- Damien Willis, Las Cruces Sun-News June 8, 2016

At lunch on Wednesday, the line at My Brother’s Place was nearly out the front door. Crowds squeezed into the foyer, spilling at times into the busy dining room — a long line of lunchtime customers with hopes of enjoying one last meal at the storied downtown eatery.

The nostalgia was palpable.

“I’m going to miss everything about this place — the red chile, green chile, the staff and the environment,” said Andy Perez of Las Cruces, who stopped by for lunch and said he's been eating there for 20 years. “We’re losing a local iconic place. They’ve been open for more than 40 years, and that says something.”

After 44 years in business, My Brother’s Place is expected to close at the end of business Saturday. As part of a plan approved by City Council to support downtown redevelopment, the building will be razed and the land incorporated into a new development showcasing the historic Amador Hotel and will include a new restaurant and bar, as well as office space for the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau. Max Bower of Red Mesa Development & Design will oversee the construction and will, as part of the development deal, take ownership from the city of the former Tee Time for future development.

The property changed hands effective June 2, and the liquor license is being transferred to Bower.

Reflecting on 44 years

Brothers John and Steve Gutierrez opened My Brother’s Place in 1972, adjacent to their father’s pharmacy, City Drug, at the corner of Main Street and Amador Avenue.

“My grandfather was on this corner, so I’m the third generation,” John Gutierrez said Tuesday. “He purchased this property in the early '50s. My father, Ralph, and his father, Jesus, were pharmacists on this property.”

In 1970, renovation began on a portion of the building at the southern end of the lot to turn it into a restaurant, which would become My Brother’s Place.

“My brother Steve and I went into business with my father,” Gutierrez recalls. “Steve had just gotten out of the Navy, and I had just finished college, and we were looking to work. We went into business as My Brother’s Place there on that south side of the building.”

They shared the property with their father’s drug store until 1982. After a year of remodeling, the restaurant as it is now opened in 1983. The cantina, at the north end of the restaurant has been part of the facility since around 1977, Gutierrez said.

“It was a college pub, then,” he said. “We made it into a college pub — pinball machines, pool tables, pint draft beers.”

Kind of like Cheers

Gutierrez laughed when asked about rumors that My Brother’s Place will close when the current stock of beer and food run out.

“It never runs out in this town,” he said. “We’ll be closing our doors at the end of the day on Saturday.”

When asked what people might be surprised to learn about the legendary local bar, Gutierrez was stumped.

“People that have lived here all their lives probably know the history of My Brother’s Place,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t know that there are any secrets or surprises to this place, because what you see is what you get," Gutierrez said. "I’ve enjoyed the customer interaction, and I’ve enjoyed our employees. You’re not any stronger than your employees. I’ve had the greatest staff. A lot of people compare My Brother’s Place to the Cheers bar. When you come in here, you’ll likely know someone here.”

Customer Reese Luckie agrees.

“Wednesday night pool has been my tradition for years, it's made me a much better billiards player,” Luckie said. “I'm sad to see it go. My Brother’s Place always had an atmosphere that made you feel welcome, even if you didn't know anyone there.”

Manager Sarah Q. Stevens has worked at My Brother’s Place for two decades.

“For the last 20 years, it has been my home,” Stevens said. “It’s a place where love can be found and friends and family are always welcomed.”

A life entwined

For Jess Williams, the connection to My Brother’s Place is deeply personal.

“Before there was My Brother's Place, there was City Drug, run by Ralph Gutierrez,” Williams recalls. “I was a sickly kid, and my dad would call Ralph in the night asking what to do about this wheezing child, struggling for breath. Ralph always took the calls, and he always opened up for Dad, and I think he saved my life a few times."

When John and Steve opened a sandwich and pizza joint upstairs, the restaurant became a go-to place for the Williams family on Saturday nights.

“I grew up in that restaurant, and I came of age in the bar,” Williams said. “I came to know John and Steve as mentors and friends of a unique ilk. Later I took up pool and made friendships that still endure.”

In the early '90s, Steve Gutierrez died of leukemia.

“I was living in Taos when Steve died, but I wrote a piece for the Sun-News from a distance measured only in miles — never in love. When I returned to Las Cruces in 1995 to get my master's degree, John hired me to bartend 40 hours a week. I learned a lot of what I know about people in the newspaper industry, but that was kindergarten compared to what I learned working those bars. It was like a whole other master's degree — in life.”

Williams, now the public information officer for Doña Ana County, hasn’t worked at My Brother’s Place in 18 years, but finds himself drawn back to that place, he said.

“It has consistently been the place to which I gravitate for food and friendship, billiards and booze. I feel a piece of me dying, but I'm delighted for John, and I'm forever grateful for the role he played in my evolution as a kid, a young adult, a bartender and a friend. He's one of a kind, just like My Brother’s Place.”

When stars align

John Gutierrez said he is “100 percent happy” with the way his career in the restaurant business is coming to an end.

“I’ve been trying to retire for a few years now,” he said. “I tell everybody that my stars have finally lined up. I’m at the age that I should stop working. I have a wonderful daughter and a wonderful fiancée. I couldn’t be more blessed.”

Gutierrez said he believes in Bowers’ vision for the property, and is excited to see it materialize.

“They have a vision for this property, and I admire them,” he said. “It’s bittersweet, but it’s the right time for me.”

Since the news began to spread that the restaurant will be closing, many have started asking for the long-enjoyed recipes.

“This is what I tell them. Our recipes were handed down from my grandmother,” Gutierrez said. “And we believe we need to keep them in the family, just in case my daughter, Tai, wants to open a business one day. She could carry on the family recipes.”

Gutierrez said he will look back on the past 44 years with gratitude.

“I just want to thank the community for supporting us, from the very first day we opened up to the very last day,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without our wonderful staff, and without the support of our amazing community.”

Damien Willis may be reached at 575-541-5468, dawillis@lcsun-news.com or@damienwillis on Twitter.

‘We’re going to miss it a lot’

At lunchtime Wednesday at My Brother's Place, customers waxed nostalgic about the place many have been visiting for decades.

  • “We have so many memories — the food, it’s just been a consistent place for family,” said Karen Wooten Clark, who first visited in 1983. “My kids were raised here, my granddaughter. It’s just one of those things that we don’t want to see leave.”
  • “Tomorrow, my whole office is coming for one last meal here,” said Terri Henry, who works in a dental office, and has been eating there for 40 years. “We always do birthday lunches here, so we’re going to miss that as well. It’s going to leave a hole in downtown. We’re going to miss it a lot.”
  • “We hadn’t been here in a long time, and we heard it was closing,” said Cindy Capanna. “We knew we needed to get here. It’s been a downtown institution since I’ve lived in Las Cruces. I’ve been here since 1987, and I know it was here before then. I’m going to miss it. It’s a fun place.”
  • “My brother helped me move down here from Truth or Consequences in 1984,” said Anthony Porter. “Then he says, ‘We have to go to lunch at My Brother’s Place.’ I said, ‘What do you mean my brother’s place? I know our other brother, and he doesn’t have a restaurant here.’ So he showed me this place, and I lived here for a couple of years. It became a favorite place. We’d get together after work on Friday. I moved back here in 1998, and it was still here. I’ve been eating here ever since. It’s going to be hard to see it go.”
  • “Thirty years of great times at this place, and soon the memories are all I'll have left,” said Meg Gressitt Freyermuth. “I'm very sad to see it go. It is one of the best places in Las Cruces, and completely irreplaceable.”

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