In the Texas Monthly Recommends series, Texas Monthly writers, editors, photographers, and producers offer up their favorite recent culture discoveries from the great state of Texas.

In late June, I stepped out of pandemic-ridden 2021 and into a carefully preserved remnant of 1920s Texas on a street corner in downtown El Paso. The Gardner Hotel is an El Paso staple that first opened in 1922 and (except for the addition of essentials like air conditioning and cable TV) has remained almost unchanged since. As a newcomer to Texas from the East Coast, I was instantly smitten by the hotel’s old-world, Western-frontier charm. The lobby is set up as a pseudo-museum, complete with cabinets displaying artifacts and letters gleaned from the early 1900s, and on my bedside table sat a still-functioning rotary phone that the desk clerk rang upon the arrival of my Taco Bell order. 

The family-owned Gardner Hotel doesn’t do glossy or geometric, opting instead for the patterned pillowcases and brass bed frames of a century ago. If the aesthetic doesn’t do it for you, stop by for the history: Pulitzer Prize–winning author Cormac McCarthy wrote several of his books during his stay at the Garner, and the notorious bank robber John Dillinger stayed in room 221 just days before his arrest in Arizona. Around the corner, I found several restaurants and bars with custom discounts for Gardner guests, while a ten-minute walk got me to the El Paso Museum of Art, and New Mexico’s White Sands National Park was just a bus ride away. Even if you don’t go far, the Gardner remains a damn good rest stop that has drawn in travelers from all over.

—Rachel Calcott, editorial intern

Listen to Places of Consequence

On Places of Consequence, acoustic guitarist Cameron Knowler celebrates his Houston and Yuma, Arizona, roots with a delicate blend of old-school bluegrass and abstract acoustic guitar motifs. He developed the record in part on a tour across West Texas with his friend and fellow guitar virtuoso, Eli Winter, and its rugged simplicity feels like a mirror held up to those carefree road trips. The album’s loner, desert imagery harkens back to Knowler’s fascination with striking road movies like Paris, Texas. To create his intimate sound, Knowler peppers each melody with poignant twinges of nostalgia, letting his sharp, detailed plucks seep into lush chords. The songs feel more like an eclectic series of Western-inspired vignettes, ranging from abstract sounds, like the tapping feet of a flatfoot dancer, to covers of classic songs like “I’m An Old Cowhand.” Each carefully chosen song acts as a part of a miniature scene from one larger story—a story that tells of dusty trails and long nights, of memories long gone but never forgotten. After all, our hometowns are the places we can leave but never really lose.

­­—Vanessa Ague, editorial intern

Watch Connie Britton in The White Lotus

My plans for this summer, alas, do not include luxuriating at a glamorous resort in Hawaii. But I’m really enjoying the next best thing: watching one on TV. You can almost smell the plumeria blossoms and feel the island breeze ruffling the palm trees on HBO’s The White Lotus, the third episode of which airs on Sunday. Every scene is filtered through sepia tones, as though we’re inside an Instagram post. But all is not well in paradise: we learn at the outset that someone has died at the hotel, though we don’t yet know who or how. Most of the characters are rich, egotistical, and miserable. That might sound like a drag to watch, but writer and director Mike White—who honed the art of satirizing power and privilege in the underrated Enlightened—pens such sharp one-liners that I found myself laughing more than cringing. One of the best characters is Nicole, a workaholic executive played by Connie Britton. Thanks to Britton’s part-time residence in Austin and her enduring role as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights—which is back on Netflix August 1, by the way—we’re claiming her as an honorary Texan.

“It’s okay, I have a filter for that,” Nicole quips when her teen daughter accuses her of looking “deranged” on a work Zoom. Her performance teeters on the edge between peppy #LeanIn “girlboss” and arrogant ice queen. In a memorable scene, she offers inspirational career advice to Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), a young journalist who’s just married into money. The scene turns on a dime when Nicole learns that Rachel wrote a profile of her that she didn’t like; Britton never lets her smile fade as she insults Rachel and belittles her “hatchet job” of an article (“But it was a puff piece!” Rachel protests). The hotel employees are also great, especially beatific spa manager Belinda (Insecure’s Natasha Rothwell), who must fend off a guest’s awkward attempts at friendship. The White Lotus is not high art, but it goes down easy, like a piña colada sipped poolside.

—Rose Cahalan, associate editor

Take a lush drive through Central Texas

Summertime in Texas is not something I normally associate with the word “beautiful,” but this season’s unusually abundant rain has turned parts of Central Texas greener than I have ever seen them in any summer of my lifetime. I’ve been lucky enough to have recently spent a lot of time driving around Mason, McCulloch, and Tom Green counties, and my heart has swelled at the lushness of the landscapes I pass through. I have been moved nearly to tears by the sight of a narrow farm-to-market road unfolding before me, winding between the kelly green of a sorghum field on my right and a grazing pasture peppered with red-and-white Herefords to my left. I find that a soundtrack of Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, and Doug Sahm makes the experience even sweeter. It infuses my cold heart with gratitude: for the rain, for the road, for the car, for the gas, and for the gift of being born and raised in Texas, the best dang state there ever was.

—Emily McCullar, associate editor