Long before Downtown’s revival or East Downtown’s emergence, Nob Hill was Albuquerque’s “cool” district. And so it remains. This stretch of Central Avenue is packed with shops, restaurants, and galleries; you can browse, eat, and appreciate art for hours without ever getting in a car. It’s flanked north and south by tidy residential neighborhoods full of professional families and young couples fixing up their mid-century bungalows. Nob Hill is home to holiday festivals and the beloved ABQ Pride parade, and is infused with the youthful energy emanating from UNM. Head east on Central from I-25 for barely a mile and a half and you’re there. Here’s an itinerary to fill, from late Friday afternoon through as much of Sunday as your feet can handle. Get ready to get your kicks on this small stretch of Route 66.
After deciding “Let’s do the Nob Hill gallery thing!” but before arriving at “Hello, Albuquerque!,” you’ll need to find a place to stay. There are no hotels in Nob Hill proper, and that’s just fine—little more than a mile away is Hotel Parq Central, a historian’s dream stay. A 1920s medical building completely rebuilt to evoke the glamour of that decade, it features a rooftop bar and next-door yoga classes. Rates start at around $150, but that includes breakfast, WiFi, and shuttle service to the airport and, more important, Nob Hill.
Or: To feel like a local in residential Nob Hill, consider a vacation rental. HomeAway.com list more than a half-dozen options within walking distance of Central Avenue, most priced in the $100 range. Choices include a stand-alone house with a backyard rose garden, and studios featuring vibrant décor, hardwood floors, and a shared rooftop space overlooking the neighborhood (also displayed at StudiosNobHill.com).
Begin on any Friday afternoon or evening—preferably at the start of the month, when extra goodies are on offer thanks to First Friday, put on by ARTScrawl, Albuquerque’s monthly citywide gallery tour. Many galleries stay open later than the usual closing time of 6 p.m., open new exhibitions, and generally kick up their heels. Find details at artscrawlabq.org.
A perfect time to visit Mariposa Gallery? Before the dinner bell. Hugging the corner of Central and Amherst, the gallery’s front door invites foot traffic. Lithe and fashionable owner Liz Dineen is everything you expect in a hip gallery maven, bubbling over with passion about her business. She tells visitors about upcoming shows, like the opening in May of the works of Mary Thomas and Kenyon Thomas, a daughter and father inspired by the vibrant hues of wildlife, from birds to antlered deer.
After that small taste, walk around the corner to Il Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail prepared by local talent Ben Williams. Or simply try their house-made Limoncello and feel a sunny, citrusy warmth. Dinner next door at classic destination restaurant Scalo Northern Italian is an easy and fine choice, or head a few blocks over to quench your microbrew thirst at Tractor Brewing Company, where the beer is lauded and the food is, well, nonexistent. No worries, for a symbiotic relationship has blossomed between Tractor and local food trucks, including The Supper Truck, serving a rotating menu that lately has included such Southern inspirations as catfish tacos, shrimp ’n’ grits, and fried-chicken sandwiches.
Saturday begins with the comestibles of your choice, as most galleries open after 11 a.m., allowing for a leisurely late and sustaining breakfast at a spot like Limonata Italian Street Food Caffe, on Silver Avenue, one block south of Central. After coffee and a grilled croissant with Nutella or a tempting coconut-milk waffle, take a walk to Carlisle just north of Central to what may well be the most wonderfully weird gallery in the state. The Stranger Factory is filled with surreal, fantastical paintings that mimic the spookier toys we knew as children—such as the innocent doll with shifty eyes we wanted turned around or out of the room when it was time for bed. Brandt Peters and Kathie Olivas opened the place just two years ago in homage to the “lowbrow” genre called narrative pop surrealism, hallmark features of which include figures with eerie, oversize eyes and pale complexions.
Continue to burn your morning energy by heading south on Carlisle, up the hill to Lead Avenue, then turn east for a downhill stroll just past Washington to the day’s most distant gallery, The Artistic Image. Serving artists and shoppers, the striking maroon building houses a photography gallery, as well as services from framing to digital imaging and classroom studios. Local photographers are the focus, from the supersaturated scenes of David Kelton to Allen Maestas’s dramatic, silvery landscapes.
