Where to crash and where to shop
Once you and your friends drive through the Mule Pass Tunnel holding your breath—it's Bisbee time.
Days before you got to that point, you should have booked a room at one of the many cozy, sleeping quarters that this Cochise County, oddball town has to offer.
I've stayed at a couple hotels on previous visits, all conveniently within a one minute stumble of the over 100-year-old St. Elmo Bar—Audrey's Inn and the Silver King Hotel, the latter of which has its own bar. I still need to make my staying-at-the-Copper-Queen-and-having-an-encounter-with-the-paranormal dream come true.
This time, I am going to suggest you check into the Gym Club Suites.
It is the place to crash in Bisbee for many people. And let me tell ya, I am definitely going back.
First off, it is so affordable, it's kind of ridiculous.
The room we occupied on the first level was equipped for at least seven people, but the limit was five. (About $150 during this stay, prices vary. But when you split it with a group of people, your story won't cost more than $40 for one night.)
Upstairs or downstairs, you'll still get a badass view of one of Bisbee's pretty angles. The building itself is a gem for the eyes. It dates back to 1903, and its look follows the brick pattern that is so characteristic of the surrounding hills.
On our visit, we walked into the room in awe at the size of it. It was basically an apartment.
A huge kitchen with plates, wine glasses, silverwear, a coffee maker and a microwave greeted us. It also had a fridge that turned water into ice for our caipirinhas and that kept our club soda and tamarind Jarritos cool for the morning after. Two small staircases led to a king-sized bed and the bathroom. A flat screen TV, nicer than yours if you have one, and three couches that transformed into twin beds make up the living room.
Although, you'll spend the majority of your time outside walking, sight-seeing, day-and-night drinking and thrift shopping, it's nice to rest your head and feet at a nice, clean place.
After you check out at 11 a.m. and have gotten some good brunch to recover from the night before (if you're a drinker)—or you just enjoy getting a late breakfast, head down to Main Street where most of Bisbee's thrift stores and antique shops stand.
The notorious Miners and Merchants Antique Center, also known as Floyd's store—in honor of the owner of more than 15 years, Floyd Lillard—is a three-story gem you're going to want to tackle. Be warned, it'll take at least a couple of hours to take it all in, but it's worth it.
Start at ground level and find yourself some cheap (I mean the price, not the quality) turquoise-stoned jewelry (I found a chocker with a beautiful blue stone for $30), maybe a leather vest made in Mexico for $20, a hand-made, stone-embroidered purse for $12 or some legit cowboy boots for $70 (many of which are, originally, between $500 and $2,000).
Lillard has also gathered a pretty decent collection of books—Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Charlotte Bronte, and my personal favorite, Gabriel García Márquez, are among some of the authors.
"I started when I was 14 years old, I have been doing this for 50 years now, I usually go out and buy from people...sometimes it is estates, people who have passed on...people just give you stuff they don't need, I also have vendors," Lillard says.
His store was once the Miners and Merchants Bank. He purchased the building more than one decade ago and partially renovated it—mainly for safety. The basement, clearly, remains as it stood in the early 1900s. You can feel and smell the age (some will call that humidity). Not going to lie, it's messy down there. Dig in if you're searching for new plates, tea cups, glasses, a small table and chairs, and oh I don't know, a chandelier?
Needless to mention that there is a room with hundreds upon hundreds of old vinyl records that you must take advantage of. Oh yes, 1960s and '70s rock, old school hip and hop and even disco, if you're into that. Now, sometimes you'll get lucky finding a record in perfect condition and other times they are pretty badly scratched. Still, you can use those for decoration purposes (DIY—Do It Yourself—time).
Another favorite of mine, Cachet, is a couple of doors to the right of Miners and Merchants. It is significantly smaller, but filled with worthwhile recycled clothing, estate jewelry and other antiques. I found a few dresses for the ladies and dress shirts for dudes made in Mexico and even my hometown in Guatemala.
From there, just keep strolling up Main until you get to the end. It's a nice, probably no more than 30-minute walk.
Do make time to gear off toward the corner of Subway and Shearer and into Agave Art. It is an art gallery and a clothing store that features some of Bisbee's printmakers' creations (on tank tops, T-shirts, even baby clothes) and paintings by local artists, such as Robin Bray. Also, in Copper Queen Plaza, go get lost in a sea of books, movies, musical instruments and vinyls at Bisbee Book and Music.
Come back to the Old Pueblo with gifts for your house or apartment, an antique carpet that really ties the room together, more books for when you get tired of the Netflix, or a nice blouse for mom. Get yourself a weird tie or dress to wear to work on Monday, too.
Honestly, you don't even have to buy anything (I mean, it's really hard not to)—the mere act of being nestled in Bisbee is all you need to clear the mind and the heart after that five-day routine known as work.
Where to eat and drink
Rolling into Bisbee, you're greeted by a picturesque little town a mile high and an hour and a half southeast of Tucson. If you're going for a day trip after work on Friday, chances are you'll be settled into your hotel right around dinnertime.
