The Beat Goes On, On Bent Street


Today I arrive full circle, aqui en Taos.

Which, in light of recent events including the tragic demise of World Cup Cafe’s Patrick Larkin, seems apropos, if eerily so.

I first came to Taos in 1980 as a visitor with my not yet husband Sonny Boy Robinson, our baby girl, Angelica and my three year old son, Joshua. We had met a year or so earlier at the Mudd Club in Downtown Manhattan – I worked there, if one could call dreaming up and organizing parties work – Sonny Boy played in a band (by chance, the guitar player Danny Oppenheimer’s mother, Rena Rosequist, owned the Mission Gallery), who played there and at CBGB’s and other infamous joints below 14th St.

SB had spent time in Taos before moving to the City. He’d come here via Austin where he’d moved to from Minnesota. Taos was mythical in his mind; larger than life and he’d hint cryptically at its place in the pantheon of rare and magical realms. I took it with a grain of salt as he continued to introduce me to Taos residents past and present, including Larry Bell.

Then one day in early summer  he surprised me with tickets to Taos and California. We were going on holiday!

We stayed right on the Plaza at the old La Fonda where the late, great Saki Karavas held court. Before I set foot outside that door, I was given a crash course in Taos history and lore. Then we walked across the square, along the old wooden boardwalk covered in brambles that Polly Raye later cleared away – through what are now the John Dunn Shops, to Bent Street. 

SB wanted to introduce me to Light and Merle and all the other girls who worked for Sam Parks at her eponymously named, Sam’s Shop.

I was a Rock chick, not a Fashion person, although in ways the two industries do connect – but I found a core of kindred spirits at Sam’s as well as a couple of authentic Breton tops which I wore to pieces.

I met others here in Taos on that week long trip who remain friends, it was a brief foray into my future, but when we left for California, Taos was already in my rearview mirror.

A year later we returned to spend my pregnancy with our second daughter, Genevieve, in Taos. We figured we’d spend a year or two here, sublet our apartment on St. Mark’s Place, and packed the bare necessities before taking the train to Lamy. Joshua had gone to live with his father, so it was only SB, Angelica and myself crossing the Continental Divide that time.

I’ve chronicled that period here, in a post I did on the Harwood, so I won’t be redundant, but once we arrived in Taos, where we stayed at first with Merle Kout and her husband at the time, writer Tom Collins (the co-founder of Geronimo with Bill Whaley), I went back to Sam’s Shop and asked Sam for a job.

I spent the first half of my pregnancy working at Sam’s until mid-summer when the girls (Light, Merle, Karen, Linda and Sam all decided I should be moved next door to 101/2 the men’s shop Linda Hill (Sam’s business partner), owned.

And so I did. And there I was comfortably ensconced in the small, bright space with a desk and chair where I could sit during slow times with feet up, and I did!

Those women remain very dear to my heart – Light is no longer with us and Merle lives in Chicago, but both left indelible stamps on the Taos map. Karen lives in Taos still, and we run into one another from time to time.

That summer I spent a lot of time at her (and her former husband Vishu McGee) home which then housed the marble Hanuman statue brought here by followers of Neem Karoli Baba (hilariously documented by John Nichols in his Taos novel,  Nirvana Blues.) The statue was kept in a shed on the property upon which now sits a grand, brand new temple. The monkey god’s accommodations went from spartan to 5 star in just a few decades!

Sam was married to Steve Parks who also had his place of operations on Bent St. Artlines, the magazine he co-founded with Nancy Pantaleoni (who would go on to start a business with Janet Webb before she went solo with Webb Design), was a few doors down. Bent was a hub then as it remains now; the beating heart of Downtown Taos.

I returned to NYC and traveled back and forth before moving back to Taos in 1991. I worked at the Buffalo Dancer on Taos Plaza for Duane Hopper (Dennis’ cousin), for several years.One day someone came in carrying a to-go cup of coffee that smelled unlike anything I’d smelled since leaving the city.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“In a cart, on Bent Street.”

When my kids arrived at the gallery after school, I sent them over to pick up a latte for me.

