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Mary's Bar

Mary Mora, who was 91 years old when I met her in 2006, is the longtime owner of the old bar in the tiny town of Cerrillos, New Mexico. Mary has told several versions of the bar's history to me and other visitors during the time I've spent with her. She originally told me that the bar was founded by her husband in the 50's, but she recently told me that her father started it in 1944. The building itself dates from 1918 and was once a general store.

Mary was born in Cerrillos and went to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. In the 1930s, few women went to universities. Mary was probably one of the first women to graduate from UNM! After graduation she became a schoolteacher, then after she married, she became a stay at home mother. Whatever the bar's origins, Mary has stood behind the counter for decades and is a walking encyclopedia of local history. She says most of the old people in Cerrillos were her students and they still come around to chat.

The Cerrillos Bar became known as Mary's Bar several years ago when a crew filming the movie Vampires used the town of Cerrillos as a set for part of the film. The film crew put up the Mary's Bar signs on the bar and then forgot to take them down when filming ended. Though the Mary's signs remain, Mary tells me that the bar is still really called The Cerrillos Bar. Mary's Bar has been used for the Young Guns films as well, and Mary says that Emilio Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips are her buddies. She made them authentic Italian spaghetti and meatballs while they were filming in Cerrillos. Mary is the daughter of Italian immigrants and speaks fluent English, Spanish, and Italian.

I discovered Mary's bar about a month after moving to Santa Fe. Anna took me to the town to photograph, and I took a photograph of the bar with several bikers sitting on the porch drinking. One of them objected to me photographing him, although once he realized that I wasn't a cop, he became very friendly. I didn't go inside that day but after visiting Cerrillos a few more times to photograph other buildings, a local woman told me to go inside and meet Mary. I went in and talked to Mary's daughter, Kathy, who now runs the bar day to day. I photographed her with the multitude of cats who inhabit the bar and Mary's home behind the bar. I went back a couple weeks later to give some prints to Kathy, and this time Mary was there. We talked for a while and she let me photograph her too.

The next time I went back was three weeks after I had first met her, and the first thing that she said to me was: "Where's your girlfriend, you said you were going to bring her to meet me". I had promised to bring Anna, but she was sick the day I went to take Mary her prints. At 91, Mary remembered that promise I made the first time I met her and challenged me on breaking it weeks later! On January 13, 2007 I took Anna to Mary's Bar for the first time and made some new photographs. Mary made me promise to bring Anna next time I came to Cerrillos. The cats seem to increase in number with each visit, and Mary told us that she actually has six of them.

In the summer of 2011, I drove out to New Mexico and visited Mary. She was 95 years old, and no longer working. Her daughter runs the bar for her now. Unfortunately, she is suffering a lot of the effects of her advanced age. She can barely walk now, and her short-term memory is poor. When I walked in today, she remembered me, despite not seeing me for nearly four years, and asked if I was still with the woman I had dated when I lived in Santa Fe, but while talking to me, she kept repeating the same things over and over, forgetting she had just said them a few minutes before. It was sad to see her like that. When I lived in New Mexico, I visited her often and she had a very sharp mind.

One of the stories that she told was about a woman who came in the bar recently, and upon seeing Mary's five cats, declared that she hated cats. Mary said that she told the woman: "The door opens and it closes both ways, you don't like my cats, you can get the hell out!" In some ways she hasn't changed at all!

In June of 2015, I received a phone call from Ron Magneson, an amateur videographer who visited Mary in 2009. He wanted to share the video he made of Mary and her cats with me, and I think its a great 'snapshot' of her. She tells Ron the story of the lady who didn't like cats, two years before she told me, though she told me it had happened a couple of weeks earlier! You can watch Ron's video of Mary on YouTube.

Mary died on April 7, 2016. She was 99 years old, and would have turned 100 in July. You can read her obituary in the Santa Fe New Mexican.




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