My first trip to what was then called the El Rey Inn was in the late 1980s. It was an inexpensive lodging option in pricey Santa Fe, a humble but packed-with-character, hacienda-themed motor court motel on the outskirts of town, with low, whitewashed rows of rooms with rough hewn wood beams on the ceiling and old Mexican tiles, pretty green plazas with flowers and a funky old pool. We stayed here maybe three more times into the 2010s, when it started to feel a wee bit faded and run down.
Now it has been transformed by motor court aficionados from Austin into the hipster El Rey Court, a boutique motel with trendy toiletries, contemporary art and, yes, higher prices. But it’s a fun place to stay still, and we had a good excuse. We are here for the wedding of our lovely niece Amelia and longtime beau Nick.
Breakfast was next door on Cerrillos Road at The Pantry, a terrific unpretentious diner with a long counter, two rooms of tables (perfect for our big group) and New Mexican landscapes. Breakfast was enjoyed by all, with entrees including huevos rancheros, burritos and a scrambled egg concoction with vegetable and avocado.
Next stop, the farmers market at the Rail Depot, which was a fun scene, with a few early vegetables but also lots of makers of juniper bitters, baked goods and hanging clusters of red chilies. Fun to return after our month in these parts in February and see flowers in bloom.
Always fun to wander around lovely sophisticated Santa Fe, especially on a crisp sunny day in February. We visited a few old favorites and discovered some new places to add to our list:
La Boca – a little Spanish tapas restaurant near the plaza. Excellent garlic shrimp, grilled artichoke with goat cheese, chicaronnes (deep fried chunks of pork belly), red wine sangria.
Ventana Fine Art, a Canyon Road gallery where we bought a painting years ago and were tempted to buy from again, this time a boldly colored red and blue print by Mary Silverwood of one of the Salinas Mission Pueblos we visited last week, south of Albuquerque. Looking at the print we realized it was the same view (minus me) of the Quarai ruin that we captured in a photo, although maybe a different time of day since the shadows differ.
A few new discoveries:
Mille Creperie – we didn’t have the crepes at this small rustic chic French place (Santa Fe is the essence of rustic chic) but the coffee, salad Nicoise, ham sandwich on baguette and hefty buttery croissant were delicious. People watching was fun too, lots of well-heeled octogenarians and young boho moms with cute kids.
Form & Concept gallery in Railyard Arts District/Guadalupe Distict (unclear of the boundaries), big bright space with eclectic collection of contemporary artwork where we met another interesting woman working with textiles, not braiding this time (as in ABQ) but sewing together pieces of vintage silk, linen and cotton clothing and table cloths to refurbish a high wire-framed sculpture outside the gallery that was set on fire by an unknown arsonist. A heap of the original burned cloth, salvaged post-fire, was not far from the artist, aka Anastazia Louise, working at her sewing machine. The replacement cloth is flame resistant. Anastazia is also a costume designer and performance artist from California, I learned here: https://vimeo.com/278524898?embedded=true&source=vimeo_logo&owner=86974487
Chocolate + cashmere —- the name drew us in but the prices kept us from indulging, as is often the case in this affluent town. Beautiful stuff though, on both fronts. We also found a rare freeparking spot in a pretty, lowkey neighborhood of adobe homes (where we think we may have stayed 35 years ago with a friend attending St. John’s college here) near Mille (water and west alameda streets) and Guadalupe church, which was unfortunately closed on a Wednesday, as was the contemporary art museum SITE. Another good free parking along one side of a small triangular pocket park at Marcy and Paseo de Peralta.
Kakawa chocolate house – with fantastic Mexican hot chocolate varieties served in pretty blue and white Mexican ceramics. There’s even a hot chocolate flight, offering tastes of several varieties, some hot in more ways than one (i.e. laced with chile.) The chocolates also come with southwest dashes, including chile and piñon. And there’s organic chocolate ice cream too. No wonder there was a line snaking almost out the door on the sunny late afternoon we visited. (much quieter mid-morning.)
San Marcos Cafe and Feed – We have passed this rustic adobe cafe and farm operation on the Turquoise Trail (highway 14) south of Santa Fe before but it wasn’t open or it wasn’t lunch time. This trip, it was both so we went inside, found a cozy atmospheric old adobe cafe with several other diners who looked more local than us. D finally got his huevos rancheros and I decided to go New Mexican too and try the blue corn enchiladas. Both good but my stomach is still rocky. Much of Madrid seemed closed on Tuesday including our favorite rug shop Serrapin and daughters. (There was a number to call to summon a salesperson. We opted not to.) South of Madrid we did drive past what appeared to be a movie set, overlooking a spectacular panorama view.
