We roll through Mule Mountain Tunnel into Bisbee, an 1880s mining town on the other side of Mule Mountain Tunnel, later described by Bruce, one of this town’s long-term inhabitants originally from Minnesota and arriving in southern Arizona via Haight-Ashbury, as a time-warp portal made all the better, Bruce told us, “because people leave politics and religion on the other side, that’s why people are so happy and friendly here.”
Bisbee is built on a hillside and, like Tombstone, it is a protected historical landmark, if less commercial and more authentic as a real breathing town, except this place doesn’t just breathe, it buzzes with colorful characters and fine art, much finer than anything still left in Old Town Scottsdale.
Cruising Tombstone Canyon Road I notice the Grand Hotel Bisbee, which I’d read about, on my right.
A sign at the entry directs us into the saloon where a gal called C.C. welcomes us and in a most friendly manner engages us in conversation about where we’re from and how long we’re staying.
“We need three rooms,” I finally say.
“Oh, I don’t work here,” says C.C. “I have the Stock Exchange around the corner. Come see us. You’ve got to talk to the bartender about rooms.”
Terry the barkeep provides a couple metal keys for poking around upstairs, inspect the accommodations, and I sign up for their ornate Victoria Suite and then hit the street, barely an hour to go before most everything would close at five o’clock.
We race around checking out the art galleries and one-off shops: a hat maker, lots of local torqouise, and an artist with his own gallery named John Thamm.
The slight, hirsute Thamm wears a black hat and exudes artistic skill and a warm vibe, and that’s the thing about this place, Bisbee, the vibe, the buzzy-ness and authenticity—and everyone so friggin’ friendly.
Curt departs to collect Van Stein in Tombstone just past five, and it starts to snow.
And then a full on blizzard moves in, coating the road and sidewalks with snow and, coupled with colored lights strung across the main road, a real life Christmas card emerges.
Downstairs I slip and slide snapping pics.
One of the servers at Café Roka, recommended to us by the Grand’s barkeep, comes out to gaze at the falling snowflakes.
“Hasn’t snowed here in three years,” she says to me. “And I’ve never seen it stick.”
I go inside, take a stool at the bar while awaiting the round table by the window I’d reserved, order a glass of chardonnay, taking a call from Van Stein who says they’re going slow, maybe fifteen miles an hour because of the blizzard and hazardous road conditions.
Then I claim our table and stake it with a bottle of Sea Smoke pinot noir, uncorked and breathing, and take in the wonderful aromas of this world-class restaurant.
Bisbee. Who would’ve known?