Story and photos by Babbie De Derian
Albuquerque panorama courtesy Albuquerque CVB

Albuquerque NM

New Mexico Beckons

Albuquerque is open for business! It is a city on the rise that is positioning itself to be “the smart city of tomorrow”. Here people think big and are passionate about creating; it’s a place where transformational ideas come to life.

The city of ABQ and the University of New Mexico are transforming the city into an entrepreneurial hub… offering millennials, start-ups, and budding entrepreneurs shared incubation work space and equipment, research and development labs, job opportunities with racial and gender equality, a hip downtown an affordable lifestyle, and trendy restaurants and bars. 

My Jet Blue non-stop from JFK arrives around midnight; I taxi to the Andaluz Hotel; built in 1929, it’s the oldest Hilton hotel in New Mexico; original elevators and tile floors are charming; no doubt the hotel has many stories to tell of ABQ’s past.

After an authentic New Mexico breakfast served with red and green chilies, at Barelas Coffee House, in the city’s oldest neighborhood, we meet with Mayor Richard Berry who is ending his second term. 

Mayor Berry shares compelling reasons why companies and people should consider relocating to ABQ. “ABQ is changing its narrative, defining its own story, and celebrating its vitality and culture. You can come as you are and be accepted; the city is poised to help you reach your goals; we have the ability to create good paying tech jobs; it’s a very real place, perhaps one of the last real places; here poets and scientists can rub elbows and have a beer together. We are rediscovering entrepreneurial freedom; believing in ourselves more, and the future of ABQ. Business climate matters; we tell companies come here and be appreciated; we offer a quality lifestyle, 600 miles of bike trails, and an urban corridor of art. We can be a hub for many things; we’re ready to go; revitalizing our city to attract millennials, baby boomers and world class musicians; creating a walkable diverse infrastructure. Our city recently broke ground on three major downtown revitalization and redevelopment projects: One Central, a downtown entertainment district that will feature restaurants, shops, bowling lounge and parking garage… Innovate ABQ, a new innovation district and hub, including educational programs, state of the art facilities for science and tech companies and affordable rents for commercial businesses… and an electric rapid transit infrastructure system that will provide service along Central Avenue, connecting businesses along old route 66 to downtown. Changing perceptions is a long- term challenge, and we have a long- term vision that will be 20 years in the planning and implementing”.

In the afternoon, a fascinating tour of Innovate ABQ introduces our group to members of the community and young entrepreneurs who are developing their companies in the incubator facilities. Their aspirations and accomplishments are inspiring. 

On Saturday we visit Los Poblanos, a historic inn and organic farm, specializing in field-to-fork dining; we watch chilies being roasted, walk through fragrant fields of lavender and learn about the process of extracting lavender oils from the flowers.

Albuquerque Roasted Chilis

Chili production, New Mexico’s crown jewel, has helped shape the identity of the state. Thousands of farmers and pickers are dedicated to the fruit; growing chilies is a generational enterprise as is the Annual Chili Pilgrimage to markets and stands across the state for the beautiful and flavorful harvest. There is an art to chili roasting that brings out the sweetness, smokiness and orange undertones to the sun ripened fruit. Eleanor Sichler of Albuquerque’s Sichler Farms believes “chili brings the community together”.

Albuquerque Somos Festival

In the evening, we join hundreds of locals, street vendors and musicians at the First Annual Somos Festival - a citywide creative showcase and celebration that activates eight downtown city blocks. Representing one of the largest citizen organized events in ABQ history, it was conceived by young professionals to illuminate the beauty and brilliance of Albuquerque - to generate a meaningful boost for the urban business economy - and to build a wider connection to the larger community.  Nonprofit and local government organizations, artists, designers, musicians, performers, business owners, local breweries and restaurants banded together to present this immersive and ambitious showcase of talent in the form of art installations, craft displays, and performances; five stages featured regional and international musical acts. Julia Mandeville, from the Harwood Art Center” eloquently described Somos as “a love letter to the vision, dedication and tenacity of our citizens as we collectively generate a bright future for all who call ABQ home”.

