THE GREAT COMPOUND CAPER

By Richard McCord

The 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 new master."

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.

Other Articles by Richard McCord


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