If you want to know what makes Arizona a special place, ask a local—so we did. Meet Gordon Watkins, owner and operator of The Inn at 410 Bed and Breakfast in Flagstaff, who lives, plays and creates here.
Tell us about yourself and what you do for a living.
Having started as a baker and cook at the age of 12, I have worked in the hospitality industry for over 50 years. After graduating in 1974, I moved to San Francisco to work at the Hyatt Regency in the Embarcadero. Those were the days of Harvey Milk and "anything goes" when the Hyatt hosted the Beaux Arts Ball and the Hooker's Ball.
Today I own and operate The Inn at 410, a 10-room luxury B&B in the heart of Historic Downtown Flagstaff. My husband Frank and I have worked together operating the inn for the past 11 years. Once the home of a wealthy banker, its architectural features include coffered oak ceilings and mahogany in the original dining room, and each of the inn's guestrooms is professionally decorated to inspire a unique character with modern features throughout.
Flagstaff has been my home since 2003. We live two blocks from the heart of downtown, and walking to its dozens of bars, shops and restaurants is easy from the inn. We enjoy playing pool at Uptown Billiards. Uptown, as we call it, is very gay-friendly, and offers six pool tables, along with a very extensive menu of Scotch, American and Irish whiskeys, and 34 beers to choose from. Our Celtic heritage is popular here so you often see men in kilts at Uptown.
Los Angeles was my home for 24 years before I bought The Inn at 410 in 2003. I did a fair bit of consulting in Sedona—almost buying a small hotel there. When the opportunity came up to buy the Inn, I jumped at it.
What are your favorite places for a cocktail and/or dinner?
Located in the Carriage House right next door to the inn, Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar offers extraordinary farm-to-table food, bringing in mouthwatering local cheeses and meats from Arizona and New Mexico. For my recent birthday dinner at Brix, four of us shared their largest cheese and charcuterie board featuring French Double Crème cheese, warm olives, prosciutto and pâté. I thought I was back in France with the variety of meats and cheeses we enjoyed.
Two very gay-friendly bars are the Monte Vista Lounge and Rendezvous Bar both located in the Hotel Monte Vista. The Zane Grey Bar, also popular with the LGBTQ community, is located upstairs at the old Weatherford Hotel. Grey, a famous Western author, lived in the hotel for several years and it features a mahogany bar built by Wyatt Earp in 1878 down in Tombstone.
What cultural attractions are a must-see in Flagstaff?
The Museum of Northern Arizona is the best place to gain an understanding of the rich Native American history of our region. Artifacts dating back thousands of years can be found at the MNA. In the summertime, the museum features the three Hopi, Navajo and Zuni festivals with dances, artwork, and jewelry for the public.
Since 1894, Flagstaff has been the home of the world-renowned Lowell Observatory where the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930. Sign up for daily lectures with tours of its libraries and telescopes, along with nightly stargazing. The Riordan Mansion offers docent-led tours year-round of the 1902 former home of a lumber baron family. Most important, the mansion is filled with original Gustav Stickley furniture, so I say the furniture is more valuable than the house.
Music and live theatre abound in Flagstaff. The outdoor Pepsi Amphitheater is home to "Pickin in the Pines," a two-day bluegrass festival held in September. The Orpheum Theater is a more intimate setting where drag shows are featured after a gorgeous day at Flagstaff's Pride in the Pines (typically held in June annually), during which some 4,000 folks, both LGBTQ and straight allies gather to enjoy great entertainment and family fun.
Catch live theater downtown most weekend nights at the Theatrikos Theater Company. Northern Arizona University, or NAU, also offers symphony and opera throughout the year.
A friend is coming to Flagstaff for the first time…Please describe the perfect weekend.
Arrive on a warm Friday afternoon and check-in at your hotel.
Head downtown for a cocktail at the Zane Grey Bar, overlooking Heritage Square, and then on to dinner. The next morning, after breakfast, head out for the day to the Grand Canyon, just 78 miles north of town, and take a picnic lunch. Travel north on Highway 89, passing by the Painted Desert, and connect to Highway 64 entering the eastern end of the Canyon at Desert View.
Start the tour by climbing the three-story, 1932 Desert View Watchtower, designed by architect Mary Jane Coulter. Move onto the next four viewing spots before reaching Shoshone Point, a little-known "park-and-walk" viewing site that offers one of the most dramatic views on the Rim. Picnic tables line the rim here so enjoy the view and no crowds—it doesn't get any more scenic. Skip the visitor's center at Mather Point and head to Yavapai Point where the on-site museum explains the area's geology with a stunning view of the 5,000-foot drop into the canyon's depths.
On your way back, avoid Grand Canyon Village and take Highway 180 passing through the lush Coconino National Forest, home to the largest stand of ponderosa pines in the world. The next morning, (if it's Sunday) head over to the Flagstaff Community Market, which features locally grown foods, and arts and crafts. Then, perhaps, take in a tour of the Riordan Mansion before leaving town.
Where are the best places to truly enjoy nature?
At 7,000 feet elevation Flagstaff sits at the base of the San Francisco Peaks where the Arizona Snowbowl offers year-round recreation for hiking and skiing. In the summertime, ride the scenic chairlift to 11,500 feet, enjoying views of Northern Arizona all the way to the Grand Canyon.
Or hike the many trails throughout the Peaks, such as the gentle Kachina Trail and the Aspen Loop Trail. Lockett Meadow offers an unparalleled hike through thick aspen groves and flower-filled meadows. Nearby, all-day hiking trips in the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails allow visitors to experience the majesty of the Park.
What is your favorite time of the year in Flagstaff and why?
Winter is my favorite time of the year. I still ski, and the packed powder at Arizona Snowbowl affords me many enjoyable afternoon getaways from work. It is also my favorite time of year to visit the Grand Canyon since the crowds are down, the air is at its cleanest, and you can drive the entire South Rim from Desert View in the east to Hermit's Rest in the West. The snow-covered rim makes for some dramatic winter scenery. For an easy winter outing, try snowshoeing; it's inexpensive and gentle on your legs.
What’s one souvenir to bring back for friends or family?
Route 66 is one of the icons of this area so anything with the Route 66 logo on it is always popular—hats, coffee mugs, and even shot glasses.
Please finish the sentence: Don’t leave Flagstaff without…
Visiting the Grand Canyon and all of our national monuments.
The above story was originally produced through a partnership with PASSPORT Magazine. It was published in its entirety in the April 2020 printed issue and online at PassionMagazine.com. It has been edited for clarity and length.