If you're a no reservations kind of person, you should go for the low fuss noodle house Thuy's (9 Naco Road) located right off Interstate 80 once you stumble into the town proper. There you'll find authentic Saigon-style fare in a bright, modern and simple atmosphere. The menu is pretty simple, consisting of only a handful of dish options. Bowls of beef or vegan pho run $8 with specials rotating on and off the chalkboard menu.
However, for those looking to start off their Bisbee trip on a more upscale note, Café Roka (35 Main St.) is a staple for re-imagined Italian fare. The restaurant does tend to book up, so you'll want to make a reservation before you leave by calling 432-5153. Inside, you'll find a quaint little restaurant that admittedly looks a little old school with its dark wood furnishings and maroon and beige color scheme.
The menu is a blend of meat-centric and pasta entrees with Mediterranean influence, all served as four course meals with soup, salad, a palate-cleansing sorbet and your chosen entrée all included in the price of the main course. Prices range from the $17 to $30 dollar range, with the specials being a little more expensive.
Although it isn't included in the price, you won't want to pass up Café Roka's cocktail list comprised of little twists on classics, executed properly. Sazeracs served with an accompanying snit of absinthe left from the cocktail's rinse, Mt. Gay mojitos and a smoky take on an Old Fashioned with Whiskey del Bac's mesquite smoked and aged whiskey are all great ways to start unwinding for the weekend.
For appetizers, stuffed Medjool dates with bacon and Gorgonzola, piquillo pepper with goat cheese and prosciutto-wrapped artichoke hearts are light tapas-inspired offerings to get you ready for dinner. The steamed blue shell mussels were a little too on the briney-oceany side themselves, but they mellowed out nicely with the accompanying white wine and herbed butter sauce.
Although entrees change regularly, you can expect flavorful sauces and bright flavors painted on a hearty canvas. With vegetarian and seafood options, like the grilled asparagus, gruyere and kale tart, you'll be able to satisfy most diners' preferences. On the meaty side of things, juicy seared lamb meatballs with a chimichurri and penne with herbs, roasted tomatoes and spicy Italian sausage are delicious, sharable main courses.
One of the most curious menu choices came in the form of the garnish. Each dish, no matter what it was, had a few kernels of corn on top. It would've made more sense in the late summer, early fall when corn is in season and everywhere, but in the spring, much less so. The plating on most of the dishes was definitely on the, let's call it, rustic side, which was unexpected for the price point. It didn't detract much from the meal, though, which was overall a nice little epicurean affair with friendly, casual service to match.
Chances are after dinner, imbibers will end up at the allegedly haunted Copper Queen Hotel (11 Howell Ave.) for a nightcap. After that nightcap, you might stumble up the street for a beer at Old Bisbee Brewing Co., aptly located in the Brewery Gulch, where their Father Kino Sonoran Wheat beer uses heritage grain and lime for a light, bright and hyper-local brew.
If you've still got some steam, St. Elmo (36 Brewery Ave.) is Bisbee's classic dive. Opened in 1902, you won't find anything fancy here, but you will find pocket pornography in a coin-op machine in the bathroom, a jukebox and maybe, if you're lucky, a Journey cover band. It seems no matter where you stumble, you're likely to happen upon a new weird little watering hole—after all, most Bisbee businesses appear to either be hotels or bars or both.
Although Bisbee Breakfast Club (75A Erie St.), with its omelets, pancake sammys and chorizo rancheros, is pretty much synonymous with morning eats on a Bisbee stay, consider that Tucson now has its own iteration of the popular breakfast spot. That's not to say you shouldn't go there, but if you're looking for something new and different, go to The Quarry (40 Brewery Ave.) for brunch.
The Quarry is a delightful little diner-style joint with modern, antler-covered décor. Since the spot is committed to non-GMO, local ingredients and a margarine-free menu, that really means one important thing for your brunch visit: there will be butter and there will be a lot of it.
The perfect instance of this is the biscuits and gravy, which are crispy and dark golden on the bottom, obviously seared in butter, and topped with a thick country sausage gravy. You can, and should, top this with a fried egg if you happened to follow the suggested drinking route all the way to St. Elmo the night before. For a little hair of the dog, The Quarry makes a delicious juicy and not too thick or chunky bloody mary.
Other breakfast options include a customizable griddled breakfast wrap and eggs benedict with prices in the $7 to $10 range. The mac and cheese is a must-try though, with a creamy and very cheesy sauce with breadcrumbs on top for a bit of crunch.
To cap off your Bisbee day, at least in terms of eats, you can try some bourbon and barbecue at the historic Stock Exchange (15 Brewery Ave.) or grab pizza at Screaming Banshee (200 Tombstone Canyon Road). However, chances are that if you went to The Quarry for brunch, you'll be searching for something a little lighter to hold you over on the drive back to the Old Pueblo.
Enter Poco (15 Main St.)—the vegan Mexican hangout tucked between antique shops with $3 bottles of beer, $5 mimosas and dishes under $10. There you can pair mock queso covered nachos with a Pacifico while you sit on the patio and enjoy the last moments of your trip. However, when at the vegan restaurant, it's best to do as the vegans do and order anything with the deliciously crispy fried Brussels sprouts or a quinoa bowl. Fresh mango mimosas are also a highlight of a Poco visit and a great way to toast this quirky, cool little artist town.