Legal Tender Saloon and Eating House across from the Lamy train depot will reopen in early July or earlier with a new menu and new operator.
Sean Sinclair, the restaurant chef and owner of Bar Castañeda and Kin at Castañeda in Las Vegas, N.M., is taking on Legal Tender — a move he said “gives me the opportunity to spread my wings a little and do something new.”
Sinclair’s lease at Legal Tender started Tuesday, and he and building owner Allan Affeldt are partners in the post-pandemic incarnation of the restaurant Murphy O’Brien had opened in late August 2019 and operated until the COVID-19 crisis prompted its closure.
Sinclair said he is starting from scratch with a new menu.
“Legal Tender is almost solely focused on historic style,” Sinclair said as he pulled over on the drive from Las Vegas to Lamy on the first day with keys to Legal Tender in hand. “I have a huge collection of Fred Harvey menus and train car menus. We are going to serve the food that was served on trains in the 1880s and 1890s. I know we’re going to be serving oysters.”
The actual menu, however, has not been created yet.
Sinclair opened Bar Castañeda in April 2019. Kin at Castañeda was going to open as a fine-dining restaurant in spring 2020, but that was halted by the pandemic. Sinclair, for now, is operating Kin as a private dining room, now used by Amazon Studios, which leased the entire Castañeda property through July, said Affeldt, who owns the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas.
Sinclair was born and grew up in Tijeras, east of Albuquerque, but decamped right out of high school to Portland, Ore., to study at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
“Portland in general is such a great chef community,” he said. “There is lots of access to farm-to-table from farms and the ocean.”
While in Portland, Sinclair worked at a number of restaurants, including Genoa, credited as Portland’s “original farm-to-table” restaurant by Oregon Wine Press.
At 23, he became executive chef at Farm to Table in Albuquerque.
“I just cooked my butt off,” Sinclair recalled. “I got to a point I wanted to work for a master.”
He took a job as a sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., a three-Michelin-starred restaurant under chef Patrick O’Connell.
Sinclair followed that with other jobs, including a year in Vail, Colo. Then Albuquerque-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts recruited him as executive chef at Luminaria at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe.
“While I was there, I met Allan [Affeldt],” Sinclair said. “We talked about Legal Tender, but I just started a job. Ten months later, we talked about Castañeda.”
Affeldt acquired the 70-room Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, N.M., in receivership in 2014. Acquisition of the Castañeda followed in 2017, and he added the Legal Tender in 2018 with a nonprofit he had launched, Winslow Arts Trust.
The departing O’Brien said he realized he wasn’t too keen to “reboot” Legal Tender while also owning Cafe Fina.
“Allan enticed me to do to it, but it probably was not the right thing for me to do,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think I would be doing this [stepping away] if everything kept going. But that’s not what happened.”
Within about the past month, transition was in the air, first between O’Brien and Affeldt and, soon thereafter, Affeldt and Sinclair.
“When we started looking at reopening, I just realized it was kind of my mistake,” O’Brien said. “The best thing for me to do was exit. How can that happen?”
Affeldt instantly turned to his chef at the Castañeda.
“Sean is the best restaurateur in all of New Mexico,” Affeldt said. “He’s the obvious choice. He’s ambitious and wants to expand.”
The new Legal Tender will be open five days a week, but closed Monday and Tuesday.
The offerings at Legal Tender will not be set in stone when it opens.
“Everything is a work in progress in my book,” Sinclair said.