Take a weekend trip to this unique Southern Arizona town.
If you’re from Arizona, you’ve surely heard of the historic mining town of Bisbee in Cochise County. In fact, Bisbee pulls visitors from across the country and even as far as Europe and Asia — all wanting to see what the quirky town has to offer.
Built off its history as a bustling mining town, Bisbee’s architecture hasn’t changed much. Old brick buildings line the streets and hundred-year-old wooden floors line those buildings from within.
It’s almost like walking through a late-1800s time capsule, except that time capsule is an entire city’s infrastructure.
However, the culture of the city with a little more than 5,000 residents is far from the town it once was. While the old Lavender Pit mine sits dormant, creations from the city’s artists come alive.
We’re lucky, the drive from Tucson yields about an hour and a half, making it an easy weekend visit.
I highlighted shopping, food, and stays if you are curious what the little yet bold town has to offer.
I spent just under two days there and STILL felt like I scratched the surface.
Classic Rock Couture: Weaving vintage threads
I couldn’t keep my hands off them.
You see, I’m a tactile type of person which means my fingers brushed every silk, velvet and ruffled blouse they could. A row of hangers clung to my forearm as I waltzed to the changing station.
Classic Rock Couture took shopping to another level.
If vintage clothing is your “thing”, you’re going to want to visit this 70’s wonderland.
Owner Claire Harlin said the shop idea emerged from a story she covered while working as a journalist in Texas. She highlighted the top vintage shops in Austin and titled it none other than Classic Rock Couture. The dream was planted.
“I was like ‘you know, that would be a cool name for a shop, maybe one day I’ll sell some stuff online or something’,” Harlin said.
Harlin was a lover of all things vintage herself. She remembers rummaging through her mother’s drawers in search of old 70’s garb.
“Even when I was eight years old, I took one of her hippie sweaters and a peace sign necklace and I was a hippie for Halloween,” Harlin said.
Ten years after writing the article, Harlin got laid off from her job and out of necessity started selling several of her own vintage items.
She got a remote job based in San Diego but continued to buy and sell clothing on Instagram, noting the side-hustle starting to gain speed.
“When I got to 10,000 followers I was like maybe I’m meant to do this full time,” Harlin said.
The clothing gig was more fulfilling, so she followed that dream, quit her newspaper job and pursued her creative passion full-time.
She began designing, gaining inspiration from the 1970’s mixed with her own southwest flare.
“It’s kind of like a marriage of the both coming together,” Harlin said.
That marriage came to fruition in one of her navy blue bomber jackets with a loud rising sun on the back. She stayed up throughout the night perfecting the design and it paid off.
After six months in her new business, pop-sensation Miley Cyrus posted a picture in the satin jacket and Harlin woke up to a surge in followers, which spurred the business growth.
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A little #tbt to one of our faves @mileycyrus in our navy RSJ. Update: This jacket is still waitlisted and will ship in about ONE month! Update on Sonoran Sunrise—will ship in about 2 months still, as we were delayed on fabric due to Covid19. BUT we are no longer waitlisted on mustard DOLLY and teal PEACOCK jackets! We have all sizes in stock and ready to ship. Brown jackets are also in stock, and for green— we only have a couple XL left and we are sold out forever! #mileycyrus #mileystyle
Harlin said other celebrities have shown an interest in her clothing too. Actress Cobie Smolders wore the Rising Sun jacket on three episodes of her ABC series “Stumptown,” spiking sales even more.
The jacket has been the “one-hit-wonder” she said and in keeping up with demand, other designs circling in her head have been put on hold.
Being fully immersed in the idea of supply and demand she said she had to teach herself how to run a business at the same time as designing. A challenge, but one she welcomed.
“You just roll with it, that’s the Bisbee motto, just you don’t stress out here,” Harlin said.
