"Everything depends on what you believe," says Val Kilmer, asking
you to believe that he's taking you to his home in Santa Fe, New
The 44-year-old actor insists that Santa Fe does mystical things to people, and, if you can believe, he'll transport you there.
"All you have to do is breathe the air and turn off your cellphone," he says, his voice full of wood smoke and promise.
He says he'll pick you up at the Albuquerque airport in one of his two pickup trucks, and it'll just be you and him, driving down I-25 to Santa Fe, which Kilmer calls "my community." He lives there on a 6,000-acre ranch, a spread he shares with deer, bears, beavers, mountain lions, eagles, wild turkeys, and more.
On your first night in town, Kilmer might take you to Maria's, for the atmosphere, the vibe, and the spirits (namely tequila). "The feeling there is great," he says. "There are always a bunch of locals, and there are about 100 kinds of margaritas. They wanted to name one after me, but it's kind of weird for me." But more than likely, Kilmer will introduce you to more celestial spirits, in the village of Chimayó, north of town. It's "a healing community" with a legendary restaurant, Rancho de Chimayó, where you sit outside and graze on Southwestern cuisine as you gaze out at the stars. There's also a church, the Santuario, where you can feed your soul, he says, as well as your stomach, with a deep-fried pork taco at the little outdoor stand next door. Over the years, worshippers have invested so much energy in the church that, Kilmer insists, mystical things happen. "There's a great deal of faith that you can get healed by visiting the Santuario," he says.
But you don't have to go to church to get healed in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"The community itself is healing," Kilmer says. "People have always felt good here."
By now, you'll be ready to hit the sack for the night, and Kilmer, whose parents once ran an Arizona guest ranch, considers himself "a snob about hotels. Because I know how they work. I also spend a lot of time in them." So he'll drive you to the square and drop you off at the Santa Fe-chic Inn of the Anasazi. "They're very caring there, and people are taken care of in a particular way," he reveals. Or he'll drop you off at the shabby-chic standard La Fonda. "I love the traditions and history of the place," he says. "I know a lot of the old stories, so I like walking in and feeling Santa Fe like it used to be."
Soon enough, you'll probably end up just like Kilmer and a multitude of others: planning to spend a night that turns into an eternity. "I've lived here for 20 years," he says. "It's great being able to speak in decades, but it's weird, since I'm [grins] only 31!"
Becoming a Santa Fean happened to Kilmer in a circuitous way. The star of films like Top Gun, Batman Forever, The Doors, and next month's Alexander (the Oliver Stone-directed tale of Alexander the Great) first visited Santa Fe as a child. He was taken there by his father, an aerospace engineer who grew up in the nearby Apache Mountains, as did Kilmer's grandfather, whom he's described as a prospector straight out of the Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But Kilmer grew up in California's San Fernando Valley, right next door to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
At 17, as the budding actor was driving from L.A. to New York to attend Juilliard, he stopped in Santa Fe, wanting to see what had become of his childhood playground, "of dirt roads and horses around the plaza and Indian lands."
He planned to spend a night. He ended up staying three and a half months.
"This isn't an unusual story," he says. "The area holds you in and that's it. You can't get out."
On your first morning in Santa Fe, Kilmer says he'll take you to breakfast at one of the restaurants where the food is so spicy you'll sweat through your buckskin.
"I love Pasqual's," Kilmer says. "It's great. People don't even try to get in because there are always so many people waiting. But it doesn't take that long. Even more, I like The Plaza Café. Everyone calls it The Plaza Café, but if you call Information to get the number, it's called The Plaza Restaurant. A nice thing about it is that it's surprising to be on the Plaza and have this mixture of locals and tourists. The food is that good. They make all kinds of Mexican dishes and regular sandwiches and stuff. Breakfast is always great. And they've got great coffee."
"Another one for breakfast is Tia Sophia's," he continues. "The women who work there laugh all day long. They're just good family people."
Afterward, you'll wander out to the square, where the locals sell their wares, or maybe to one of the museums, like the Palace of the Governors, the oldest government building in the U.S. and now home to the Museum of New Mexico. Or the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Or the Museum of Fine Arts, the state's oldest museum and home to more than 20,000 works.
But Kilmer's got bobcats in his blue jeans, and eventually, he's going to take you for a hike.
"Bandelier National Monument is always fun," he says. "The Pecos Wilderness is fantastic, too. But anywhere right outside of Santa Fe are really beautiful trails, right out into the mountains."
The thought of hiking makes Kilmer think of water - not cool water for drinking, but hot water for soaking, as in springs so hot they'll make you forget who you are and where you came from.
"Ojo Caliente, which is the hot springs, is great. They're natural pools that have formed volcanically. They're hard to get to, but really beautiful. The best ones are right up next to the road, right next to the college in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I did a movie [Blind Horizon] in the area not too long ago with Neve Campbell, Amy Smart, Sam Shepard, and Faye Dunaway. We'd go and have dinner and then head up there every night."
