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Las Vegas renaissance

The restoration and reopening of two iconic, northern New Mexico hotels more than 100 years old is at the heart of a revitalization of historic Las Vegas, N.M., northeast of Santa Fe.

“We’re trying to put Las Vegas back on the map,” said Allan Affeldt, who along with his wife, artist Tina Mion, have been instrumental in the work.

The couple own the Castañeda and Plaza hotels in Las Vegas, as well as the similarly historic La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Ariz.

“There’s a whole renaissance going on in Las Vegas in particular,” he said. “I’ve been coming here for 15 years. I think it’s the most beautiful town. It’s a great western town.”

The historical nature of the town is underrated, he said.

“Billy the Kid was here, and Doc Holliday,” he said. “… It has a special authenticity that so many other towns have lost. It’s got the best hot springs in the Southwest, and nobody knows it.”

The work at the two hotels has brought new resources flowing into the town, Affeldt said.

“There are nine new businesses and four buildings under construction,” he said. “These two hotels the catalyst. People are going to rediscover Las Vegas. It’s a great little adventure for people who want to discover the history of New Mexico.”

And the 66-room Plaza, built in 1882, has witnessed its share of history.

The red-brick Victorian masterpiece that overlooks the city center has been carefully restored to its former glory, and Affeldt relied on local craftsmen for much of the work. The hotel was featured in the movies “Easy Rider” and “No Country for Old Men.”

The work included expanding the ballroom, doubling the size of the bar and using period-authentic, historic furniture from La Fonda in Santa Fe. The front desk, kitchen and dining room were all rebuilt. The dining room, which is served by Albuquerque’s Range Cafe, features golden Venetian plaster walls, which may be one of a kind in the country, Affeldt said.

What’s more, there is an air of mystery surrounding the plaza. Previous owner and former Mayor Byron T. Mills is said to haunt the premises, particularly Room 310, although Affeldt said he’s not sensitive to paranormal activities and has not experienced Mills’ presence.

Across town in the railroad district, the Castañeda has opened with 12 rooms, with the remaining eight opening soon. It was the first of the Fred Harvey Hotels that served railroad towns across the West and Midwest.

“The Castañeda had closed for 70 years,” Affeldt said. “It’s a boutique hotel. It was an experiment. The entire first floor was food and beverage.”

It was a massive undertaking, he said, as there were not even bathrooms in each room.

“That was a complete rebuild,” Affeldt said. “It was essentially putting a new building inside a 120-year-old shell. It was more complicated and expensive than new construction, but it was something me and my crew are really passionate about.

“Everything had to be redesigned. The work included a number of skilled craftsmen from right here in Las Vegas. I never found craftsmen like this before. They are Old World masons, carpenters, plasterers who they take real pride in the work.”

The Castañeda is more of a destination hotel, he said, so it has a different focus and price than the Plaza.

In keeping with that, the bar, which is already open, and the fine-dining Kin, which will open soon, have their own distinctive touches.

For instance, co-owner Sean Sinclair said, the bar, which also serves food, features modern versions of dishes similar to those found on original Fred Harvey menus.

And Kin will be something different altogether, with a meal as an experience, said Sinclair, a classically trained chef who served under noted chef Patrick O’Connell at the Inn at Little Washington and was most recently the executive chef at Santa Fe’s Inn and Spa at Loretto.

“We’re going to have a 12-course tasting menu, prix fixe with wine pairing,” he said. “And we’ll have a five-course meal, and a small selection of a la carte dining. The menu will change weekly and will be dependent on the season of the food. When we get the chance to use something that’s in season, we’re going to jump on it. We’re committed to not buying food off of trucks, and we’re committed to buying off the local people.

“The style of cuisine that we’re doing means we’re going to be dependent on people coming in from out of town to see us,” Sinclair said. “It’s a destination-style event. Not sure that there’s a restaurant that’s focusing on this style of service. It’s something that you find in New York or San Francisco or Los Angles or Chicago. I’ve been in fortunate to work in some demanding and high-profile environments, and we’re going to bring that style of cuisine to New Mexico.”

The revival of two historic hotels leads to the reawakening of a classic Western town