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Well, guys, we are officially on a waitlist for small and medium navy blue Rising Sun jackets, and the other sizes are sure to follow. We are looking at a three month wait at least. This happened WAY sooner than we thought, most likely due to the raddest babe ever @cobiesmulders rocking the jacket so hard on @stumptownabc. We will be sending messages to anyone on a waitlist. Options will be to either wait, or try a different size or color. We love you guys and thanks for loving our designs to the point we can’t keep em in stock! Totally rad but totally a little stressful on our end! 😂
She always loved Bisbee, but never seriously considered it for her business. She had recently moved to Tucson, working remotely with her shop. Hot summer days pushed her to Bisbee, where she would work in quaint coffee shops. More and more she found herself escaping there.
When someone from Bisbee offered her shop space, it caught her off guard.
She loved everything about Bisbee: the night life, thrift shopping, old cars, music and decided to make the move.
What better place for a creative, than a creative town.
“I’m totally clueless about what’s on trend right now and maybe it’s a good thing because it’s keeping me just in my bubble,” Harlin said.
It’s clear she’s in her element.
“I get to use my artistic side in my work and make that my job, I feel lucky every day,” Harlin said.
She recently moved into a new shop right across the street from the one I toured.
They expanded from 1,000 to 6,000 square feet with a move into the historic JC Penney building on 38 Main St. It stood as a JC Penney up until the 70’s.
Her shop now includes men’s clothing, houseware items, furniture and vinyl.
She can be found changing the records playing in her store, helping customers find their own one-hit-wonder and testing materials for her next creation.
The Shady Dell: A rewind in time
Winding through the vintage trailer court felt like rewinding an old film reel, pulling me through the rollers and out the projector, landing somewhere in the fifties.
If you’re looking to stay the night in Bisbee, this time capsule won’t disappoint.
The Shady Dell flaunts 13 different Airstreams and trailers you can choose to stay in — all in iconic 1940 and 50s style.
A step inside one of these trailers is a step further into another era. You won’t find modern living here. Instead, expect a blast from the past: TVs showing black and white films, phonographs and records spinning songs from decades past.
Millennials love places like this simply for the novelty — it’s stylish, it’s trendy. Plus, who can resist anything vintage?
Owner Justin Laria told me the Baby Boomers are drawn here because it brings back a sense of nostalgia for them. They remember traveling with their families in stays like these.
That’s why Laria keeps them as authentic as possible. Everything, down to the utensils, refrigerators and decor, is true to the period.
However, to add variety, several trailers break from the 1940s and 50s theme. Feel like a tropical getaway in the desert? Laria hauled the boat all the way from California to his dusty lot for just that.
You can rent the boat for a night if you want to give tribute to Gilligan’s Island. Or maybe you’re feeling exotic and you choose the Tiki Bus with the island flowers and straw roof.
Old cars and motorcycles accent the trailer court, even a yellow cab drives visitors into town for nightlife and brings them back to their trailers.
How about the cherry on top? Well, you can have one, literally. Maraschino cherries top milkshakes at the Shady Dell’s newly-renovated diner. You can sip a rootbeer float, sitting atop the red bar stools lining the checkered floor or dive into a classic American burger with a side of golden-brown fries.Dot’s Diner serves up hot plates for breakfast and lunch. What’s that? Dinner, you ask? Well I mentioned skipping into town to join the nightlife, but, if that’s not your scene, you can roast up something tasty on the barbeque pits.
The setup makes for some good, old-fashioned socializing — there’s no room for screens here. You get to interact with your neighbors and, before you know it, Laria said, you’ll be asking to check out the design of their trailer.
“It’s more of a community feel unlike when you stay at a hotel usually you just check into your hotel room, you don’t even talk to your neighbors or know any other hotel guests,” said Laria. “This is definitely a much more interactive experience.”
To see more of what the Shady Dell has to offer, check out its Instagram here.
Lunatic Fringe Luthiery: The Dr. Frankenstein of guitarmaking
If you’ve been to Bisbee, you know it’s full of some alternative stuff. If you haven’t, know that the weird, off-beat, eccentric — and even the lunatics — are all welcome here.
Take a walk down Bisbee’s Subway Street and you just might miss it. In a nondescript building, The Blues Wizard is hard at work, surrounded by piles of tools, scrap wood, metal and seemingly broken guitars and amplifiers.
