“Hotel Chimayo please.”
I told the Sandia Shuttle driver as he took my bag. My plane had landed ten minutes earlier, and I’d raced from my gate to the downstairs Transportation and Baggage area to get to my ride on time.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take the later shuttle?” The woman at Sandia’s office had asked me when I’d called from NYC to book a ride. “We usually advise at least a half hour between arrival and departure with us.”
“No, I’ll make it.” I said. “I’m fast.” I added.
Fast and slightly out of breath, I sat beside a young woman from Maine visiting her aunt in Santa Fe. We chatted and discovered that her sister and brother-in-law had been active on the Lower East Side Scene when I’d lived and worked there a lifetime ago.
The world gets smaller and smaller the longer one lives.
I was so happy to be back in the mountains after a week in NYC. The hour drive passed quickly and soon we had arrived at my destination; another Heritage Hotels & Resorts gem. This one hidden in plain sight.
If you didn’t know where you were going, Hotel Chimayo is easy to miss. invisible in fact, as we discovered later.
As the driver handed me my bag, and I handed him a tip, I looked up at the unassuming facade – just like all the others on the street – and finally noticed the sign.
“Where’s the entrance?” I asked the driver.
“In Chimayo.” He smiled enigmatically. “You are in Santa Fe.”
He laughed then and pointed at the short flight of steps.
“To the right, on the left is the best bar in town.” That said, he got back into the shuttle and was gone.
I entered the door he had indicated and found myself in a large lobby with vaulted ceilings and a mezzanine hung with Navajo weavings. Relics from Northern New Mexico’s Conquistador past hung from the ceiling and walls; cross – bar chandeliers, huge crosses and crucifixes, tin and iron work, santos, retablos and more decorated this room as if it were a chapel or museum.
A young woman smiled at me from behind the reception desk. I told her my name and she handed me my room key and gave me directions. I asked if she could give one of the keys to my daughter Genevieve who was joining me shortly, and headed out through the doors through the exterior passageway that led to my room.
“Go along the walkway, past the big cross.” She had instructed. “Then go up the first flight of steps to your left and your room is on the left.
Feeling as if I had entered a magical portal – possibly induced by the exhaustion of 8 hours of travel – I finally inserted my key in the door which opened into a cool, large and spacious suite with a balcony.
I set down my stuff and immediately ran a bath. I needed to soak my travel weary body before going out to dinner with my daughter who would be arriving soon.
The door opened and there she was with her best friend (and my extra daughter), Kiki Siebenaler in tow.
“I brought Kiki.” She said, looking aghast at the King Size bed. “I thought we had a suite with two beds?” She queried.
“Yes we were supposed to.” I answered, too tired to offer any more help than that.
Thankfully my daughter is a take charge kind of person, and soon they returned with the news that they had been given keys to another room with two beds. Heritage are nothing if not incredibly accommodating and gracious.
Relieved to find myself alone for a few minutes, I happily enjoyed a long, hot soak in the spotless, if tiny bathroom, appointed with all the luxurious extras that make a stay at one of the Heritage properties so special; fluffy white towels, fabulous amenities and Italian linens on the most comfortable hotel beds ever, are a given when staying at their properties.
I knew I would sleep well that night.
The Hotel Chimayo is named for, and inspired by the little village on the High Road famous for both its chile and the Santuario where thousands of pilgrims flock each Easter and throughout the year, for the magical healing dirt inside the sanctuary’s chapel.
On my first visit there many years ago, with my friend Anita Rodriguez, she told me that the priests refill the hole in the floor with dirt from the river. I filled up a container anyway. The ground obviously contains some magic – just one look at the walls of the Santuario’s entry, hung with discarded crutches, walkers and wheel chairs, is enough to make one a believer!
The girls had asked me to join them in the bar when I was ready, and as I walked back along the walkway, hung with Chimayo chile ristras, I felt the life and energy coming back into my body; I was home.
Kiki and Gen were seated on a long banquette beside the open doors, sipping rather lethal looking cocktails in martini glasses.
“Cheers Mama!” They cried in unison as I entered. “Would you like a drink?”
The bartender looked ready to whip up another dangerous libation but I stopped him and ordered a safe glass of red wine as I looked around his domain.
The Low ‘n Slow Lowrider Bar has awesome reviews online, so I was eager to check it out. Unlike the other Heritage properties, this one boasts only this bar on site. Estevan a highly rated, regional food restaurant is next door but was closed that evening (a Monday), but we planned to have dinner at Joe’s.
