If you're a person of, say, moderate means here in what is, let's be frank, a pretty pricey tourist town like Santa Fe, the high season can feel a lot like a Tarot card-the one that shows a bedraggled waif, feet wrapped in rags, peering forlornly through the window at all the Gatsbys and the Daisys decked out in their crisp summer whites, champagne flutes in hand, lingering over a lavish buffet spread. In the words of a friend of mine, "If I had their money, I'd burn mine"!
Gone are the days when, for the $10 price of a standing room ticket to see The Magic Flute, you could move down into the opera's inner sanctum after the first act, scoring the abandoned seats of those who come just-to-be-seen and then duck out at intermission. Anymore, the opera police won't allow this, so if you want a seat, you have to make a choice: You can either spend the exorbitant price or you can pay your rent.
As locals, is this as good as it gets-unless we miraculously come into a trust fund or a job as CEO of Enron-to live in the land of plenty and have to go without?
Of course not. In fact, there are some wonderfully fun perks that come with living in Shangri-La, and the best part is, you not only don't have to break the bank in order to take advantage of them-you can do it in the height of style, no less.
A long, leisurely, luxurious breakfast at one of Santa Fe's nicer restaurants, for example. Think you couldn't possibly? At the Hotel St. Francis, between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00 am every day, you can order the daily breakfast special and, if you're a local, the bill is less than what you'd spend to go to a movie matinee-a savings of two to five dollars over the regular menu price for some of the most exquisite food, service and ambiance Santa Fe has to offer.
The Hotel St. Francis' elegant formal dining room, with its candelabras and its windows looking out onto the whole world, is an absolutely beautiful space the rest of the year (and soon to become even better, with a whole new look planned to be unveiled by early this fall). During the glorious summer months, however, its courtyard beckons with a seductive sirens' allure that even Odysseus couldn't resist, a veritable oasis tucked smack in the midst of downtown. Food and beverage manager Tom Stark describes it as "a little reprieve from the crazy Santa Fe summer traffic and bustle-it's a big draw this time of year!"
Dare to step into this magic island of calm, yourself. Sink into a chair at one of the wrought iron tables. Savor your privacy in the luxurious shade of the table's umbrella and breathe in the ambiance. From the friendly outstretched branches of a nearby tree, birds sing out a call and response, punctuated by murmuring voices from the neighboring tables and, every now and then, a low, contented chuckle. Encircling this little haven like welcoming arms are protective adobe walls hung with dense strands of ivy, with numerous wide-mouthed pots, scattered here and there, overflowing with flowers vibrant and aromatic, nodding in the morning sun. Tucked into a back corner, humble and small, stands a statue of St. Francis watching over the whole scene and beaming like a favorite uncle.
Order a latté and here it comes, in a white doll-tea-party-sized cup and saucer, complete with raw sugar cubes and topped with a froth of foam. If it's Wednesday, the breakfast special ($4.95 every day except Sunday, when it's $8) is the always-popular huevos rancheros, its egg fried exactly over easy, with black beans, fresh salsa, ribbons of sour cream and, if you choose the green, the chile's mild and flavorful; if it's the red, it's piquant, smoky and HOT! (Be sure to have a glass of water handy.) Monday's special, full of grace, is the breakfast burrito, St. Francis style: scrambled eggs with onions, bacon, big chunks of potato and chopped green chile. Tuesday it's Eggs Benedict; Thursday is two eggs any style with skillet potatoes and your choice of apple wood smoked bacon or housemade sausage; Friday it's an egg, cheese and bacon quesadilla; Saturday, Inger's world famous Swedish pancakes and Sunday, because you deserve it, steak and eggs.
Plus all the beverages! Choose from a wide variety of juices, plus Arabica coffee, chai, hot chocolate, espresso, cappuccino, café mocha and hot teas and tisanes, including the St. Francis Blend (Darjeeling black tea with Chinese Passion Fruit), or try the Dragon Well Green (flat smooth leaves steeped to an emerald green liquor with a distinctive sweetness).
Yeah, sure, you may be thinking at this point, a breakfast in the Garden of Eden that I can actually afford sounds pretty amazing, all right. But wait a minute! I'm never going to blend in-mingling in the Elegant Summer Whites crowd's midst, I'll stick out like a sore thumb! No need to freak out-and for that, you can thank your kindly fairy godmothers who own our local consignment shops.
"Consignment's all the rage now," raves Suzi Kriger, owner of The Beat Goes On. "For $30, you can get a great outfit!"
Like Reagan's trickle down theory of economics (except in this case, it works), consignment gives us all the opportunity to wear the hautest of the haute couture that's ordinarily within the means of only the lucky few who can afford it. Rather than disparaging the practice of those who unload their clothes after wearing them only a handful of times, the rest of us get to glean the crème de la crème for much less than the original price tag. Because that's what consignment's all about.
"I am very, very select," Suzi says, "so when you walk into the store, it looks very boutiqey. A lot of the clothes we get are even brand new-the tags are still on, clothes from regular retail stores who have too much stock or have even gone out of business, and we sell it all at consignment prices."
"It's not just a matter of reading fashion magazines and knowing what's in style," she continues. "It's putting things together in unique and compelling ways. Shopping consignment is intuitive, and Santa Fe is filled with so many creative souls!"
A big part of the fun of shopping the consignment way is that what you find is one-of-a-kind. It doesn't come in other colors and if it doesn't fit, too bad. So, as Suzi says, "It's always been the thrill of the hunt here."
Annette Sanchez, owner of Act 2, previously worked in lots of regular retail stores and, for her, there's no comparison. "We'd get these emails once a week about which certain outfits to put on which mannequins." Act 2 is famous for its outside display mannequins, standing out in front. "It's so much fun to dress them! You look around at what you have-it could be lots of beige linen that day, let's say-and you find all these other things to go with that as you're looking."
"Everything changes constantly," Annette continues. "I'm putting things out every minute of the day. Our racks are always full."
Act 2 prides itself on catering to women of all ages, including younger women in their 20s. "I look for things that are current," says Annette. "Nothing beyond two or three years old, unless it's vintage, and nothing from the chain stores unless it's absolutely adorable."
For maximum "score! experiences," you have to drop in several times a week, even if it's just for a few minutes, because you never know what you'll find. Annette remembers a pair of Mahnolo Blahnik shoes, originally $500, that she sold for $49. "I don't always do that," she adds. Sometimes, though, you just have to be realistic. "We recently got this thousand dollar Pucci dress from the "60s and I sold it for $98-you don't want things to just sit there, with people coming in and drooling all over them and then leaving. I want people to be happy and come back."
When gas prices started going up again recently, Suzi, in sympathy with the difficulties this caused her customers, lowered her overall store prices to try to help compensate. "Retail is overpriced to start with," she says.
"With consignment," Suzi adds, "you feel like you're getting away with something."
Which, of course, you are.
The Hotel St. Francis is located at 210 Don Gaspar in Santa Fe. 505.992.6354.
Act 2 is located at 839 Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe. 505.983.8585.
The Beat Goes On is located at 333 Montezuma at Guadalupe in Santa Fe. 505.982.7877.