His cluttered workspace, albeit an organized chaos, is nothing special.
That’s because he lets his instruments do the talking.
The Wizard, who also goes by his given name Keith Kifer, is the owner, operator and sole employee of Lunatic Fringe Luthiery, a small shop specializing in custom-made stringed instruments and musical accessories.
But, you won’t find your average Stratocaster hanging on the walls of Kifer’s shop. He’s like the Frankenstien of luthiery, taking old, broken guitars, cellos and stand-up basses, and refurbishing them with anything he can find.
Although, he does have one condition: It’s got to look cool and be something you can’t find anywhere else.
Though he makes guitars almost completely from scratch, Kifer didn’t even start playing guitar until his early 40s. He moved to Bisbee and, soon after, opened a small guitar shop. But his passion for music stemmed from his time playing on the streets.
Once he started playing at 41 years old, he couldn’t stop. Despite his late start, Kifer knew he would “starve to death” before walking away from his instrument.
“I didn’t want to do anything else,” he said.
His fascination with Frankenstein-esque masterpieces started off as a whim. He made a living busking on the streets and soon figured out that oddity was what people wanted.
So, he started building guitars out of suitcases and soon found his passion for creating weird instruments.
Today, he continues his tradition of mixing traditional instruments with the unexpected, creating complete guitars with pieces made from repurposed materials, like roasting pans, hubcaps and rims.
To Kifer, one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.
“I repurpose constantly, I build things that aren’t supposed to work,” he said. “… I’m always on the edge of doing something that most people would consider impossible.”
Quench your thirst and conquer your appetite at Bathtub Coffee and The Quarry
Bisbee might be a small city, but there’s no shortage of good food. In fact, there are so many local eateries, bars and cafes to choose from, it’s nearly impossible to visit every single one during a short trip.
That being said, any hungry traveler will be well fed throughout their journey. From southeast Asian dishes from Thuy’s Noodle Shop or Mexican specialties from Santiago’s, during a weekend stay, it’s easy to find a new place to eat at every day of your trip.
However, if you’re looking for something to satisfy your hankering for crispy fries, thick burgers and hearty comfort food, look no further than The Quarry, located at 40 Brewery Ave.
Nestled between the historic St. Elmo’s Bar and City Park, from its exterior, The Quarry blends in with its surroundings. You won’t find any flashy signs or lights, in fact, it’s quite easy to walk past if you aren’t looking for it.
However, from the inside, expect a Southwestern grunge scene you can’t get anywhere else — think steer skulls, spray-painted walls, weird art and 90s rock playing overhead.
But, of course, The Quarry is all about food.
It’s the kind of place to fill your stomach with anything from a heavy meatloaf sandwich to a delicate wilted greens salad. The menu is great but one thing that can do no wrong is the ultimate grilled cheese.
Packed with gouda, fontina, sharp cheddar and gorgonzola melted under your choice of crispy brioche or sourdough, it’s an ooey-gooey cheese pile that won’t disappoint. By the way, it pairs well with The Quarry’s house fries, that are crisped to perfection. You can also opt for a side of leafy greens if you’re feeling healthy.
Craving for a heartier plate? Grab a burger packed with a thick, juicy patty, pickles, tomatoes and fries on the side.
Whatever you choose, you’re sure to leave The Quarry with a happy stomach and a smile.
After a day of cruising the steep Bisbee streets, Bathtub Coffee is a great place to take a rest.
Sure, you can grab a fresh cup of joe from this cafe — located at 31 Subway St. — but you can also pick up a one-of-a-kind piece of art off its walls.
The shop, not unlike its neighboring stores, is nothing short of eccentric — covered wall to wall with local art and fit with a vintage-style tub in the middle of the cafe. From black coffee to hot chai lattes, Bathtub Coffee has a full menu sure to tantalize all palettes, including a box of locally-made pastries and sweets.
While The Quarry and Bathtub Coffee are two of Bisbee’s gems, it’s important to note they aren’t the only places to grab a bite or refreshment.
Bisbee is filled with local eateries scattered across the town reflecting cuisines from all over the world. All you have to do is get a little lost.