GREAT COMPOUND CAPER
Compound restaurant on Canyon Road was beyond question THE place
to dine when I arrived in Santa Fe in the 1970s. The city had
few places with any semblance of elegance then, and archaic and
politically rigged liquor laws allowed just a mere handful to
serve wine or cocktails. But the Compound had it all.
With tuxedoed and white-gloved
waiters, a superb menu and an enforced requirement that gentlemen
wear coats and ties and ladies also be suitably attired, the Compound
set a tone not found anywhere else. Everyone knew it was the top
of the line.
It was pricey, but
you got your money's worth. The cost kept me from being a regular,
but when I did go, I never knew who might be there. One time it
was film actor Joel Grey, fresh from his Oscar for "Cabaret."
Another time it was actress Angela Lansbury, at the height of
her fame. One Christmas I splurged, and partook of the Compound's
celebrated 12-course holiday feast--each course accented by its
own special wine.
In the mid-1970s the
Compound was bought outright by its dapper and impeccable manager,
Victor Sagheer. Of Lebanese lineage, Sagheer had an Old World
style and charm that had made the restaurant the paragon that
it was. Now instead of creating a masterpiece for others, he would
do it for himself.
I was editor of the
young Santa Fe Reporter at that time, and we wrote a duly respectful
business story about the sale. But we also had a weekly guest
column called Open Door--and on that particular week, the expected
article was not delivered.
We flew pretty much
by the seat of our pants back then, and as our crushing deadline
loomed, I searched frantically in my files for a substitute Open
Door. Nothing! It was the basic journalistic nightmare. I had
to produce something, and fast.
Then inspiration born
of desperation struck. The Compound! Yes, that was it. People
were talking about the sale, the place was a local landmark, reader
interest would be high. But rather than just reheating the business
story, I chose an antic mode.
Figuring that the Compound
was so firmly entrenched as the creme de la creme of Santa Fe
restaurants that its repute was impregnable, I decided to poke
a little fun at it. Under a nom de plume meant to underline the
gag, I batted out a totally facetious story about some changes
the new owner had in mind.
Careful to refer neither
to the Compound nor Sagheer by name, to make it obvious that the
column was a spoof, I let myself have a good old time. According
to the story, a "well-known east-side dining establishment"
was about to undergo a complete change of identity under its "ambitious
Supposedly the new
proprietor planed to make his restaurant far less formal, in keeping
with Santa Fe's casual ways. Accordingly, he planned to change
the cuisine from Continental to Mexican. To entertain guests as
they waited to be seated, he was going to install pool tables
in the lobby; and to amuse them as they dined, he would also add
a jukebox. An overdue modernization would be a drive-up window
for people too busy to come inside. And the name would be changed
to "Vic's Place."
Chuckling all the way,
I got that story out and into print in time to meet the deadline.
Then upon rereading it in the paper the next day, I felt it was
so nonsensical as to be truly funny. But Mr. Sagheer, I'm afraid
I must say, was NOT amused.
Through an employee
at the Compound, I was told that he was confounded and offended
by the article, and was thinking about suing the Reporter. Surprised,
I called him to try to explain--and if need be, apologize for--"Vic's
Place." He was somewhat mollified, but did not laugh. The
gap between a young writer's brash humor and his ingrained elegance
was too great.
In the year 2000 Victor
Sagheer sold the Compound, after running it as manager and owner
for 33 years. I hope somewhere along the way he forgave the Reporter
for its long-ago gag. And I hope the new owners uphold his golden
standard of excellence. From all reports, they are succeeding.
Articles by Richard McCord