Move over, Marfa.
Over the past decade, nearly every major newspaper and magazine imaginable—everyone from Vanity Fair and Vogue to New York Magazine and The New York Times—has treated Marfa as if it was the only happening town in West Texas, a place so painlessly cool it has its own D.S. & Durga fragrance. And the hype machine’s half-right; every day kinda looks like Coachella here, a never-ending parade of SoCal style and $500 sun dresses that’s made this city of just 1,747 people a major draw for anyone who’s into contemporary art and killer food.
Try telling that to longtime residents like Emily Hocker, though. In a sobering San Antonio Express-News piece that ran a few years ago, the 72-year-old painter explained how Marfa’s popularity has meant skyrocketing tax rates and a sudden lack of affordable housing. “We’re all sick and tired of these little fluff pieces about Marfa,” she said. “This is a wonderful place, but just like other wonderful places suffering from gentrification, the poor people get shoved aside. A lot of people who grew up here are suddenly on the fringe.”
Things don’t have to be this dire, of course. Not when there’s a much more manageable, and no less interesting, city lurking just 30 minutes away on US-90 E. Say hello to Alpine, a low-key locale with three times as many people as Marfa and none of its baggage.
“Alpine has a frontier mentality,” explains Andrew Daniels, a San Antonio native who opened the highly Instagrammable Cedar Coffee & Supply shop in 2015. “Most of the population out here has escaped larger cities and the bustle of life; they prefer the freedom, open skies, and clean air that comes with living in such a wide open space.”
Tourists also love feeling like they’re in truly unchartered territory, a hidden gem that also happens to have nitro cold brew and kombucha on tap. The nearby Big Bend Brewing Company seized on this middle-of-nowhere setting when it opened five years ago and earned its statewide reputation as “the most remote brewery in America.” (The closest major city, El Paso, is 220 miles away.)
“The reception to our beer has been wonderful, although we have struggled to keep up with demand,” explains Mahala Guevara, a Marfa transplant who serves as Big Bend’s vice president of operations. “Turns out being the most remote brewery is also super challenging.”
It certainly doesn't hurt that Big Bend has a solid line of limited and seasonal offerings beyond its core trio of cans, including a heady wet hop IPA (Green Desert); a double chocolate porter (Dark Sky) made in collaboration with a bean-to-bar company from Austin; and a locally sourced wild ale (Spontaneity) that softens its hefty 10-percent ABV tag with heavenly fruit notes and a sour finish. Big Bend hopes to satisfy its growing fanbase with a second location in San Antonio sometime next year. It’ll be roughly eight times the size of the Alpine location, which makes up for its limited seating and occasional fly problem (the closest neighbor is a set of horse stables) with $5 flights and friendly service.
Our advice? Spend an hour sampling the wares, then head over to Come & Take It BBQ for a weekends-only combo plate rounded out by a robust potato salad, crisp traditional coleslaw, and toothsome bites of hominy blanketed with gooey gobs of cheese.
“We have spent the past year and a half developing recipes,” says owner Jennifer Turner, “to create consistent flavor and exceptional quality to feed the larger crowds we now enjoy. We believe we have gotten to the point where we are prepared to expand our menu, and we are currently planning a monthly Sunday brunch.”
In the meantime, there’s always other local staples like the filled-to-order Bavarian cream donuts at Baker’s Dozen—a perfect start to a day of exploring Marfa or the popular National Park that’s a little more than an hour away.
“Alpine is special because it’s the ‘hub’ of the area, but only has around 6,000 people,” says Guevara. “It’s a sweet spot. We’re in love with it, and encourage all city dwellers to come experience the majesty of Texas’ wild lands; there’s something about it that gets in your soul.”