Stop 3 on TX-to-CA Road Trip
This hotel was quite a change from the night before in Arizona. In order to enjoy a little contrast from our stay in peaceful Winslow, Don and I chose to spend the night in lively old Downtown Vegas. We were pretty excited to find El Cortez with its retro neon sign! You can tell it's an original, since I don't think they have neon announcing coffee shops anymore!
El Cortez is the oldest, continuously running casino in Vegas! It opened in 1941 with 59 rooms. Besides a bit of a façade update in 1954, the Spanish Colonial Revival building has remained pretty much the same. You just don't expect a casino hotel to have shutters and flower filled window boxes!
The hotel was owned by Bugsy Siegel and some other organized crime figures back in the day. You can't look at the place today without picturing the Rat Pack or maybe even Elvis. Even though El Cortez has grown a bit by adding newer buildings, it still attracts a local and milder crowd, not wanting to mess with big, crowded casinos. In 1963 Las Vegas legend, Jackie Gaughan bought the place. If our trip had started one month earlier we might have bumped into him. Evidently until his death this past March, Mr. Gaughan (age 93) was living in an El Cortez penthouse and enjoying the casino daily.
This is how a casino looks if you've been drinking a while, or your eyes are irritated by smoke. Actually I just took the photo too fast. I wasn't sure about casino rules and didn't want to make anyone mad. I took the photo from halfway up the stairs to the second floor where the "Vintage Rooms" were. This is the original building, so there were no elevators to the older rooms.
We reserved a vintage room for the true experience. They were located right above the original casino. There's been a little updating, but not much...which is fine. It was just a quick walk up one flight to room 2273. I'm sure the original door didn't have a non-smoking sign, a peep hole or braille writing!
A Suite for $20!
We were upgraded for no charge, to a vintage suite. There really wasn't too much vintage about it. In fact I would have preferred 1940's furniture over the 1980's look. But I was not about to be picky. This suite was TWENTY DOLLARS! I had seen a few reviews that mentioned casino noise or even smoke seeping into the vintage rooms. But there must have been a quieter, less smoky crowd down below. No complaints from us.
Don is posing to show the spacious entry. We really did have a lot of room to spread out.
We kept the drapes closed, however. No view with this room. Just roof and more building.
The bathroom was less spacious, but clean and functional. I haven't had a tub with a sliding glass door in a long time. You don't often get hotel robes with 20-dollar rooms, so that was a plus! But there was no time for robe lounging. We had places to go and things to see.
No. Las Vegas doesn't make a lot of money off Don and me. We took the 5 -dollar gambling cards that we got as hotel guests and embarrassed ourselves with our gambling ignorance. I had to flag down a black suited attendant about 3 times to ask silly questions about using the 25-cent slot machine! After a few minutes we were ready to step out to the neon lights on of Downtown Vegas!
Well, the signs weren't quite lit yet, but they were colorful anyway!
It's been 34 years since I traveled through Las Vegas. The downtown area on Freemont that I vaguely remember, was hard to recognize. The signs were still fun! They have some new neon thrown in with the old favorites.
The Freemont Street Experience
We wandered down Freemont Street from the hotel and enjoyed a little of the "afternoon life". The Golden Nugget was a familiar sight.
The Mermaids Casino...
...was not a familiar sight. I had a hard time figuring it all out, since the street is now covered with a mall-like canopy. It all seemed confusing to my brain.
We wandered and enjoyed the colorful scene till about 5:30. Then the walkways began to fill with some odd characters, men in thongs and tutus here, a topless woman with a cape, there. We decided to move on and enjoy "nightlife" elsewhere.
Nothing better than returning in a taxi after enjoying rum cocktails at Frankie's Tiki Room and seeing all the Cortez neon! El Cortez is not under a canopy, so it felt more like authentic Las Vegas standing beside the street. We had a late dinner that was quite decent at the Cortez Café and a quite decent night's sleep before moving on in the morning.
What was most notable?
Price and Convenience! The room with all the meal & gambling coupons was $19.00 plus tax. That boggles my mind because it really was a comfy stay, even if we didn't make much use of all the nearby gambling and nightlife options. The retro-ness is what I'll fondly remember. I love, love, love the look of the charming building with the turquoise neon signs. And I do appreciate a casino that still has penny coin slot machines!!
Harvey House Hotel
There are very few Harvey House Hotels left, so Don and I were pretty excited to finally stay at one. This was a beauty and it was right along Route 66. It exceeded our expectations.
What's a Harvey House?
You can watch this movie and get a musical (and sort of silly) version of the history. Or Google Fred Harvey and learn about the man who began promoting tourism in the wild west in the late 1800's, with his hotels and restaurants along the Santa Fe Railway.