Albuquerque Garcia's Patio Shops

The ABQ trolley tour, is a highly informative fun way to discover the city and its diverse neighborhoods. It begins and ends at the Albuquerque Hotel. Our tour guide points out many popular attractions as we transverse the city, passing through historic Nob Hill with trendy restaurants and bars, and then down a stretch of the famous Route 66. Now called Central Avenue; it retains its original architecture, with neon signs and preserved retro style motels.

The trolley continues through Old Town, the city’s 100year old cultural heart, now a treasure trove of colorful eclectic shops, restaurants and bars. I stop to photograph and chat with the artist owner of Red Earth Spirit Silver Creations… a shop that features a collection of unique fine silver jewelry creations.

Albuquerque Red Earth Silver Creations

ABQ is a wonderful blend of history, culture and the great outdoors … a highlight being a ride up the mountain on the Sandia Peak aerial tram.

Albuquerque Museum 2

The city’s calendar of seasonal events includes: museum exhibits, arts, crafts, wine, beer and culinary festivals, gathering of Nations Pow Wows, the International Balloon Festival, Annual Flamenco and Mariachi Festivals, National Fiery Foods & BBQ show, theatre productions, Philharmonic concerts, and the world- famous State Fair.  Some of the more unique attractions: The Rattlesnake Museum, Turquoise Museum, International Balloon Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, with its Mars rover replica, and the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, a Smithsonian affiliate.

The luxurious and elegant Hotel Chaco, a member of Heritage Hotels and Resorts, is reason alone to plan a visit to ABQ, and I check in for a final night.  It is the first luxury hotel to be built in ABQ in 40 years, and the group’s first new construction. The hotel’s design, inspired by Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Archeological site, pays homage to the ancient pueblo people in these lands. Its unique exterior design and interior décor was meticulously planned: original artwork, weavings, and sculptures enhance the lobby, halls, rooms and outdoor spaces. An imposing soaring wood carving in the lobby, called “Oneness” personifies the hotel’s philosophy.  My terraced suite, with unobstructed views of the mountains is a sanctuary for a good night’s sleep.

Albuquerque Flamenco Dancer

Before dinner, I head next door to the Albuquerque Hotel, also in the Heritage Hotels portfolio, to Tablao, a venue that presents weekend Flamenco Shows. Passion and temperaments flare as each dancer tells her story with swirling skirts and tapping feet.

Albuquerque Chaco Hotel Rooftop Restaurant

Chaco Hotel’s al fresco rooftop restaurant, with sweeping views of the mountains and beyond, is an engaging backdrop for Chef Gilbert Aragon’s creatively conceived and plated dinner. Chef tells me “My training is very classical. Modern techniques and originality is what defines me as a chef. I learn how it was meant to be, and then do my own creative spin to elevate the dish to my high standards. I’m trying to pull ego away from food and concentrate on flavors; to let the food be the star”. He then wins me, and my taste buds, over with a 10 courses parade of whimsical palate teasing/pleasing dishes. Some of my favorites: Fresh baked orange rye bread served with hand whipped orange butter … Roasted baby eggplant with red chili miso … Roasted Quail, seasoned with cumin, and served with braised mustard greens and wood – roasted sweet potato … Venison with bone-marrow braised radicchio and lemon peel … and last but not least, his Blue corn cake with quince jam, prickly pear reduction and buttermilk sherbet

Albuquerque Chaco Hotel Restaurant Food 1

Albuquerque Chaco Hotel Restaurant Food 2

Every Saturday the hotel has scheduled tours to Chaco Canyon to explore its history and culture. Jim Long, founder and CEO of Heritage Hotels & Resorts, is dedicated to “promoting our culture and celebrating our heritage with cultural partnerships”.  Heritage Hotels and Resorts, with corporate headquarters in ABQ, owns and manages properties throughout New Mexico.

Albuquerque is turning dreamers into achievers! Its affordable cost of living, job opportunities and wealth of culinary, cultural and adventure attractions offer compelling incentives for everyone seeking wide open windows of opportunity, or a great retirement lifestyle.

Glenn Pajarito, and his Rough Draft NYC team, who heads up one of the two companies that run the city’s National Marketing Campaign for the city’s Economic Development Department, describes ABQ as “one of the most dynamic and collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country… a well- kept secret that is about to go viral”. The “land of enchantment”, with 310 days of sunshine, is on a mission to become the next “best city in America to live, work and play”, and from what I experienced, it’s well on its way.

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