Famed Dome Bar makes Camino Real the top choice for an El Paso golf stay

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Many people come to El Paso just to cross over into Mexico, but the Camino Real hotel and its acclaimed Dome Bar, plus a low-cost golf scene highlighted by a new Tom Fazio course, are reasons to stay in Texas.

Camino Real El Paso - hotel - Dome Bar
Camino Real's Dome Bar is one of the most unique watering holes in the world.
Camino Real El Paso - hotel - Dome BarCamino Real El Paso - hotel - outside buildingCamino Real - hotel El Paso - lobby
If you go

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso may be a U.S. city - the 21st-biggest one, in fact, with some 600,000 residents - but it feels more like a Mexican town than a modern Sun Belt metropolis.

People come here for lots of reasons, golf among them. But they probably don't come for five-star luxury. No one's going to mistake El Paso for a resort mecca like Scottsdale.

Indeed, the highest-rated hotel in town, Camino Real, gets a relatively modest three and a half stars at Web sites such as Expedia and TripAdvisor. But this place has one factor in its favor: more originality than a dozen five-star palaces.

Opened in 1912, Camino Real is certainly unprepossessing on approach. It looks like a few scrunched-together apartment buildings of the type where elderly ladies live with dozens of cats.

Step inside, though, and you'll encounter a wholly unexpected old-world elegance.

The lobby could've been lifted from the set of Titanic - all marble and crystal chandeliers, with a grand winding staircase up to a second-level meeting-room area that might be even more show-stopping, full of faux-gold-plated wall fixtures and fancy railings.

It's like stumbling into a parallel universe. Right outside the doors are hardscrabble streets that have obviously seen better days. Inside, you have the perfect setting for a 1920s costume ball.

"I tell tourists to go to Camino Real just to see the lobby," local Juan Cruz said.

Indeed, it's one of the better tourist attractions in El Paso, which says something about El Paso. There's a lot more going on five minutes away in Mexico. But if you value American comforts, you want to sleep in El Paso, and Camino Real is the place to do it.

The rooms are not nearly as impressive as the lobby. They're on the small side, and the red carpet has seen better days. But the beds are comfortable enough, and as a home base for trips across the border into Cuidad Juarez, rounds of golf around El Paso or business meetings, you're not going to do better.

Camino Real's staff is nice and helpful. Ask and they'll give you a shuttle ride to the Santa Fe Street bridge, where U.S. and Canadian citizens can walk right into Mexico without anything more than a driver's license.

But you'll want to spend one evening just hanging out at the hotel, to take in one of the world's most distinctive bars.

El Paso attractions: Dome Bar and Fazio golf

No less an authority on indulgence than GQ tagged Camino Real's Dome Bar one of the top dozen bars in the world, a spot worth traveling to El Paso just to have a drink.

That's slightly crazy talk. But this circular bar with a huge plastic wine glass in the middle and a much more impressive Tiffany glass dome overhead is fun, and cool enough to overcome any hints of cheese.

"I thing I love is that the scene seems to change every night in there," traveling businesswoman Cherri Boughton said. "One night it's full of guys in suits from a convention, the next there's a bunch of cowboy boots sitting around drinking Buds."

You can expect to see some golf polos around the Dome too, especially with Butterfield Trail Golf Club, a new Tom Fazio design, newly opened out near the airport. El Paso golf is apt to leave you with a few bills in your pocket for drinks.

Butterfield Trail's green fees are $35-$80, depending on time of day and week. At Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course, arguably the area's best play, you'll pay $32 in the high season ($43 with cart) for a desert showcase that runs through the hills below the towering Franklin Mountains and causes plenty of double gulps on the tees.

See, there are a few reasons to stay north of the border after all.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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