He pauses, reflecting on the dinner.
"Blackjack's. I ate there every night," he swears. "It's the only place to eat a steak in Las Vegas."
Closer to town, he'd take you to the man-made outdoor hot tubs known as Ten Thousand Waves. "It's a great experience to get into their hot tubs. They're all outside and they're private, so you can have your own. Or there are a couple that are publicly shared for less money. But all of the masseuses and everything are pretty great. What people aren't aware of is that they have rooms there. They take care of you."
From the solitude of the healing waters, you'll follow the crowds to lunch. Either at Harry's Roadhouse, "where there'll be 200 cars outside, but the best meals." Or, if you're in a rush, you could pick up something from the Santa Fe Baking Company, where the staff "all looks like brothers, and they call out everyone's name when their order's ready, almost like a New York deli feeling. They've always got a local artist's work up, there's some sort of acoustic guitar playing, and there are a lot of dogs running around."
Then it's on to Kilmer's favorite art gallery. "I believe that, per capita, we're the third-largest art community in the nation," he says. "The artists come out here because the light is so totally unique, like that area outside of Paris.
"My favorite gallery is the Nedra Matteucci Galleries, because it's the best, and she's a good friend," he says. "She has the largest collection of Southwestern art. She really loves everything about it, whereas a lot of times, like in the movie business, they like the business more than the art. I respect her for that. Also, the Institute of American Indian Arts is really great for the museum and its shop. They've refurbished it."
From there, you might scope out the shops on Canyon Road, or check out the Tesuque Market in the upscale village of Tesuque, or, a bit farther out, the authentic Tesuque Indian pueblo. Then it's back to the inn for a nap.
"The Steaksmith, for their ribs," he says of your dinner plans that night. "It's so great. The atmosphere's kind of confusing, like it shouldn't work. None of the art fits, and everything is just sort of off. But that's kind of what's part of New Mexico's charm anyway. Our style is very comfortable. The Steaksmith is connected to El Goncho, the tennis center and spa. So people come in with tennis bags or racquets. They have people dressed up on their way to the opera, too. You have this weird mixture."
If there's time, Kilmer recommends driving back out to Las Vegas, New Mexico. "It's worth going out there for a dinner if you're going to be here a week," he says. One place in particular is the Sad Café. "Their chef, Dennis Benjamin, is world-class. He's catered to the Rockefellers."
After dinner, you'd hit the Lensic Performing Arts Center. "The [famed New York theater family] Zechendorfs redid it," he says. "They actually did what my plan was about 20 years ago. To take this turn-of-the-century stage since turned into a cinema and [do theatrical plays, movies, music, and other events]."
If the Lensic is dark, it's on to Kilmer's favorite nightspot: the VFW. "For absolutely local flavor," he says. "Grand Hayunga, a friend of mine, has taken it over, and he's brought in all the energy of the young people in Santa Fe who are into music, and he got the veterans revitalized about their own place. To be a tourist and come into that, you're really getting what Santa Fe is all about. El Farol is great for that same reason. You can go there any night and something fun will happen. You'll see someone good."
But don't expect to test the midnight hour, or scream at the dawn. Not in Santa Fe. Not with Kilmer. "If you come here, you get to pretend you're a local," he says. "And at 9:30, 10 o'clock, it's over."
he said …
val kilmer's santa fe hot spots
» inn of the anasazi, expensive, (505) 988-3030
» la fonda, expensive, (505) 982-5511
» blackjack's grill, american, moderate, (505) 425-6791
» café pasqual's, new southwestern, moderate,
» harry's roadhouse, american, inexpensive,
» maria's new mexican kitchen, new mexican, moderate, (505) 983-7929
» the plaza, mexican, inexpensive, (505) 982-1664
» rancho de chimayó, new mexican, moderate,
» the sad café, continental, moderate, (505) 421-3380
» santa fe baking company & café, american, inexpensive, (505) 988-4292
» steaksmith at el goncho, steakhouse, expensive,
» tia sophia's, new mexican, inexpensive, (505) 983-9880
» nedra matteucci galleries, (505) 982-4631
» tesuque market, (505) 988-8848
» georgia o'keeffe museum, (505) 946-1000
» institute of american indian arts museum, (505) 983-8900
» lensic santa fe's performing arts center, (505) 988-1234
» museum of fine arts, (505) 476-5072
» palace of the governors/museum of new mexico, (505) 476-5100
» santuario de chimayó, (505) 351-4889
» ojo caliente mineral springs, (800) 222-9162
» ten thousand waves, (505) 982-9304
» bandelier national monument, (505) 672-0343
» pecos wilderness, (505) 757-6121
» el farol, (505) 983-9912
» vfw hall, (505) 983-9045