“I’ve been here about a year and a half,” says my tour guide, a young yoga instructor who also works at this art museum on the grounds of a former army base in Marfa, Texas. “It feels longer.”
Marfa is like that. Pulled from obscurity by the Chinati Foundation, an art museum started by contemporary sculptor Donald Judd, it’s now a tiny raft of a town in the sea of the high desert of West Texas, an island of civilization where you can buy feed for your livestock around the block from a gourmet grilled cheese shop.
This October will be the 25th anniversary of the creation of Chinati. With the occasion comes some perspective on what’s changed and what remains the same here in Marfa, where time seems to move more slowly than the puffy cotton clouds dotting the deep blue canvas of the giant Texas sky.
Marfa continues to boom. El Cosmico is the second hotel from the owner of Thunderbird, if you can really call it a hotel. It’s more a hippie RV park, with refurbed trailers for rent, yurts and teepees and, when those sell out, space for tents. There’s a hammock grove, in the shade, where architects play euchre, weighing down the cards with wooden pieces from a chess set. (Chess is too cerebral, I think, for people hanging out in hammock groves.) The showers and toilets are open to the air.
Miniature Rooster is a new restaurant along the main drag of Highway 90, with fantastic curry, steak and chicken and waffles. Run by two business partners who met at The Inn at Little Washington–another awesome kitchen in the middle of nowhere–Uday Huja moved to Marfa from Las Vegas to open with his friend Rocky Barnette, a native of Asheville who’d already staked a claim in West Texas.
Anagrammatically named coffee shop Frama is next to the only laundromat in town, Tumbleweed, a small operation just around the corner from Padre’s, a dark bar set in a former feed store with an outstanding game selection, everything from air hockey to Pac Man, and an old-time juke box with rock and funk hits for the times when live acts aren’t in the house.
But it’s not all hip spots here: Marfa Burritos is a small kitchen where Border Patrol agents, plumbers and travel writers sit around tables protected by clear plastic tablecloths to devour tortillas filled with beans, steak and hot sauce for $4 a pop.
On a Friday night, “everyone” is out, hitting bars like Padres and Planet Marfa, catching bands, playing pool and ladder golf. A 24-hour play festival is on, too, with teams working through the night to conceive, write, rehearse and execute seven-minute productions. They’ll hit the stage on Saturday night, after I’ve already left for points west.
In the morning, I see the weekend thespians out by the rail tracks, practicing lines under the farmer’s market canopy, just a short walk from the grain elevator, the Paisano Hotel and the silver water tower, looking like stage dressing from a backlot parked here to lend the authentic feel of a West Texas whistle stop. The tower, stamped with MARFA in black, is the tallest building in town.