Flagstaff Fall: September Sunshine, Great Dining, and Golden Leaves: "Flag" Is Arizona's Capital of Autumn

By Fish, Peter | Sunset, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Flagstaff Fall: September Sunshine, Great Dining, and Golden Leaves: "Flag" Is Arizona's Capital of Autumn


Fish, Peter, Sunset


MOUNTAIN AIR MAKES YOU SMARTER announce the signs advertising Northern Arizona University. Hype or not, it's true that, come September, when the air in Flagstaff is crisp as a Winesap and the skies are the dictionary definition of blue, the return of 18,000 NAU students gives "Flag" -- the local nickname--a Red Bull-swigging, outdoorsy zing.

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One beneficiary of that zing is Flagstaff's historic downtown, which, aided by some smart redevelopment, has climbed from dowdy to vibrant. Along San Francisco Street and Aspen Avenue rise superb early-1900s buildings, the best of which were constructed using the local Moencopi sandstone that glows port-wine red in the sunlight. They've been joined by some good new projects, notably the outdoor plaza, Heritage Square, which hosts weekend concerts this month.

Local art, local flavor

Downtown is compact enough that you can stroll around making your own discoveries, but there are a couple of stops you shouldn't miss. Flagstaff's proximity to Navajo and Hopi lands makes it a center for Native American art galleries like Jona- than Day's Indian Arts. Day, who spent childhood summers on the Hopi reservation, specializes in traditional Hopi katsina dolls, commonly called "kachinas"--"what the Hopi use every day as opposed to what they make for the Anglo art market," he says. Along with the katsinas (priced from $30 to $250), he offers fine Navajo and Hopi baskets and blankets.

Across the street from Day's shop rises a true Flag landmark: the Hotel Monte Vista, topped by a neon sign that at night casts a flickering glow over half of down-town. Built in the era of the bellhop and cigarette girl, it now draws goateed university students and arty European tourists. They play pool in the lobby bar and start or end romantic relationships in the hotel's lounge, then head to Rendezvous, which serves cappuccinos during the day and switches to martinis after dark.

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If you want something more substantial than coffee or gin, Flagstaff holds an increasingly sophisticated roster of restaurants. Pasto Cucina Italiana on Aspen Avenue is good for Italian, and Josephine's Modern American Bistro has a relaxing bungalow setting. But Flag's best restaurant occupies a brick carriage house two blocks north of downtown. Chef Laura Chamberlin and partners Paul and Laura Moir opened Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar a little more than a year ago. …

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