The New Mexico Museum of Art – we’ve also passed this gorgeous old adobe building off the plaza in Santa Fe several times but this was our first visit. The architecture (1917 Pueblo Revival) and art are impressive. We saw some 20th century New Mexican portraits and landscapes by artists who visited or lived in this area. There was also a temporary exhibit of 21st century protest art. (We got into the museum free with our Des Moines art center membership.)
Lovely San Miguel Church, built in 1610 by Tlaxcalan Indians “under the direction” of Franciscan padres (according to the sign out front).
Ok, not sure how to get back there. I am by the end of the dryer, heading to fridge.
To people who have visited Meow Wolf, this text exchange will make sense. (It makes me laugh.) Otherwise, probably not. But where else can you open a clothes dryer, slide in and down, ending up in an alternative world? Or open a refrigerator, walk right in and through, entering another portal into to a fantasy land.
Opened in 2016, Meow Wolf Santa Fe (there are newer knockoffs in Denver and Las Vegas) boasts 70 rooms of “immersive art” from a psychedelic cave to a moonscape, haunted forests, a fantastical treehouse, anime alcove, video light show and so much more, excess being a key aesthetic — created by Santa Fe artists, who must have very strange dreams at night? (And I likely will tonight too.)
It’s a crazy, trippy place, in a former bowling alley on the edge of Santa Fe, a so-called immersive art experience, with no prescribed course. You wander wherever strikes your fancy, through tiny alcoves with psychedelic art and light and sound shows, up and down narrow staircases, along curving passageways.
What I liked most was the sense of entering an alternative universe at every turn. You walk into an old-fashioned, conventional two-story haunted house (aka House of Eternal Return) but you can leave at any moment. Crawl through the living room fireplace or walk through a clothes closet or slide down the dryer or pass though the refrigerator and you are in a strange fantasy land, each portal leading you to yet another bizarre scape. And tantalizing you with views of other environs to explore below and above, if you can only figure out how to get there. For Game of Thrones fans, yes there is a connection to Meow Wolf. Thrones author George R.R. Martin, who lives in Santa Fe, helped this fantasy land take flight. Perfect fit.
We had a far more conventional experience dining at La Choza, which has delicious Mexican and New Mexican food including my favorite new mocktail made with grapefruit juice.
The weather wasn’t cooperative enough for us to take a proper hike so we walked instead in Leah’s Nob Hill neighborhood past pretty adobe houses with colorful vegetation and cacti to the main Nob Hill shopping district, where we explored some craft, resale and jewelry shops – and discovered a familiar car with Michigan plates and Iowa bumper stickers that did indeed belong to our friend Scott who moved here recently. We tracked him down and had a drink later. Small world.
Even when it’s rainy, the sky is very dramatic, with a band of dark blue and below it light blue and fluffy grey white clouds. The dark bit looks like a heavy curtain rising up or down on the mountains. We walked around the pretty grounds of Los Poblanos, a farm converted into a classy inn, restaurant and pricey gift shop. The bar there was closed so we ended up having chips and salsa in old town at Charles Street Cafe, an old New Mexican place.
On our last day, we walked along the muddy banks of the Rio Grande along the Bosque trail and checked out the El Vado motel, a renovated white adobe gem along Route 66.
Way cool mid-century modern furnishings, pool, outdoor food court and reasonable prices. Turns out it’s owned by the same folks as our go-to lodging in Santa Fe — the El Ray Inn. Our last meal in abq was at Duran Central Pharmacy, a fun place that’s a little dining area with a counter and good New Mexican fare (particularly hot carne adovada, I learned) tucked in an adobe drug store that is also an interesting gift shop. We really enjoyed Albuquerque and are thinking it may be a possible retirement option…
Way behind on my blogging since we left Albuquerque two days ago. There we woke up to a dusting of snow — enough for public schools to be delayed. We drove to Santa Fe where it was even colder and snowier which was pretty but made walking around outside not very enjoyable since we still were chilled even wearing borrowed warmer gear. Tuesday is not the best day to visit Santa Fe if you want to do indoor activities.