The room was fabulously and authentically appointed – very 50’s, very “Grease”. The bartender with his Buddy Holly specs and tattooed biceps looked as if he’d been hand-picked to go with the decor.
I made small talk with him (Bobby Lazo) who informed me that he was the closest thing to a Low Rider I’d probably meet that night, as he told us about the cars he owns, and has restored.
He’d moved to Santa Fe from East LA over a decade ago and clearly the Low ‘n Slow Lowrider Bar’s success was owed in no small part to him; his friendly demeanor and witty banter as much a part of the bar’s draw as the lethal concoctions he mixed up in his shakers.
Our Uber arrived as if on cue and we drove across town to Joe’s.
We were meeting a friend of Kiki’s there. Free works in the Film Industry. Half Lakota, half Hippie (as he put it), he turned out to be one of the most remarkable people I’ve met in ages, (I plan to feature him here soon), and the four of us found it hard to get a word in edgeways after we were finally seated at the back, corner table.
When we’d arrived, the girl at the front had indicated a table might take too long for us to wait. The bar was full (we had planned to dine there), and neither Joe nor his wife Kristen were around.
We were ready to leave but Free arrived and took charge. “I’ll ask them for a table,” he said as he went inside.
Dressed all in black, a black felt Stetson adorned with a Wild Turkey feather ( I loved that it was not an Eagle), Free struck me as the type of person who would be comfortable anywhere you put him. Totally at home in his skin and in the world, his name was both apt and a testament to the awareness of the parents who gave him life.
Fascinating conversation followed, along with the plates of great food that came to the table with the bottle of rose, Genevieve had ordered.
When it came time to order, I asked the waiter about the house made bread. Was it made with yeast or a starter? He looked at me as if I were crazy.
“I’ll ask.” He said.
Just then a huge party arrived and were seated at the table along the back wall just across from us.
Kristen appeared, all dressed up and looking lovely, and pulled up a chair after we invited her to join us.
Kristen and Joe lived in Taos for years, which is where Joe honed his already formidable chef skills (and reputation), while they raised two kids and Kristen made art. Although missed, they are in Taos often where Kristen has several clients and they both have many friends.
The waiter returned with no information on the bread. “Only the baker knows.” He informed me.
“Joe knows.” Said Kristen. “Go ask him, he’s eating at the bar.”
“It’s a starter,” said Joe after we hugged. “Oh it’s you bothering the waiter about the bread!” He laughed. The snooty girl at the register smiled at me.
I ordered a Lamb Burger with the bun. Sourdough is in my opinion, the only bread that is A- okay.
Joe soon joined us as well and another bottle of rose arrived at the table. The conversation continued and as our combined voices rose to a crescendo, the neighboring table chimed in. Mostly complaining good naturedly about the racket in our corner.
Kristen and Joe had just come with them from an event they’d attended so it was all in jest and a good time was had by all, as always at Joe’s.
“What’s the name of your restaurant these days?” I asked Joe.
“Um, I think it’s Joseph’s or Joe’s Culinary Pub,” he replied.
No worries, it’s famous, if you are in Santa Fe and want to eat there, just ask anyone for directions to Joe’s.
Free drove us back to the Hotel Chimayo and passed it twice before dropping us off in front of the double staircase; one side leading to the Low ‘n Slow, the other to the invisible lobby.
“I had no idea this place was even here.” He said, looking as puzzled as I had felt when I was first dropped off there earlier that evening.
“It’s hard to find.” I told him. “Almost as if it’s a secret portal to somewhere else.”
To the Santuario in Chimayo perhaps?
Bobby the bartender had a couple of regular patrons at the bar when we entered. Both chefs from local, high-end restaurants.
“This is the best bar in town.” One told me. “And Bobby’s the best bartender, bar none.”
For some strange reason the conversation turned to eggs, and all of a sudden another lethal cocktail was being concocted and I saw it as my cue to bid all adieu and retire for the night.
Should your curiosity be piqued by a stay at the charming Hotel Chimayo, know that Heritage Inspirations offer a tour to Chimayo (Colors of Chimayo), as well as other tours of Santa Fe and beyond! I have included a link to it below this post.
All images thanks to Heritage Hotels & Resorts, Joe Wrede and my iphone