The True Story Behind Rosa’s Cantina & The Marty Robbins Song
What is the true story and connection between El Paso's legendary Rosa's Cantina and the hit single El Paso by Marty Robbins?
Rosa's Cantina is world-famous; people from all over have descended upon the local dive over the years, coming in from Japan, Germany, Spain, and even Brazil to step inside the tourist destination allegedly made famous by the country crooner, Marty Robbins.
Most people, including myself, have always believed that Rosa's Cantina inspired the western ballad by Marty Robbins. For years, I have shared the story with celebrities and tourists of how this little local bar was the backdrop to the classic Country-Western song, El Paso, but what is the real story behind Rosa's Cantina and its connection to the Marty Robbins hit tune?
Nestled between a now boarded-up laundromat and a garage near Smelter Town, Rosa's Cantina exterior hasn't changed much over the years, but the question of whether or not it inspired Robbins has been unclear.
I recently visited the El Paso Public Library's Border Heritage Center researching a separate article, and while there, I decided to look up Rosa's Cantina in the city directory.
Since the song by Robbins was written in 1959, I decided to begin my search in 1958, but Rosa's Cantina was not listed. Neither was it listed for 1959 or 1960.
Much to my surprise, Rosa's Cantina was nowhere in sight. Until I pulled out the 1961 city directory and there bright as a sunny day in the literal yellow pages, Rosa's Cantina was listed as a place to find "Fine Food" and "Cold Beverages," two years after Marty Robbins had released his smash hit El Paso.
So, if Robbins wrote the song in 1959 and per city records, Rosa's Cantina did not open until 1961, that would mean that Rosa's Cantina came after the fact.
The truth is that Rosa's Cantina was already open in 1959 after taking over a previous bar, but its name change was not updated in the city directory until 1961.
The story goes that when Marty Robbins passed through town on tour, he came upon Rosa's Cantina, and it somehow stuck lending him the perfect artistic license to incorporate the bar into his song.
Decades later, the legendary bar near the railroad tracks off Doniphan is still thriving, so much so that Rosa's Cantina recently had a makeover.
The new remodel includes the expansion of the dining and bar areas, and the woman's bathrooms which now include six ample stalls instead of the tiny two that patrons had to squeeze into in the past.
Today Rosa's Cantina continues to welcome local and foreign patrons from afar, offering ice-cold brews along with Marty Robbins photo memorabilia and a themed menu. And if you're lucky to visit on the same day that Felina (no relation), the local bartender, is working, then your Rosa's Cantina experience will be made complete.
By the way, when you visit the legendary bar, don't forget to sign the guest book located near the front door, and feel free to add El Paso to your digital playlist because the staff not only encourage it, they will also sing along with you. Evidence that they are proud to rep one of the most famous bars in the world.