Hotel Review: El Rey Court, Santa Fe05/25/2019
A standard room with a queen bed starts at $119.
Nat King Cole sang a popular tune about getting one’s kicks on Route 66, but the archetypal highway sputtered to a crawl decades ago with the advent of the Interstate System. Intent on reviving the allure of the Mother Road, as it is known, and its original motor courts for a new generation, Jay and Alison Carroll, owners of Wonder Valley — an extra virgin olive oil and skin-care brand — bought Santa Fe’s El Rey Court, a Pueblo Revival hideaway that originally opened in 1936. By August 2018, the Carrolls and their business partners finished renovating the 86-room motel in a modern New Mexican aesthetic: The lobby is a warren of equipale barrel chairs; Navajo fabrics; turned wood furniture by Dan John Anderson; a Paustian modular sofa designed in 1969 and other creative touches (yes, there is a turntable for guest use at-the-ready).
An outsize print depicting the Apache artist Chesley Goseyun Wilson, by the modern Los Angeles painter Logan Maxwell Hagege, hangs behind the front desk and seemed to kick off our recent two-night stay with the notion that this is a new version of Santa Fe — still clutching its southwestern sensibilities without resorting to too many regional clichés. It’s certainly photogenic: Throughout our visit we spotted guests, most of them outfitted for a Brooklyn bar crawl, taking selfies and portraits in many corners of the lush five-acre grounds. A quick scroll on Instagram yields seemingly bottomless posts tagged to El Rey Court, now a hot spot for influencer-types who may not get out of bed for less than 10,000 likes a day.
The motel is set on an original swath of Route 66 (the road wound through Santa Fe between 1926 and 1937 before being redirected), just south of the hip Santa Fe Railyard Baca District. The motel is just three miles from the 409-year-old Santa Fe Plaza, and a mile and a half from the art collective Meow Wolf, which recently opened new installations — including laser murals by Tim Jag — at their House of Eternal Return. Because El Rey Court doesn’t serve food yet, we liked that we could walk two minutes up the road to grab a breakfast of chile rellenos and honey-drizzled sopaipillas at The Pantry Restaurant, a 1948 diner. But the highlight of our trip was some 50 miles northwest in Abiquiu, where we toured the 17th-century, cliff-top adobe house that Georgia O’Keeffe lived in from 1949 until 1984 (book tickets well in advance for a private tour).
Our 150-square-foot standard room, set in the back of a leafy courtyard, felt cramped. The space had been decorated with clean-lined custom furniture designed by Mr. Carroll, Matouk-linen topped beds, textiles woven just for the property 30 miles north in Chimayo, N.M. (Had we booked a larger room, we might have found a kiva fireplace, kitchen, private patio and artwork by the artist Ishi Glinsky from the Tohono O’odham Nation.) I loved the original vigas, or exposed beam ceilings, in ponderosa pine. But some little things were problematic — like cords dangling under the TV, nail holes in the woodwork and the fact that there was no in-room safe. There were two other mishaps: When we first opened the door, our pillows languished atop the bed without pillowcases (an oversight housekeeping rectified within 10 minutes). Late on our last night, my husband noticed what appeared to be a small, lifeless cockroach under his nightstand.
Our stuck-in-time bathroom had Pepto Bismol pink and blue tile work on the shower wall and floors. Full bottles of rosemary, peppermint and eucalyptus amenities by Hudson Made cut down on waste.
El Rey Court has a buzzing bar, La Reina, where a kiva fireplace is emblazoned with a laudable tagline: “Where fast lives slow down.” On the menu — they hope to add food by midsummer — you’ll find mezcals, tequilas and a handful of other tipples, including Santa Fe Brewing Co. Happy Camper I.P.A. La Reina features live music at least once a week; when I was there, the Milwaukee-based folk duo Nickel & Rose played music inspired by West Africa, blues and bluegrass into the night.
The 45.6-foot-long-by-26-foot wide outdoor pool was closed for the season during our visit (although it should be open by Memorial Day). I enjoyed plopping into the al fresco hot tub — set before a flickering fire — to steep my road-weary body after the drive. There was also a small sauna and a gym — which they hope to expand by the end of the year — that holds a treadmill, elliptical and all-in-one machine. In the lobby, Canyon Coffee from Los Angeles is ever-ready. The Wi-Fi is free.
The Bottom Line
Aspiring Instagram stars should beeline here for the “likes” alone; ditto Americana obsessives, to experience a modernized version of roadside motels before chains took hold. But perfectionists and families with young children might be happier taking a different road.
El Rey Court, 1862 Cerrillos Road; 505-982-1931; www.elreycourt.com
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