Historic inn offers tranquility and a memorable breakfast — a block from the plaza

By Doug Cantwell
dcantwell@taosnews.com
Posted 10/3/19

"Every day we have returning guests," said Casa Benavides owner Tom McCarthy. "Some of our people have been coming here since we opened in 1988."Small wonder. …

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Historic inn offers tranquility and a memorable breakfast — a block from the plaza

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"Every day we have returning guests," said Casa Benavides owner Tom McCarthy. "Some of our people have been coming here since we opened in 1988."

Small wonder. The Casa Benavides Inn provides a serene sanctuary at 137 Kit Carson Road, just 200 yards east of Taos Plaza. You could literally leave your car in the parking lot and explore all of Old Taos on foot from here.

"If you come into town for a concert at Kit Carson," said McCarthy, "you can walk there instead of paying $10 to park your car. In fact, we had Sting and the people from AMP [his concert promoters] stay with us when they were here to do the Labor Day show."

Even this week, beyond the official end of summer season, the inn is well booked, with 30 of its 39 rooms full. Just as attendees of a four-day writing seminar were checking out, a retreat group from Southern Methodist University's nearby Fort Burgwin campus was checking in. After that, the Taos Wool Festival has Casa Benavides booked up through the October 5-6 weekend.

What keeps guests returning year after year? Maybe it's the affordability: there's not a room in the place priced over $200 a night. Maybe it's the excellent location, maybe the quiet charm, but the fabled Casa Benavides breakfast likely factors into it. Nearly every review posted online crows about the breakfast.

There's the signature egg frittata with gala red chile sauce, either smothered or on the side, or the family's renowned secret-recipe granola. "Our menu changes daily," said kitchen staff member Veronica Martinez. "Be sure to call us ahead of time if you have special dietary needs."

When you return to the inn for your afternoon siesta, remember to stop in the dining room at 3 p.m. for cookies and pastries with your tea. While you've been out looking around, they've been baking right there in the casa ovens. The aroma will likely draw you in that direction.

McCarthy and his late wife, Barbara Benavides, built the inn from a cluster of buildings that included the former Lewis Gallery (built by Barbara's father, Carlos), the Benavides family home and a state-owned building that housed administrative offices and an alcohol rehab center.

"She was always a creator, a builder, a decorator," McCarthy said of his beloved spouse, who passed away three years ago but still seems present in his life as well as at the inn. Indeed, there's ample evidence of Benavides' creative hand. On display are numerous works by prominent local painters she collected over the years, and the great room's fireplace, a striking variation on a traditional kiva, was her design.

"When we were dismantling the barn my grandfather had built in 1904," McCarthy recalled, "Barbara took one look at the doors and wouldn't let us part with them." He pointed to the elegantly weathered gray panels, which she had incorporated into the great room's wall decor.

"The official story is that we were high school sweethearts," McCarthy said, "but that's not how it really happened." She'd gone to the public high school here, while he'd been shipped off with his brothers to a Catholic boarding school in Atchison, Kansas.

"I'd seen her at dances during the summer and definitely had my eye on her. But when she walked by with her little nose in the air, I said hi, and she snubbed me," McCarthy said with a laugh. He found out years later it was because he'd thrown apples and snowballs at her when they were both little.

Other paintings in the inn came from Saki Karavas, former La Fonda Hotel owner, who bequeathed part of his collection to McCarthy, a close friend. The inn also houses kachinas and numerous other Native American artifacts. If you run out of energy before visiting all of Taos' museums, you can see an impressive cross section of local and regional art within a few steps of your room - or, in some cases, in your room itself.

In fact, every unit at Casa Benavides has its own decor and character. Some offer fireplaces; others come with kitchenettes, balconies or both. There are two stand-alone units that provide separate bedrooms as well as kitchens.

At 83, McCarthy still comes in every day, though his son's brother-in-law, Tyler Graham, comes down from Wichita to help out with managing the inn lately. "It's gotten to be a handful," said McCarthy. "We have 24 on staff now, including kitchen, housekeeping, three maintenance men and several on the front desk. "But I like to come in just to say hi to our returning guests, many of whom feel like family."

For more information or reservations, visit casabenavides.com.

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