Two of the places we would have visited are closed on Tuesdays — the crazy George RR Martin installation, Meow Wolf, and SITE, the new contemporary art museum at the railyard district. We ended up having coffee at Tesuque Market, an alternative hangout (that has become sort of a touchstone for me) and later a good Spanish lunch at La Boca near the Plaza. Oddly this is restaurant week in Santa Fe, when restaurants have price fixe (i.e. slightly more reasonably priced) meals…to lure people. Des Moines’ is in August. We drove back to ABQ on the always stunning turquoise trail (highway 14) through Cerillos and Madrid but the scenery was even more dramatic with the snow and the clouds dropping snow in the distance over the mountains and the sun streaming through at the same time.
I finally made it to Chimayo Santuary, a small old church in a rural village in the mountains north of Santa Fe (about a half hour drive) and it was worth the trek. Lovely, quiet, peaceful place. I tried several times to find the remains of a colonial plaza in Chimayo but despite driving up and down and around a narrow rutted dirt road that supposedly went to the plaza, I never got there. I did pass by the restaurant in Chimayo that we ate at a few years ago, Rancho de Chimayo, and Ortega’s Weaving and Marketplace.
Earlier in the day, I ended up in Tesuque Village, picking up a cup of coffee at the funky cafe/market at the crossroads (the breakfasts looks great) and then wandering down the shady, narrow Bishops Lodge Road, dotted with the occasional impressive stucco homestead or ranch, sculpture foundry or gallery. I landed in surprising place, a little pet cemetery/memorial called All Creatures Memorial Park, a tranquil spot at the edge of the road (before the entrance to a private estate) with pretty tiled walls with honorable mentions of pets past.
We have breezed through Albuquerque in the past but spent more time there this trip because our daughter will soon be attending UNM there, several relatives live there and, last but not least, we’re Breaking Bad fans (which filmed in Albuquerque.)
We enjoyed some local restaurants including El Patio (excellent New Mexican fare) and Frontier (an old-time almost all-night joint frequented by UNM students, and others.) Our brother-in-law who grew up in the Dominican Republic also took us to Salsa Under the Stars – which happens on Friday nights in the summer at the Museum. Full of a great and very diverse group of salsa dancers and large live band. Perfect on a summer night. We also enjoyed the Saturday morning farmers market downtown, picked up some green chile powder, a tacos, designer bread, an empanada filed with spinach, artichoke and feta, some “marriage equality” dish towels as wedding gifts.
With Amelia in Albuquerque
I should probably mention that we were a bit disappointed with our longtime lodging in Sante Fe – the El Rey Inn. It’s a great old motor lodge that we’ve stayed at several times over the years. Still charming and very affordable and good service but we found our “traditional” room a bit shabby this time around – I’ve let the proprietors know (since they asked several times for our opinion) and hope things will improve so we can stay there again (not to mention recommend it to others…) Other options: the Madeleine, Nicholas, Inn at Paseo.
Excellent tapas at La Boca, a tiny Spanish place Near the Plaza in Sante Fe, where we were seated next to a woman who played flamenco guitar and sang (very well). We were surprised at how quiet the Plaza was on a Thursday night, except for some kids hanging out by their cars that blared music heavy on the bass.
Overall, we found that the farther you get from the main tourist area by the plaza, the more interesting the shops, the better the art, and the slightly more real the scene. Which we like. We stopped at Ten Thousand Waves, a spa north of town with a very Zen/Japanese vibe (and good Japanese restaurant, we’re told) and made a mental note to visit next time. Also stopped at a funky cafe in Tesuque Village Market for some good local coffee (Ohari). wandering around the Railroad District, it was hard to get our bearings. It has changed a lot since our last trip 13 years ago. But found some good shops and galleries (Rainbow Gate for great ceramics with painted birds and fruit; Bon marche (brightly colored linens).
For lunch we met Leah at Shake Foundation for green chili burgers, shoe string potatoes and a shared piñon nut caramel milkshake. lovely to sit outside at picnic tables in perfect weather,that clear southwest sky and air.
Just south of sante Fe, we almost drove right past the San Marcos Cafe, an old adobe restaurant set back from the road and obscured by feed store stuff, supposed to have good food. Next trip.
We drove though the dusty town of Cerrillos, which was a reminder of what nearby Madrid could be like if it lost its hardy band of entrepreneurs, including the owner of Seppanen & Daughters Fine Textiles, who sold us yet another stunning Oaxacan rug (we bought the last one from him 18 years ago.)