I first tucked into one of the trailers-for-rent at El Cosmico three years ago, smirking a little at the hipster vibe of the West Texas outpost but appreciating the funky quarters and blazing sunsets.
I’m shacked up there again, sipping a cup of hot tea on the deck outside a 45-foot, 1956 Imperial Mansion trailer with a thick wool blanket draped over me for warmth. It’s one of a half-dozen vintage trailers, along with a collection of tepees, yurts and canvas safari-type tents, modernized and groove-ified to lure travelers looking for a trendy place to catch their winks.
It’s all part of Austin hotelier Liz Lambert’s Bunkhouse Group mini empire.
Lambert, who grew up in Odessa, earned a law degree from the University of Texas and worked in New York City before ditching the legal world for the service industry. She lit the spark that ignited a resurgence when she turned a rundown hotel on South Congress into the trendy Hotel San Jose in 1999. Today, she also operates two other hotels, Hotel Saint Cecilia and Hotel Havana, plus a pair of coffee shops in Austin.
Her West Texas expansion began in 2005, when she opened the Thunderbird Hotel in Marfa. She’s no longer involved in that property but opened El Cosmico there in 2009.
It’s more than a hotel, and the focus here is outdoors. Crowds gather for occasional concerts or workshops, with people napping in hammocks, cooking at the outdoor kitchen or tapping away on laptops in the lobby lounge, where you can buy camp bandanas or a loaf of bread, play a board game or pet the resident orange cat, Marmalade.
Our trailer home for the night featured a king bed swathed in a thick comforter, a separate twin bed in its own back bedroom and a fully outfitted kitchen. Smaller trailers are also available, or you can bring your own tent to pitch.
Beyond the trailer doors, though, change is afoot in Marfa.
Local attorney and entrepreneur Tim Crowley is putting in a new hotel on South Highland Avenue, in the same building that long housed the Marfa Book Company and Marfa Public Radio. They’ve moved a few blocks away, although the bookstore will return to its former digs when construction wraps up, probably in late 2015. The finished four-story Hotel Saint George will house a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, plus 55 rooms on the floors above it.
The large covered pavilion by the railroad tracks no longer shades the famous Food Shark food trailer, either. That’s moved a few blocks over to Highway 90.
To keep tabs on all the changes, stop by the Marfa Visitor Center. While you’re there, check out one of the last USO halls, complete with a sparkling chandelier, wooden floor and framed photos of soldiers. The hall opened in 1940 to serve soldiers at Fort D.A. Russell, and it’s easy to picture soldiers swirling its floors to the sound of big band music. You can also learn about Donald Judd, the famed sculptor and art collector from New York who triggered the transformation of Marfa into an arts mecca.
For food, don’t miss Comida Futura, an offshoot of the Food Shark trailer that offers terrific lunch specials from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. I’m still dreaming about the $10 “triumph of vegetables” plate that included beet slaw, cauliflower mash, jalapeno mac and cheese and glazed carrots, and my husband swooned for the chicken cutlet. We also liked Maiya’s, just across the street, for dinner (best home-baked bread in town!), although it’s expensive.
Still, you’ll need your strength, especially if you’re cruising town, doing your best to fit in with the cool kids who’ve made Marfa their home away from home.
IF YOU GO
The City of Marfa Visitor Center, 302 South Highland Ave., 432-729-4772, www.visitmarfa.com. Comida Futura, 120 Highland Ave., 432-729-4278, www.comidafutura.com. Marfa Book Company, 213 South Dean St., 432-729-3906, www.marfabookco.com. Maiya’s, 103 Highland St., 432-729-4410, www.maiyasrestaurant.com.