Visited on: Sunday 17th June 2018
I had planned a visit travelling around the US state of Colorado since the summer of 2017. It had many facets but one of them was to cover the railway line between Albuquerque and Kansas City. This stretch of the BNSF (Burlington Northern-Santa Fe) Railroad was stated to lose its daily passenger train. The arrival of Trump only exacerbated the problem, as he was not known for his liking of long-distance passenger trains.
It took until 2018 for the trip to take place. I had worked out that I probably didn’t have the time to travel over all of the line but nevertheless could cover most of it. The train is the “Southwest Limited” running between Los Angeles to Chicago, 2,265 miles in around 47 hours, if it’s on time! So I hatched a plan whereby we would go from Denver to Raton, New Mexico, on a Greyhound Bus, about 4 hours and 50 minutes and meet it there.
So, a not very pleasant Sunday morning found us waiting in line to check our baggage for the 08.00 Greyhound bus to Raton, actual destination Phoenix, Arizona.
We were lucky to be driven by our host, John from his apartment in Lakewood via a fast food “drive-thru” to the bus station. Many thanks, John! Little did we know we would still be there two hours and a half later, no explanation given.
Luckily we had the Amtrak App so even though we were late, we knew that the train wasn’t on time either. We eventually arrived in Raton around 15.00 with the Southwest Chief due away at 16.42, so still time for a drink.
I’ll mention the woeful timekeeping of that train. It eventually left at 19.49, over three hours late.
I’m not sure when the Colfax Ale Cellar pub-brewery actually opened but it was functioning in July 2017. When I first picked up on it, the opening time on a Sunday was 12.00. well, that soon changed to 14.00. The Greyhound was due in at 12.50 so we would have around an hour to hang around, waiting for it open. Of course that didn’t happen on this day of late running and we went directly to the pub.
Second Street is the main street of Raton. This is one of those western towns that has suffered a lot and is now picking itself up. Yet, there are still far too many vacant premises.
Recent developments such as the Colfax Ale House and around the corner, Bruno’s Pizza and Wings have helped a lot. The district has been designated as the Theatre District as there is a classic cinema refitted with digital equipment and also a real theatre.
The opening of the Colfax ended a four year search by Jim Stearns and his wife Karen who were natives of Albuquerque. They had finally found the location for their dream pub / brewery in Raton after moving there in 2014.
The location is perfect in the old Dwyer Building which dates from 1908. It has 7,000 square feet of cellar space, suitable for fermentation, keg storage and processing.
Linda and I entered after 15.00. We took a table near the bar counter, the other patrons were on stools along the front. The barman was extremely helpful as we attempted to go through the range of draught beers. Looking around the room we could see that it was quite large and there was room for expansion. The bar counter looked old and was made of wood and on the wall opposite us hang the “merch” for sale.
This was what was offered on draught: Rabbit Chaser Golden Ale (4.6%); Goat Hill American IPA (6.8%); Van Houten No 4 Stout (5.6%) and Double Tipple Imperial Stout (8.7%). Later we were able to take some bottled beers for later consumption.
This is what we thought of the four draught offerings: Rabbit Chaser Golden Ale (4.6%) was very good, light and refreshing, a perfect example of the style.
Goat Hill American IPA (6.8%) Van Houten No 4 Stout (5.6%), a normal stout, not dry or with oatmeal. We thought it was OK with a chocolate malt taste coming through.
Double Tipple Imperial Stout (8.7%) had intense bitterness. Definitely an Imperial Stout!
We met with Jim and Karen and other customers and discussed matters beer related. Linda had loaded the Amtrak app and we knew the train was running pretty late. It turned out that it was so late that it wouldn’t get to Raton until after the pub closed at 19.00, a good result!
I always thought that it wasn’t possible to take alcohol onto Amtrak trains but learnt that if you had a cabin in a sleeping car you could as long as it didn’t leave those four walls. Because of this we asked if they had anything that was suitable. Jim said they only had the bottled beers, then this lady seated at the bar said she had a clean growler which is a glass beer container of 64 fluid ounces (Four US pints or three and a fifth Imperial pints). She said she lived just around the corner and was back with it a few minutes later.
That certainly saved the day and she was treated to a drink for her trouble. We also had three bottles for that evening. We went over to the station which was built in the “Spanish Mission” style and the Southwest Chief eventually arrived about three hours late. See photograph of it arriving in Raton. Dinner in the diner was inclusive in the fare paid so we had a “Surf and Turf” accompanied by red wine as it was not possible to take our beer to the Diner.
Then we roared off into the night with the continuous sounding of the locomotive’s horn as we passed over many level crossings across the plains of Colorado and Kansas, drinking the bottles of Colfax Ale Cellars beers, see below our opinions on them. There is certainly something to be said for a train that is only one on the line! We arrived in Kansas City only one hour late.
We had bottles of La Belle Otéro (6.5%) which I have to admit is not our favourite style. This Saison was very peppery, malty with the Belgian yeast prominent, yet only slightly sour, well made though.
We next had Banks of Orkney (8.2%), a strong Scottish ale. It was malty, dark, strong and sweet, after our meal. I’ve already said we were just one hour late at Kansas so engineering works caused more late running and we were back to almost three hours again, arriving in Windy City around 18.00. Plenty of time to enjoy our growler of Rabbit Chaser Golden Ale, though.
This is a really good pub and should be visited if you’re in the area. Well worth turning off I-25 for a break.
Colfax Ale Cellar, 215 South 2nd Street, Raton, New Mexico 87740. Tel: 575 445 9727
Hours: Monday Closed; Tuesday-Thursday 17.00-21.00; Friday 17.00-22.00;
Saturday 14.00-22.00; Sunday 14.00-19.00
Raton is a small town as such does not have great transport links to the rest of the country.
That’s why the railroad is important to so many travellers. It connects Chicago with Los Angeles daily.
It travels via Kansas City, Raton, Albuquerque, Flagstaff (for Grand Canyon) and on to Los Angeles.
There are many other stops on the way, please see the Amtrak web site and go the schedules section.
“Southwest Chief” Day 1 Chicago 14.50, Day 2 Raton 10.30, Day 3 Los Angeles 08.30.
It returns as follows: Day 1 Los Angeles, Day 2 Raton 16.42, Day 3 Chicago 14.50.
It is also served by a few Greyhound buses, normally on a Denver, Raton, Albuquerque, Phoenix route.