The saying, “The journey is more important than the destination” may be a cliché that is overused, but it often is a statement that rings true the longer your journey lasts. In Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, the protagonist is a young shepherd named Santiago who seeks treasure across countries and crashes into his fate like a rowboat in a hurricane over and over throughout the novel. Coelho’s message of personal legend in the novel is one that affected owner and operator of Elephant Ranch Beer Garden, Dillon Nunn, on a physical and spiritual level. I recently caught up with Dillon and his business partner, Deret Roberts, to talk about the newest milestone on their winding road and what adventures they encountered on their journey.
As you approach one of Las Cruces’ newest hangouts, you would have to be blind or texting and driving to miss the almost life-size pink polka dot pachyderm that stands guard outside Elephant Ranch. Located in the former Guacamoles building next to the Mesilla Valley Maze and Pumpkin Patch on Picacho, Elephant Ranch offers a very laidback environment with its open-air seating and personable, joyful staff. Dillon isn’t exactly herding sheep like Santiago at Elephant Ranch, but he is finding treasure that he didn’t even realize he was looking for in the Mesilla Valley. Dillon spoke about his innate desire to seek out conversation with his fellow citizens long before he got involved in opening the Ranch. “I am just so amazed at the stories and personalities I’ve run into,” Dillon says. “People are so interesting to me.”
Dillon and Deret both, on the surface, have a very laissez faire charisma about them, but the longer you speak to them, you begin to understand the idea, focus, and hard work it took to open Elephant Ranch. Deret, an NMSU alum who also owns and operates Art Obscura in Las Cruces, is a talented artist in his own right. He spoke about the obstacles that originally stood in the way of the duo hanging out their shingle, “There was a lot of physical labor originally, getting the place ready to open. I was personally building the picnic tables the day before opening.”
Both Dillon’s and Deret’s families have been in the antiques business for years (and Dillon’s parents and sister run the hugely popular Sparky’s in Hatch), and it has obviously sparked interest in the business partners. Walking into and around Elephant Ranch, the antique neons set a lively and yesteryear vibe that almost forces an irrational smile and curiosity about each individual hanging art piece. “We want to curate an environment here,” says Deret, “not exactly a ‘choose your own adventure’ story.”
As you walk the property, the seating areas are loosely defined, chairs are moved, tables pushed together, laughter fills the air along with the crackle of wood burning, and divine scents emit from their resident food truck, Tacos Romero. Tacos Romero anchored itself near Art Obscura, and was often, if not daily, frequented by Dillon and Deret previous to the June 2019 opening of Elephant Ranch. When the time came to have food for their guests, there seemed no better choice. The homemade salsa, tacos, and my personal favorite, posole, were the perfect pairing on a chilly night with one of Elephant Ranch’s proprietary Margaritas. Live music is frequently a part of the experience at the Ranch as well, which is also hand-picked by the two.
“We want the Ranch to feel like your own backyard, only with better cocktails,” Dillon says with a smile, looking over his shoulder at the adjacent lawn. “I wanted to do something unique.”
The carefully selected and crafted cocktail list, along with the beer and wine menu, offers their guests a unique quality over quantity. This laser-beam approach is part of the aura of Elephant Ranch, as the guests are not bogged down with choices; instead they can focus more on the human aspect of the gathered community. A rarity I noticed while sitting and observing was the infrequent glow of cell phone scrolling and selfie taking, not that it wasn’t present, but that it was the firelight, full moon, and stars that illuminated the eyes of the guests as one walks to the bar. At the bar, there are three sets of teeth smiling as I approach. Deret and Dillon are two of the bartenders behind the small bar, hand squeezing limes and pulling tap handles, along with Chelsea Fancher, the senior bartender. “Chelsea has been with us since day one,” Deret says, “She really embodies the attitude we want here. I would take one Chelsea to ten bad employees any day. Again, quality over quantity.”
The Margarita was the most frequently ordered drink while I was sitting near the bar; it is made with Altos Olmeca Reposado, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, and just a splash of grapefruit soda to give it a bittersweet effervescence.
The RanchWater cocktail is simple and refreshing, made with Altos Olmeca Plata, Topo Chico, and goes down a little too easy, if you ask me. Their old fashioned and Moscow mule again use all hand-muddled or hand-pressed fruit to ensure top quality craft cocktails.
Elephant Ranch feels like it belongs to Las Cruces, and offers a very different destination for the Mesilla Valley. The attention to detail to create an environment that is welcoming as well as professional is being well executed by Deret and Dillon. There are great plans for the future of Elephant Ranch, and if these two continue their immense passion and energy for entertaining our community, it’s exciting to see what alchemy they have in store.
Elephant Ranch Beer Garden
3995 W Picacho Ave, Las Cruces
Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday, 12 p.m. – 11 p.m.
(Note: As of September 2020, the bar is closed following COVID-19 restrictions, but the store is open.)
Written by Daniel Gonzales with photography by Amanda Gonzales
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com