Cheers to a booming craft beer scene and more in this mountain town.
By Niki D’Andrea
Despite its reputation as Arizona’s most popular winter destination, Flagstaff has much more to offer than snowboarding and skiing at Arizona Snowbowl for a few months out of the year. In fact, summertime sees the city come alive with a flurry of festivities and artistic activities, from outdoor concerts to nature walks. But mostly beer. Seriously, there may be more beer here than at every fraternity party around the state combined, and June is like unofficial Beer Month in Flagstaff.
In addition to the city’s seven craft beer breweries, Flagstaff hosts three big beer festivals in June. And none is a very far drive (or ride) from Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, located five miles south of the city.
The first fest up is the Real Ale Festival at Mother Road Brewery on June 9. Dubbed the “Mother Road Gets Real” festival, the event shines a spotlight on “real ale,” or cask-conditioned ale. This type of beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized and served straight from the cask.
The following day, June 10, two brew festivals duel for the privilege of polluting your liver: Made in the Shade at Pepsi Amphitheater, and the Flagstaff Brews & Blues Festival at Continental Driving Range. Made in the Shade features beers from more than 50 breweries, plus booths for a smattering of wineries and restaurants. Music comes courtesy of DJs and blues rockers The Unknowns. The Flagstaff Brews & Blues Festival will have reps from 11 breweries pouring on-site, and a massive music lineup that includes bluesy vocal group Sistahs Too, local rockabilly trinity the Mother Road Trio, Zydeco group Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, and Southern rock stalwarts The North Mississippi All-Stars.
If filling your belly with beer isn’t your thing, Flagstaff has plenty of cool foodie spots to sate your appetite. Let’s start with breakfast, and MartAnne’s Breakfast Palace. This place is legendary among locals for its hearty, heaping plates of Mexican breakfasts. For years, the wait to get a table at MartAnne’s was even more epic than the food, with lines winding down the street. Thankfully, MartAnne’s moved into a larger space a couple years ago, which has diminished some of the wait time. But only some.
Another popular Flagstaff institution, especially among the college set, is Diablo Burger. Every burger is made from local free-range, hormone-free beef, char-broiled and served on a signature English muffin. Popular menu items include “The Cheech” with guacamole, pepper jack cheese and jalapeños, and the unusual “Vitamin B,” topped with bacon, beets and blue cheese.
One of the newest and hippest nosh spots in town, The Mayor, serves decent subs and sandwiches, but it’s the atmosphere most people come for: pillars covered in orange shag carpet, a wall constructed from vintage boom boxes, a 1980s-centric jukebox, a Skee-Ball machine and, out back, cornhole boards and an Airstream trailer. If the servers had mullets and wore MC Hammer-style pants, we’d swear we got caught in a time warp.
Tinderbox Kitchen serves “progressive American food” in an upscale but cozy and modern setting. “Progressive” means things like Champagne-marinated beets, mustard-rubbed steaks, and quinoa risotto, but that’s about as daring as the dishes get. No eyebrow-raising “foams” or rainbow gastriques to try and figure out.
Calories can be walked off at Walnut Canyon National Monument. Located about 10 miles southeast of downtown Flagstaff, this monument offers all manner of interpretive hikes and has two trails to explore – the Island Trail, which has 25 ancient cliff dwellings along its paths, and the Rim Trail, which includes views of a pit house and pueblo.
In addition to its own interpretive nature programs, The Arboretum at Flagstaff hosts a summer concert series. The “Dark Night Sky Concert” on June 16 features a performance by Grammy Award-nominated Native American flautist R. Carlos Nakai.
Speaking of dark night skies, Lowell Observatory has fun events and educational exhibits year-round, including “Meet an Astronomer” nights on Fridays, wherein a professional astronomer shares insights into celestial bodies, as well as science demonstrations and tours of the observatory, which was founded in 1894 and became world famous in 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh discovered the dwarf planet Pluto at the observatory (the “Pluto Discovery Telescope” is still on the grounds).
When it comes to lodging, there are many national chains, hostels and small motels in Flagstaff, but for an authentic experience in the heart of downtown, only one of two historical properties will do: Hotel Monte Vista and The Weatherford Hotel.
The Monte V,” as it’s known to locals, opened in 1927 and has hosted a horde of famous folks, including Bob Hope, Zane Grey, Bing Crosby, Michael J. Fox, Gary Cooper, Debbie Reynolds, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne and Lee Marvin. The hotel knows who stayed in which room, and also notes which rooms are supposedly haunted.
The Weatherford Hotel is even older than the Monte V. Opened in 1900 as the picture of modern luxury, the hotel got a major facelift last year and has been almost completely renovated with an eye toward maintaining its old-world charm – claw foot bathtubs, in-hotel saloon with massive mirrored bar back and wraparound balcony overlooking a bustling square. Both The Weatherford and Hotel Monte Vista host live music multiple nights a week, so guests looking for some peace and quiet might prefer one of the chain hotels.
But in a town as vibrant as Flagstaff, why go off the beaten path? Might as well mingle and have a beer. There’s plenty to go around.