I had just come from a captivating storytelling workshop across the street at SOMOS with local legend, Cisco Guevara, and next stop was the Historic Taos Inn. A place we drive by thousands of times and likely notice each time – especially the iconic neon sign that flawlessly fits in a decidedly non-neon town.
Slipping into the back entrance, I prepared to talk with Julie Sena, the operations manager who started working at the inn as a housekeeper 15 years ago.
As I approached the large fountain that sits in the heart of the lobby, a guest of the inn was asking the woman behind the front desk some rather peculiar questions. Or were they? The woman behind the desk responded to his questions about the details of a small, local building every day. The guest wanted to know about the construction. The woman answered. He asked about its history. She responded to that too. He asked if she knew the owner and if they would ever sell it. Somehow, she knew the answers to that too.
As the guest walked away, I approached and asked to speak to Julie Sena. The woman responded, “I’m Julie, how can I help you?” in such a warm and welcoming way, I nearly wanted to reserve a room just to be part of what already seemed like a family.
Indeed, the inn we drive by each week, the restaurant we know and love for its authentic New Mexican food, and the Adobe bar, with the popular seating by the fireplace, is every bit a family. “Our employee turnover is very low,” Sena explained, “because it’s not a get-up and go to work job. It feels like family. We have lost employees just like everyone has, but the ones who have stayed understand how special this building is.”
When the state required them to shutter their doors during the height of the pandemic, neither Sena nor Joe Kendall, general manager, wanted to leave the inn alone. For two months they took turns spending nights at the historic home-away-from-home.
“We didn’t want to leave the building alone. It was partly about safety but mostly, we didn’t want the building to be alone.” Sena insisted it wasn't just a building with rooms and a restaurant and an iconic sign out front. “It’s different here, this is family,” Sena explained.
As Sena and I walked the grounds, by the herb gardens slowly giving way to winter and past the corner where some of the ashes of jazz great and Taos Inn favorite, Frank Morgan, were sprinkled, we peeked inside a cozy room with an adobe-style fireplace. “It really is like home for us,” Sena said.
As pandemic policies are prone to do, the property has been handcuffed, but the energy has returned and so have the guests. Prior to the social-distancing requirements, on any given night the lobby would be filled with people spilling out of the Adobe Bar, listening to live music played by a band tucked into one side of the lobby. The music has returned with one nuance.
“I decided to open up the space above and it’s perfect for bands,” explained Sena as we looked at the balcony. Bands play from 4 to 9 p.m. every Thursday through Monday, when the bar and restaurant are open.
Because hours aren’t back to full capacity, reservations are a must for Doc Martin’s. Perhaps it was the pandemic break but the restaurant’s vibe seems livelier than ever. The energy between customers and wait staff is palpable as there is a celebratory excitement about Adobe Bar and Doc Martin’s Chef Nite Marquez’ menu.
In addition to the popular Carne Asada and New Mexican specialties, Marquez’ Chile Relleno (available as a starter and an entree) ought not to be missed.
“You can’t not order the chile relleno, we’re known for it and there’s nothing else like it in town,” our enthusiastic waiter explained.
Each night there are different specials which generally include a fish selection. We tried the grilled rainbow trout with green chile yogurt topped with fresh dill; a mouthwatering combination of flavors; the tangy yogurt, and dill in perfect counterpoint to the delicacy of the fish.
Life has changed. The pandemic has successfully disrupted plans and what we once thought were certainties in life. But it has failed at disrupting the spirit and family that abides within the historic inn on a busy, narrow stretch of street in the heart of Taos.