September 30, 2016

Laguna Vista Lodge Historic Restaurant & Saloon Says, “I Know Jo, Do You?”

By Jo Mixon

This weeks featured member is Bert Clemens of Laguna Vista.

Although now a peaceful relaxing place with remodeled rooms and majestic views of Eagle Nest Lake and the mountains beyond, the Laguna Vista Lodge Historic Restaurant and Saloon takes you a step back time. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit this week with Bert and Karel Clemens learning about the rich historical value their business represents. They have owned and operated this amazing property with its main street boardwalk in Eagle Nest, New Mexico for the past 33 years. Bert and Karel moved to Eagle Nest from Washington D.C. after purchasing the 5-1/2 acre, 32,000 square foot complex because Bert saw it as “the land of opportunity.”

With over 110 years of history, the Laguna Vista, first named the El Monte, was an illegal gambling casino and hotel of ill repute, frequented by politicians and other well to-do elite, as well as outlaws, gold miners, and mountain men. It is said that some of these visitors and ladies of the night still remain in ghostly form.

Located above the restaurant is the old hotel. A few years back, Bert had the hidden staircase to the upstairs rebuilt. During our tour, I mused about the stories these rooms could probably tell! Keeping with the original wall papers and designs, the Clemens have replaced the beds with antique dinning room tables, so you can now request your meal be enjoyed in one of the upstairs rooms – that is if you don’t mind being joined by a ghost. Imagine the adventure! The restaurant, Calamity Jane’s, is leased to Jane and Frank Saloris. I caught Jane in the kitchen making one of her much-sought-after pastries.

The Laguna Vista includes a hotel with 25 newly remodeled rooms, half of which have full kitchens. Also on site is a meeting room/dance hall available for reunions, weddings and events, a 50-foot outdoor stage equipped with cookers and kiva fireplace, as well the historic restaurant and saloon. The Laguna Vista Saloon still houses the original bar purchased in 1890. It was built in Chicago, then put on a train to Denver before finishing its journey to Eagle Nest via horse-drawn wagons. Bert says they have received many awards and recognition for the work they have done to preserve the historical value of the Laguna Vista. The Saloon was voted “Best of the West Saloon” in 2005 by True West Magazine, the restaurant and lodge were rated as “Best Restaurant and Lodge” in the valley by Frommer’s Travel Guide, and featured in the Sunset Magazine 2002 edition.

I asked Bert and Karel if they had any favorite stories to share in their years as innkeepers. He said he wished he had kept a diary of all the interesting stories through out the years. An episode of the “Late Show With David Letterman” was filmed there, and various dignitaries and celebrities have visited throughout the decades, but he spoke mostly of loyal guests who have come back year after year after year to stay with them. I personally believe one of the reasons they keep coming back, besides the great accommodations and friendly staff, is the unique gift found in every room. Bert and Karel put a trademark little yellow rubber duck as a gift in every room. These ducks are theme related. They have farmer ducks, mechanic ducks and ducks representing many other trades, as well as ducks representing every branch of the military. All the holidays are represented with rubber ducks, and if a wedding is booked the guests get bride and groom ducks! Bert said one guest has told him she keeps coming back because she wants to own the entire collection! Not only that, but Laguna Vista Lodge being a pet-friendly hotel, gives each four legged guest a pet convenience gift bag at check in. They really go the extra mile at the Laguna Vista!

During the years Bert has been in the Valley, he has served on many state boards, and has been instrumental in getting bills passed at the state level for the benefit of the Moreno Valley. He served as President of the State Liquor Board in 1989 and is past chairman of the Restaurant Association of New Mexico. But something very important I want to share about the Clemens, who are pillars of the Moreno Valley in so many ways, is that Bert was one of the founding fathers of the Angel Fire Chamber of Commerce in 1983. The Laguna Vista has been a continuous member since that date. He told me that he was President of the Board when we moved into the space we now own in Centro Plaza. I say, “salute and thank you!”

For more information or to make a reservation at the Laguna Vista, call 800-821-2093, email reservations@newmex.com, or visit www.lagunavistalodge.com.

Be sure to tell them you know Jo!

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