Heroine City Guide: One Day in Marfa
Three women, a man and a bloodhound walk into a bar. What could be a joke was our reality; we’d been driving in a tiny Audi from New York City to Los Angeles on an epic road trip with our sights set on our next stop in Marfa, Texas. To say that Marfa is a destination visit is in understatement. The closest major city with a commercial airport is El Paso, and it still requires a 190-mile drive southeast to get to. Such isolation, along with a nostalgic attachment to America’s southwest landscape, proved irresistible to minimalist artist Donald Judd who moved to the city in 1971 to build a home and create permanent, large-scale site-specific works that continue to inhabit the desert landscape today.
In recent years, the hype of what Marfa has to offer has grown exponentially. As it turns out, what Donald Judd was seeking in this little town in the Chihuahuan desert is appealing to all manner of creative people today who flock from around the world to find inspiration in the landscape and within the community. Chefs with all levels of experience flock here to experiment using southwest ingredients, and visionaries come here to open their own boutiques with specially curated items for sale. Artists and writers come to participate in one of the many residency programs available at famous organizations like the Chinati Foundation or the Lannan Foundation. Marfa offers space, possibility, and support to those who show up to make something unique.
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We arrived at St. George’s Hotel on a Tuesday evening and immediately ordered a round of Margaritas to celebrate the end of our long journey. The hotel is simply decorated in cool, neutral tones and elements of natural wood, marble and a finished concrete floor, some of which is refurbished from the 1929 version of the St. George’s hotel (the very first was built in 1886). To the right of the lobby is the Marfa Book Company store, where you can find an eclectic but specially selected collection of books on artists, architecture, poetry and literature, as well as prints, housewares and apothecary products for sale.
The St. George’s hotel is one of few upscale hotels in Marfa and is centrally located, so almost everything can be reached by foot. After a quick refresh in our rooms with a whole army of complementary Aesop products, we walked a couple of blocks to have dinner at Stelina for some Tuscan inspired home cooking. The restaurant is small but spacious with high ceilings and moody candle lighting, uncomplicated in design to match the simple elegance of their food. While the menu is constantly changing, if you see ratatouille or mashed potatoes available, snag them--and save room for dessert, you won’t be disappointed.
We heard there were some local bands playing at the Lost Horse Saloon, so after dinner we walked down a few blocks to for a nightcap. This is a true dive bar, and has apparently been one long before the Lost Horse Saloon opened in 2010. There are very few windows here, and Texas regalia, taxidermy animals, and cheeky signs (“please do not spit on the floor—thank you”) adorn rustic, wood-paneled walls making this the perfect setting for a beer and a game of pool. In the back you’ll find a large outdoor smoking patio where you can order food and mingle with the eclectic patrons who flock there, including elected officials, cowboys, ranchers, tourists and artists.
When the clock struck midnight we bid our new friends happy trails and headed for the hotel for a goodnight’s sleep, pausing for a moment in front of the Marfa Public Radio building to listen to some music still pulsing through the outdoor speakers.
We started our day early Wednesday morning with a visit to The Get Go on a friend’s recommendation. Here you will find stock of all your grocery needs, including specialty and local foods and produce, displayed in a charming “general store” kind of way. As a bonus, they offer a wide selection of apothecary products and great wines.
For breakfast and great coffee, you need just cross the street to Do Your Thing. This cafe is nestled within what appears to have been an old lumber yard, so there’s plenty of outdoor seating in the gravel lot for you to enjoy your coffee any way you like it, embellished with tumeric or horchata flavors. Inside is a large open kitchen, not unlike one you would find in an ordinary house, where they make delicious homemade breads (my favorite was the Jerusalem, topped with tahini and sesame seeds).
Before our first appointment, we made time to visit a few of the many beautiful shops lining the streets of Marfa. First on my list was Ashley Rowe, a designer I was first introduced to through Need Supply Co. and have since spotted them on the stock lists of American Rag, Selfredges and Tenoversix, among others. Rowe’s designs are minimal yet impactful, boasting simple lines and sturdy fabrics like leather, denim and raw canvas. Rowe was kind enough to share some thoughts with us on how Marfa has inspired her:
What inspired you to start your business and production in Marfa, Texas?