Patrick and Molly soon opened another cart in Taos Ski Valley before moving into the old tobacco shop on the corner of the Plaza, where the World Cup Cafe still stands, across the street from where Buffalo Dancer used to be.

Over the years I worked on Bent Street a few more times! For Toni Leigh at Desert Blends of Taos (where Chocolate & Cashmere is located), next door on occasion for Loretta Chuzum at the long gone Wild Life, and finally, at Stacey Huddleston’s Human Line Studio, coincidently next door to Steve Parks’ second to last, gallery location.

During the  Dennis Hopper at the Harwood Opening and events held around town, Steve had a show featuring all the artists and artisans who made work in Taos during Hopper’s heyday at the Big House. Artifacts that were featured at the time on the Bi-Centennial Train that traveled the country,( including a concho belt by  Pepe Rochon and a beadwork by Janice “Light” Harrison),  were included in the exhibit at the Parks Gallery.

I was watering the garden outside the gallery, when Dennis strolled over to say hi,  and asked if he could sit on our wall, away from the crowd next door and smoke his cigar. His brother David was with him, and his son, Henry. Lisa Law tagged along. He was already ill with the cancer that would take him not long after, but that day he regaled us with stories about Taos back when he’d first arrived. He told us about one time he was arrested on the Plaza for shooting at a tree (he thought it was a bear), and going to jail tripping on acid!

“It was still the Wild West back then,” he joked.

Well in light of recent events (including a random violent incident on Bent St itself), it may still be, even though the old men from Taos Pueblo no longer line the Plaza benches, wrapped in their blue blankets while Mountain Men come down into the valley to trade.

The hitching posts on the Plaza and Bent Street might be gone, but the ghosts of the past remain in the stories and legends passed down from one generation to the next.

Kathleen Fowler bought Sam’s Shop from Sam and by the time I moved back to Taos, she’d made it fully her own. It’s still my go-to for anything I need in a hurry for any occasion. I always check the sale rack and the rack of second hand treasures as well as the new merchandise Kathleen discovers at “Market”  each season.

The building has been “a women’s clothing boutique since 1946,” says Kathleen. So even before it belonged to Sam Parks, women in Taos were shopping on Bent Street for fashionable fineries!

One of the newer buildings on Bent Street, built during the 1830’s,  the  house has beams from Turley Mill and Kathleen says the elderly daughters of the original family of tenants, have visited to see their old bedrooms upstairs. It remained a residential building until 1949.

The small rooms downstairs in the adobe house are filled with a selection of women’s clothing and accessories that reflect Kathleen’s aesthetic;  feminine, classic with a quirky whimsical twist.

Sam’s Shop is located at 109 Bent St.

Across the way from Sam’s, heading down Bent Street, is Taos Cookery.

A kitchen shop owned by Cobey Sensescu and managed by Mel A. James, this charming space is chocablock filled to the brim with locally made pottery, linens,

Taos Twist flatware, gadgets, pots and pans, specialty food products, Kei & Molly kitchen towels, as well as bookshelves packed with amazing Southwest cookbooks! There is so much to see here, it’s always amazed me just how much stuff they have been able to fit into these tiny rooms without it seeming in the least bit cluttered! This is a goldmine for cooks or to find a great gift for the cook in your life!

See their site linked below for much more info.

Next door at Ortenstone Delattre Fine Art, Nancy Ortenstone and Pierre Delattre have curated a collection of contemporary art.

The gallery features original contemporary paintings on canvas and limited edition museum quality archival prints by Nancy Ortenstone, Pierre Delattre and Carla O’Neal. This is one of the few galleries in Taos that focuses on current, modern and contemporary art. Pierre Delattre is a writer and poet as well as an artist, who for many years wrote for The Magazine in Santa Fe.

The building that houses Ortenstone Delattre Fine Art was originally the stables for Governor Bent’s horses back in the 1840’s!

For more information please visit their site below this post, and please join me again, next Wednesday as we continue to stroll down Bent Street.




For more on Bent Street and shopping in Taos, please visit linked below.


All images taken on my iphone except for the corner shops where Desert Blends and Wild Life once were and shot of the street, (stock files), and Kathleen outside Sam’s thanks to Sam’s Shop!