The Lodge originally opened in 1934 as the Judson School for Girls, and was converted into a restaurant and pub three years later. Former owner Joe Miller started bartending at El Chorro in the fifties, eventually buying the place in 1973. Local philanthropist Jacquie Dorrance picked up the property just one month after Miller announced his retirement last May.
Good thing she did. According to operating partner Kristy Moore, a local woman credited El Chorro as "the backdrop of her life," while another man said his entire world was crumbling when he heard of the restaurant's closure. He wasn't the only one.
When the new management took over, they created a "Cherished Memories" contest for people to share personal memories of the restaurant. Moore received dozens of heartwarming letters and phone calls, but she remembers one gentleman in particular who shared a saucy tale.
"I was talking to this one old guy and carrying on about how great these new fireplaces were going to be," she recalls. "I was saying you don't have to huddle around that one fireplace anymore, and he says, 'Girlie, with all that butt-rubbin', I got lucky around that fireplace a few times!" Ahh...those were the days.
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It's amazing how attached people were to the old El Chorro. When you grow up going to the same restaurant for brunch every Sunday for forty years, I imagine it stings when you have to find an alternative. The former El Chorro management found that out back in the '90s when they discontinued the popular brunch. "It was the place to be," publisher Danny Medina was quoted as saying in a 1999 New Times piece by Dewey Webb ("Lost Brunch," 1999). "I think they were serving brunch before anyone had heard that term in Arizona." Eventually the brunch was revived.
When dining critic Michele Laudig last reviewed El Chorro ("Old-School Eats," 2006), she got a feel for the spirit of the place and the older crowd who frequented it. "I spotted a couple of white-haired old men enjoying their meal on the patio, where white umbrellas and mature orange trees loom above clusters of white wicker tables and chairs," she wrote. "It was a random weekday afternoon, and yet they were dressed to the nines, with tweed jackets and spiffy leather shoes. One guy was even wearing a silk ascot. This was their kind of place." That was the old El Chorro: Comfortable. Reliable. And getting a little past its prime.
The new El Chorro is a 21st century creation with a foundation steeped in history. A few original elements remain, including the aforementioned "butt-rubbin" fireplace, classroom bar and famous sticky buns. El Chorro may look different now, but the spirit of the original lives on -- in the new incarnation, and in the memories of all the Phoenicians whose lives were touched by this iconic place.
Check back tomorrow for a photo tour and details on the newly renovated property!