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Just Back From: Marfa

What’s changed and what hasn’t.

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Photo by Jordan Breal

Marfa’s having a moment (again). The West Texas town recently turned up on the New York Times‘s “52 Places To Go in 2016” list (the only Texas destination to make the cut), propelled by the buzz of the soon-to-open Hotel Saint George as well as artist Robert Irwin’s soon-to-be-completed installation at the Chinati Foundation, which has been fourteen years in the making. As an “offbeat cultural hub” (as the Times put it) and perennial hipster hideout, Marfa seems to (still) be around nearly every corner on the Internet these days, fussed over by men’s magazines and fashion bloggers with equal enthusiasm.

And not for nothing. Between its cinematic vistas and quiet expanses, the town’s allure is both physical and spiritual. And while Donald Judd’s large-scale works of art are the unbudgeable anchors that first catapulted Marfa onto the cultural radar, it’s the creative-minded characters who now blow through like tumbleweeds to set up their shops and restaurants and galleries that are keeping it there. They’re also the reason no two visits to Marfa are the same. You never know what—or who—you’re going to find.

The Hotel Saint George, set to open in the spring.
The Hotel Saint George, set to open in the spring.

Photo by Jordan Breal

And so, when I was out that way this past weekend, I made a point of passing through to see what was what and update our own Marfa Trip Guide. It had been about a year since my last extended visit, and, as always, there were new storefronts and shuttered businesses, familiar faces and starry-eyed newcomers.

My first order of business was to track down a restaurant that was actually open as advertised, a challenge on any Sunday but a real challenge on a Sunday during “low season” (i.e., the winter). Sadly, Cochineal has disbanded its Sunday brunch, but Food Shark and Squeeze Marfa were open. I opted for the latter, across from the peachy-pink Presidio County Courthouse, where my attempt to order a Marfan sandwich (goat cheese, sun-dried tomato, pesto) was thwarted: “We’re out of goat cheese. The goats are pregnant.”

Walking along the main drag, I felt a brief tightening in my chest when I saw that the windows at Mayia’s, one of my favorite dinner spots, were papered over. But my fears were allayed when I pulled up Marfalist, the local forum for news and happenings, and read that it’s merely undergoing a renovation and plans to reopen soon (“Check back in February!”). If only I had taken the advice I give to everyone else who’s heading to Marfa: first check Marfalist. And then consult Wrong Marfa proprietress Buck Johnston’s Marfa recs page; she will always send you down the right path.

The Presidio County Courthouse.
The Presidio County Courthouse.

Photo by Jordan Breal

The rest of my half day of snooping turned up a mix of good news and bad.

The good: the Big Bend Sentinel is reporting that the courthouse cupola, easily my favorite vantage point in Marfa, will finally be reopened to visitors. The bad: It’ll only be open on Fridays.

The good: Pizza Foundation, booted from its old space to make way for Marfa Contemporary‘s expansion, has reopened in its new digs, bolstered by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The bad: Padre’s, that laid-back hangout housed in a former funeral home, has closed (read Father Jeremiah Griffin’s prayer/eulogy here). The good: It’s for sale. You could buy it.

The bad: Comida Futura, the cool-kids’ cafeteria, where Krista Steinhauer served up veggie-centric comfort food, is no longer. The good: Her strawberry rhubarb pie recipe lives on. And the space has a new tenant, designer John Patrick’s Communitie, which feels like the minimalist living room of your dreams that happens to sell woodblock-print scarves and luxuriously soft organic T-shirts and has a Dot Devota poem artfully scrawled on the wall. You may even end up sitting for one of Patrick’s Instagram portraits.

Communitie Marfa
Communitie Marfa

Photo by Jordan Breal

As I went about doing standard Marfa tourist things—taking a photo of the Thunderbird Hotel’s “See Mystery Lights” sign, ordering a matcha latte at Do Your Thing—I spied several other ventures that have sprung up since my last pilgrimage: Rule Gallery, New Star Grocery Art Museum, Salsa Puedes (a taco truck behind the Lost Horse Saloon), the Capri Kitchen and Bar (across from the Thunderbird). I pulled up my calendar on my phone and started calculating when exactly I’ll be able to squeeze in another, longer trip to Marfa. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

p.s. All the fawning trip guides in the world won’t introduce you to the real Marfa like Sterry Butcher’s dispatches will. Read her recent columns—on waiting for rain, on herding wild turkeys, on dancing cumbia on Saturday nights, on the importance of waving, etc—for a fuller view of life in Far West Texas.

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