A Spread on Marfa, Texas from the March/April 2011 issue of VOGUE Living Australia
After just one trip, I am certainly not going to deem myself an expert on Marfa, Texas. But, Marfa is a place where one can still get away from the crowds and find solitude. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I didn’t have cell phone service for half of the trip and carried the feeling that I was truly in the middle of nowhere, but in a world often manipulated by an artificial and commercial reality, Marfa is a town that still feels ruggedly authentic and overflows with true talent. While in Marfa, you can make the town your own – even if just for a weekend!
I stayed just two nights in the small town. I spent the first night at the Thunderbird Motel where the clean simplicity of the rooms- with concrete floors, colorful woven blankets, and cowhide rugs, left me longing to re-do my entire town home in this organic southwestern feel. Shortly after check-in, I stopped by Squeeze Marfa, located around the corner from the Hotel Paisano and across the street from the Presidio County Courthouse. It’s a tiny hip café and the perfect spot for a quick lunch or breakfast. Of course, I left with a t-shirt and a bar of amazing gourmet chocolate.
After a quick bite, I walked across the street to the Presidio County Courthouse. It’s a beautiful old building built in 1886 with amazing light fixtures and beautiful woodwork. I took the stairs to the top of the Courthouse, which offered incredible views of the Marfa water tower and the Davis Mountains. From the Courthouse, I decided to browse in a few of the local stores. I took a peek inside Stuff, which offered an array of vintage furniture, gorgeous art prints, and other home and one-of-a-kind décor treasures. The manager Rose is extremely kind and the prices are great! I would definitely recommend stopping in on your trip. After visiting Stuff, I grabbed a glass of chardonnay at an adorable old home turned into the Q Café and Wine Bar. And, after a little bit of relaxing, it was certainly time to hit the road again!
I headed up the highway to Valentine, Texas to visit the famed Prada Marfa exhibit by Elmgreen and Dragset. Though it had been vandalized, it certainly didn’t take away from the intrigue of seeing a “Prada store” in the middle of the desert. And, it seems that it is somehow expected – for a symbol of materialism to be damaged in such raw and unpretentious terrain. And, speaking of art, the Friday evening of my visit happened to be the opening night of The World According To New Orleans at Ballroom Marfa. I felt so lucky to be there on opening night and to meet many of the presenting artists. After visiting with local residents and chatting with some of the artists at the Ballroom, I stepped out for my dinner reservation at Cochineal. Cochineal is an exquisite restaurant that was opened by a couple that used to own Etats-Unis, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The food was unbelievable! From savoring a peppered steak to sampling date pudding for the first time- I know it will be at the very top of my list on my return visit.
On Saturday, I toured the Chinati Foundation, founded by artist Donald Judd, who is widely credited with making Marfa what it is today. Judd infused the artistic element into the small town and inspired the creation of the creative community that now thrives. Seeing the artist’s aluminum contemporary sculptures in the old German World War II military barracks is an absolute must. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the exhibit space offer views of the vast Marfa landscape and create a priceless backdrop. For lunch between tours, definitely try Food Shark, a freestanding trailer offering fresh tacos and natural bites.
After touring both the Chinati Foundation and The Judd Foundation, I still had enough time to visit Buck Johnston’s boutique called Wrong. I had the pleasure of meeting Buck the night before at the Ballroom exhibit and I couldn’t wait to check out her store. The shop is a mix of art- beautiful prints, photography, and watercolors. I loved the pillows from Pul-Poetry! At her advising, I also stopped by the Marfa Book Company. The shop was full of character and has many books you don’t often see or find!
For my second and final dinner of the trip, I went to Maiya’s for contemporary Italian. The restaurant is set in the interior of an old bank and though remodeled, its roots, structure, and architectural identity remain preserved. Maiya’s is another restaurant I would highly recommend for a great dinner in Marfa. And, if you aren’t ready to call it a night after dining, check out Padre’s. The owner, Father Bill, was kind enough to give me a tour. The bar is actually a renovated funeral home! It has a great scene with live music and a spacious outdoor patio. Yes, I had a great time at Padre’s.
On Saturday night, I stayed at Austin hotel guru Liz Lambert’s Marfa venture, El Cosmico. Guests can have their choice of staying in a tee-pee, safari tents (with wood floors and iPhone hook-ups), yurts, trailers, or BYOT (bring your own tent). The campsite had communal bathrooms (utilitarian chic) and a great lobby with coffee, wi-fi, and amazingly cool décor. To even the most reluctant camper, El Cosmico offers the perfect dose of wilderness. And, if you get a chance, be sure to grab a bar (or five) of Marfa Brand soap in the hotel lobby- I can assure you, you will not regret it!
Overall, though my trip to Marfa was brief, it overflows with amazing memories. It’s as if those two full days were exploding with adventure, rejuvenation, and sustenance. The town somehow unveils what is important again, which is sometimes easy to forget in the business of every day life. Whether it’s getting to know the friendly, charming, and compellingly interesting locals- or simply sitting alone and enjoying a Margarita at the historical Hotel Paisano (where Giant was filmed), Marfa gives you a chance to breathe again. And, there’s certainly an air about it that you hope always stays with you, or at least until your next visit.
T Magazine Wanderlust
* With special thanks to Rose of Stuff (Marfa, Texas).