A year ago, I only had a vague idea of the Harvey Girls who wore starched, white aprons and efficiently served delicious meals to diners traveling by train. It was a chat with a fellow traveler in Colorado last summer, that got us interested in this Winslow hotel. His description put it high on our hotel list.
Two Cool Things
1- The Harvey Company hired a woman in 1930 to design La Posada! Mary Colter used the culture and history of the region to design the hotel, gardens and even furniture. Her work inspired the style known as Pueblo Deco.
2- This amazing building was rescued from destruction in 1997. It has been restored into a magical hotel/restaurant/museum and private residence by owners, Allen Affeldt and Tina Mion.
This hotel may not have a pool, spa and fitness room, but I'd rather enjoy the numerous sitting areas and pathways on the grounds.
There are cozy garden areas in the front, with bubbling fountains, flowers, sculptures and accents with stone and tile. In the back, there's a spacious lawn with Adirondack chairs and croquet... and for some reason, a maze with bales of hay. It's all very peaceful and relaxing... until the trains rumble by! I love the sound of trains.
We stayed in the James Cagney room. You can see the framed photo and write up near the door. All the rooms are named for celebrities of some kind, since many well known stars have stayed here in the past. Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and even Shirley Temple were guests long ago and have rooms named for them. I had to laugh when I saw one room named for The Double Mint Twins. I remember their gum commercials in the 1960's. I thought that was a little hotel humor (And you can spot quirky humor here and there in the hotel) but when I read the bio, I learned the twins were actually friends of the owners.
Our cozy corner room was beautifully decorated with woven rugs, baskets, tile and arches. Our bed was comfy and the handcrafted headboard seemed to be Navajo inspired.
Mirrors and Tile
Even the bath and dressing areas were filled with brightly colored tiles and furniture. The mirrors made the cozy space seem larger, but they also distracted a bit. I almost tripped a few times before remembering to step up, into the bathroom.
You could get lost wandering all the halls. There was so much to take in, it sort of boggled my brain. I should have just concentrated on floors because that would have been enough entertainment. So many kinds of floors! I loved the floortile pattern in this blanket-warmed hall.
So Many Rooms
This ballroom was my favorite. The curvy beams were covered with brightly painted designs. Curious, antiques were mixed with colorful modern wall art. Best of all there were cozy spots inviting guests to sit and stay a while!
Stay and Play
I wish we'd had more time! There were shelves of interesting books, with soft leather chairs and comfy rockers nearby. Spacious family tables and intimate tables for two, held board games, begging to be played. And how about this intriguing adult sized table with whimsical building shapes!
And More Rooms
This grand room was filled with more lounging areas. The walls were covered in bold and often humorous artwork, created by owner Tina Minon. During the evening a local musician filled the echoing space with the sound of his acoustic guitar. Again, I wish we'd had more time so we could have enjoyed the music... while moving giant chess pieces on one of the large game tables.
Front of Back?
The south side of the hotel looked out towards the railroad tracks. It was once the main entrance, since most travelers arrived by train. The walkway lead up to a set of rocking chairs, just perfect for watching the trains come and go.
Trains and a Sunset
Don and I watched the sunset and chatted with a couple from Iowa. You have to sort of wonder about the other guests who come to stay. Winslow isn't a big destination for most people and it's not exactly on the way to anywhere.
And what did we learn?
Almost every time we talk to other travelers we end up adding to our list of places to stop or explore. As it turns out, our Iowa friends were not really very interesting at all. They recommended a Motel 6 in Flagstaff. Who knows how they ended up at La Posada. But they were nice enough...and hey, they took our picture. Besides, our "Must Go There!" list is too long.
Sigh! I love sunsets and I love trains.
After sunset, we stopped in the Martini Lounge and had an interesting conversation with the Cameron...who made me a Turquoise Margarita which matched my shirt. Cameron not only grew up in Winslow, but remembered the old hotel from his childhood when his father was a conductor for Santa Fe Railroad. When Cameron was a child, the hotel was gutted and only a portion was in use, as offices for the railroad. He remembers getting in trouble for sneaking off to explore. He had hoped to become the 6th generation in his family to become a conductor for Santa Fe. But his dreams ended, when he found out he was colorblind.
Dinner in the Turquoise Room
This is the view we had from our round booth in the Turquoise Room. Not only could we sit back and enjoy the charm of the old dining room, but we could see the lights of passing trains through the windows. Our dinner was fabulous and I'll save those details for the dining blog.
