This summer has been a tough one for us. The last week of October was a hallmark week in many respects. My divorce papers from the birth-hole are official. That was a slow train coming, to quote a Bob Dylan song. So an overnight in Tucson was a welcome respite for both Liz and I.
Tucson hosts an All Saints’ procession, a twenty-five year tradition similar to the Day of the Dead festivals. Liz and I booked a room at the historic Hotel Congress last May. Located in downtown Tucson, the hotel is just blocks away from the procession route.
Built in 1919, the hotel was three stories tall until a fire in 1934 reduced its capacity significantly, and also resulted in the capture of John Dillinger and his gang.
The accommodations are not what one would call luxurious – there is no elevator, and the hotel still uses the original telephone switchboards that were installed in 1919. The phones are rotary dial. The beds and furnishings are period for the most part. There is one television set for the entire floor, so viewing is up to a democratic vote.
The walls of the hotel are all hand-painted – no wallpaper. Original artwork graced the walls. The doors tot he rooms are original, with actual keys, no fancy cards. The rooms are laid out in a square, with the center being an open air patio on the second floor. The hotel is LOUD – they have live bands and the rooms on one side face the patio below. They have complimentary soap, shampoo, and earplugs!
We arrived around 3PM, and asked the girl at the desk if she could recommend a good Mexican restaurant. She gave us detailed directions to a place that she said didn’t have a name, or if it did, “they hide it well.” We found it, and she was correct. The name is on the window glass in a small font about 2 feet up from sidewalk level. Penca is upscale, serving what they call Central Mexican cuisine and offering more mescals than I knew existed. If you are looking for traditional Mexican, this is not for you. I would call this more of an American-Mexican fare – although the price for a dinner for two was in the affordable range.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel patio, and enjoyed a few drinks and live music. People were dressed in Day of the Dead costume. We found a table that was occupied by three men, and they kindly allowed us to join them. We talked politics until it became uncomfortable, and then made our way to the parade route. They say that 100,000 people attend the procession, but the city is big enough that the crowds never felt oppressive. Next year we will likely join the 2 1/2 mile procession, but medical issues prevented it this time.
The procession is a free for all, and anyone is allowed to join in. There was a bagpipe band, New Orleans style jazz musicians, people marching for causes, and just those in it for the party.
When we retired back to the room, we both fell asleep within minutes. Even on the quiet side of the hotel, we could hear the music – I am sure those on the other side cold feel the music. But the bed, even though it was a 1920’s size bed – bigger than a twin but not quite a queen, was comfortable.
We had breakfast at the hotel’s Cup Cafe. I was happy that the drink prices were not obscene, and breakfast was reasonable. Liz had bagels and lox, I had biscuits and gravy with two eggs, Anduoille sausage and potatoes. I could barely finish my meal.
If you are like me, and prefer esoteric vacations, and shun big chain motels and generic eateries, then I highly recommend Hotel Congress. The rooms are on the expensive side, but the experience is priceless. The staff are all top notch. But be forewarned – the place is loud, and since they have a liquor license, under Arizona state law you are not allowed to BYOB to your room. Liquor purchased off the premises must stay off the premises. But, they do not gouge you on drink prices. You can get your drink on, leave a healthy tip, and still leave with a wad of bills in your pocket.
On our drive home, we made a side trip to the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. But that is fodder for another post.