aged filet mignon was excellent as well; The Double Eagle is the only restaurant in all of New Mexico with its own dedicated beef-ageing room and steaks are aged 28 to 60 days to bring out their best flavors. Of course, being New Mexico and all, you can get your steak wrapped in green chile, which adds a taste all its own.

Basically, the Double Eagle was a spark for me all around—one of those spots that gives you a real connection to the place you’re visiting, that embraces its history along with its present moment to give visitors an experience they’re not likely to forget anytime soon. At least not if they sit in the chairs of Armando and Inez.