Our Harvey Girl
I was mighty pleased that our server, Julie wore a black skirt and white apron. She even took time to pose with me, even though it was getting late and she had to get up early to teach her math students in the local high school the next day. For that reason, I didn't gripe about details, like "Where's your bow-tie?" or "Why is your apron white?" You see, back when La Posada first opened, Mary Colter insisted the white and black uniform was too severe. She insisted the Harvey Girls wear colorful desert themed aprons with cacti and sombreros and donkeys. La Posada Harvey Girls were very festive!
I'll remember this hotel as an oasis, far from the city and usual tourists. I wish we could have met the owners/hosts, because they must be a mighty interesting pair. Their respect for history and passion for art was so whimsically intermingled in every nook and cranny of the hotel! I loved the quiet, peaceful atmosphere, but I would love to visit during the busy season as well. I have no complaints, but only one suggestion. They should get someone to recreate those desert aprons and sell them in the gift shop. I'd buy one!
El Paso, Texas
This was our first night of a 4-week road trip from Texas to California. Don and I were exhausted by the time we finally walked into the lobby. It wasn't the nine hour drive through west Texas, but the detour down Alameda Avenue, as well as the time we spent circling the complex trying to figure the entrance.
El Paso is a curious city and I wish we'd had more time to explore. Our introduction to the city was made a little confusing by our drive through miles of the city that made us think we had accidently driven across the border into Juarez.
The grand hotel itself is sandwiched in between cultures. The convention center with a few upscale shops and cafes was on the side of the new entrance. And across the street from the original lobby entrance, you could see vendors and pawn shops along the sidewalks.
But this is why we came! We have stayed before at historic hotels designed by Trost and Trost. This hotel opened on Thanksgiving in 1912 and was the grandest of them all. The detail on the exterior is lovely and so different than hotels we've visited in smaller Texas towns.
This was originally the hotel lobby. This Tiffany dome is 15 feet in diameter and now sits over a round bar. We were told by a customer that Pancho Villa once shot a bullet through the Tiffany...but I'm not sure that's true.
The whole impressive area was stuffed with rich detail. Cherrystone and black serpentine marble, mahogany and golden scagliola and stained glass windows. It made me wonder why they needed TVs at the bar.
There was plenty to stare at without TVs flickering in the center of the bar. Besides, people stare at their cell phones instead of bar TVs, anyway.
We knew from internet reviews that the hotel has struggled a bit at times. And we weren't going for one of the top dollar rooms. We asked the woman at the desk for a good view and she gave us this spacious corner room for no extra charge. The furniture was not historic and a little dated, but it was clean and comfortable.
I loved the pink tile! Like I said, the rooms haven't been upgraded recently, but I'm fine with that. The fact that our hot water wouldn't turn off, was only a temporary problem. And there was good lighting in the bathroom. I really get tired of dark bathrooms in hotels!
One of our windows looked out over the Franklin Mountains of Mexico. We could read the words written on the mountainside.
Our other window looked down on the roof top pool and another impressive historic hotel. Evidently, The Plaza Hotel is being renovated... which could be a problem. This huge hotel was pretty empty on a Monday night. I'd hate to see them having to compete.
Our view wasn't quite as good as the view from the rooftop ballroom. Evidently this had been a good spot for watching the progress of the Mexican Revolution. Folks gathered to watch Pancho Villa cross the Rio Grande...or so I'm told!
We would have loved to have dined in this impressive formal dining room, but it was closed on Monday. That was a disappointment. One should take note of that if you want to dine in this wonderful room with original stained glass windows. The chandaliers are replicas of the originals which used candles. They were lit and lowered at night and lifted during the day.
Dinner at the Dome Bar
We wore our western shirts in honor of El Paso and ordered dinner at the bar. (There was another informal café) A notable night usually includes some people encounters and this seemed to be the only place to find anyone in the quiet hotel. On a Monday night you will mostly meet people traveling on business. And the most curious traveler we chatted with told us he had been living in hotels for 15 years. He was a bit of a talker and we felt a little trapped at first. But he did tell us about a wonder Café Central bar/restaurant across the plaza. That was worth knowing about! We ventured there to enjoy a very different and more sophisticated atmosphere and chatted with a number of El Paso locals with great tips for future visits.
What Was Notable?
The Tiffany Dome will always be what I associate with this hotel. But I'll also recall a sort of sad feeling, that this grand hotel was a little out of place or maybe under appreciated. I'll also remember the odd feeling of being in a hotel so close to the border. Our cell phones were alerting us about international fees. The staff and many guests were speaking Spanish and it was hard to communicate with a few. But some of the locals at Café Central chuckled about how El Paso was the safest city in the US, because the children of the drug cartel send their kids to school here. "They make sure it stays safe for them!" Hmm? Had to wonder about that.
Do I hope to return? Sure, I'm curious to experience it on a weekend and to learn more about El Paso. I hope this hotel can survive!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!