I really loved the vast open spaces, and the empty spaces all around town. I knew I needed to be here just because of that.
How does the aesthetic of Ashley Rowe reflect the Marfa lifestyle/landscape?
I’ve always been inspired by really simple shapes and designs, I felt like that was accepted here as it’s very much the aesthetic of what [Donald] Judd did.
How would you describe the clientele that come through your doors?
We have a wide variety of people coming through the doors, which I absolutely love! We sell to all ages and genders, so it’s super fun to be able to introduce people to the collection.
Not far from St. George’s Hotel is Communitie, a staple shop with straw hats, rocks and minerals, textiles, clothing and art for sale from artists who are either local or tied to the community in some way. With locations in both Marfa and Amagansett, NY, Communitie values sustainability, education and connectedness that is fostered through artistic exchange. John Patrick, designer and founder of Communitie, gave us some insight into what the brand is all about:
What can we find at the Communite shop in Marfa, and how does it differ from your Amagansett location?
My Marfa shop is my heart and soul. Marfa is raw and wild and free...you will find minerals textiles and art. It’s bigger than the Amagansett location so I can do big installations-- artist Kika Karadi, who we represent worldwide, is in both shops. Marfa has huge Kika paintings...Andrej Dubravsky is also showing with me soon.
How do you implement your brand philosophy within the Marfa community?
We support many things in Marfa. It’s a wonderful place and on the edge in so many ways…come to Marfa and see what we actually do.
You can’t leave Marfa without visiting Donald Judd’s former home, referred to as “The Block” as it occupies an entire city block within massive adobe walls. The tour guide is lovely and led us through two airplane hangars where Judd kept his personal library and art collection and installed several of his permanent sculptural works. The surrounding gardens contain specially selected cacti and furniture of Judd’s own design, which punctuate the main house which is still used by the family but available for tours. There are no photos allowed anywhere on the property, so you can give your phone a rest and try to remember with your eyes.
The Chinati Foundation is another must-see, but like "The Block," you have to make a reservation for a tour to have access to all it has to offer. We were short on time, so we missed out on the museum’s main collection which is housed in 15 buildings positioned around the sprawling 340-acre campus. However, Donald Judd’s 15 works in concrete is extraordinary and worth the walkthrough rattlesnake terrain to get to, as is the pavilion where Robert Irwin’s untitled (dawn to dusk) is installed down the street.
If contemporary art is your thing, it doesn’t get much better than Ballroom Marfa. Founded in 2003, the Ballroom remains one of the most important institutions that support up-and-coming to established artists from all over the world with the sole aim to support varied perspectives, cultures, and unique projects.
There is no better way to end a busy day than with a truly outstanding meal. An artist friend of ours in the area recommended we go to The Capri, part of the Thunderbird Hotel, to try the ribeye prime steak (which was absolutely perfect) and mesquite bean sorbet. Mesquite is a type several species of native trees that produce pods, each with a different taste. This sorbet had more like the texture of a mousse, and was unlike anything we’ve ever had before, and my new favorite dessert. Chef Rocky Barnette prefers to use mostly local southwest ingredients, so most of the produce used in their dishes is sourced from their garden. Lucky for us, the garden is also accessible to the guests to wander through, so take in the aroma of sage and lavender while sipping your hibiscus margarita by one of several communal fire pits.
It’s safe to say that one probably needs to spend at least three days in Marfa to experience everything at a leisurely pace, but we were on a bit of a mission to journey west. After piling in the car we were on the road again headed towards Santa Fe, with one last stop to make on the way. Possibly the most Instagrammed location of them all, Prada Marfa is as hilarious to see in real life as you’d imagine. A Prada store, fully stocked with this season’s collection, that is entirely inaccessible and in the middle of the desert. How strange—how clever—how ironic—how Marfa.