Walk north a few blocks, then head west on Central, to catch a handful of attractions on the way, galleries and notable shops alike. At Morningside Drive is Cowboys & Indians Antiques, in business since 1995 and thriving. Were the layout not so crowded, the selection not so diverse, many items could easily be shown in a sparsely appointed modern gallery. The owners tell me most items date from before 1960, but a cursory look reveals many far older: frontier-era chaps, 19th-century pottery from several Pueblos, Pacific Northwest relics, even late-1800s engraved spoons inscribed with nicknames or symbols that tie them to a specific owner.
For lunch, circle around for the Saturday “blunch” at Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro, where the coffee is perfect and the fried chicken and waffles never fail. Zinc also has a delicious happy hour, from 5 to 7 p.m., in their downstairs Cellar Bar, with drink specials and fancy-pants bar food (e.g., duck-confit eggrolls).
Back on the trail, you can find a mishmash of collectibles at Sole Art & Antiques, mostly from the last few generations. Buried among period furniture are delicate paintings, jewelry, woodwork, and, yes—fine art. You could nearly stumble over antique cobbler’s molds while making a beeline for a handcrafted wooden cross decorated with three dozen metal milagros (traditional Mexican religious charms). Add color to your home with an original abstract by oil painter Roberta Ferris. Those are just a few examples of the curios and crafts hidden among these winding aisles. Sole is but one of more than a half-dozen antique shops in an area ripe for serious home decorating missions. Another block and you’ll arrive at Newgrounds Print Gallery and Matrix Fine Art, neighboring spaces dedicated to collections nurtured by owner Regina Held, a graduate of UNM’s Master of Fine Arts program. Since 2000, the print space has featured works by local and international artists, with recent emphases on Japan and Latin America. In 2002, Held expanded to build a full nontoxic printing workshop and classroom, available for artists to share through a membership program. It’s the equivalent of the owner of a kitchenware store building a professionally appointed test kitchen in which inspired amateur cooks can create. In 2006, Held opened Matrix Fine Art, next door, to show off paintings, photography, and ceramics in a swanky space with hardwood floors.
For dinner, find satisfaction at one of two dramatically different possibilities: locally raised gourmet burgers at Bistronomy B2B, or Albuquerque’s best French bistro, P’tit Louis Bistro. At the latter, Christophe is your live-wire host; the menu emphasizes the classics, and while the daily special is always a hit, the Moules Roquefort is reliably perfect and not too filling, leaving room for the their puckery Lemon Tart. After dinner, take in a movie at The Guild Cinema. It’s the best place to watch flicks that aren’t showing on the big screens all over town, from classic Hitchcock to indie hits. Tickets are reasonably priced ($5–$8), and the popcorn comes with real butter.
Sunday morning, have a fantastic brunch at Nob Hill Bar & Grill, where gourmet skills meet such classic fare as eggs Benedict or biscuits and gravy. Though brunch begins at 11 a.m., alcohol won’t flow until noon, per state law, so mimosa fans should time their meals accordingly. After brunching, revisit some of yesterday’s favorites (to pick up that item you admired and now can’t get out of your mind), take in the antique shops, or just browse and buy delightful gifts at Papers!, a shop specializing in—you guessed it—all things paper, from notecards to wrapping paper, for making that good present you just bought great.
You can hardly miss the vibrant visual feast when walking by Masks y Mas, and the interior just gets better. Masks, Day of the Dead memorabilia, shirts, wall art, sculpture—it’s impossible to not buy something. Finally, for any unframed art you may have purchased, find supplies to finish the task at Frame City Picture Framing & Gallery, a locally owned spot for everything from simple frames to massive custom jobs.
While Nob Hill might not have galleries by the dozen, what can be found there ranges from the classically lovely to the fantastic and the weird—a true reflection of Albuquerque’s spirit.
Andrea Feucht is a writer, runner, eater, and an explorer of Albuquerque. You can find her at foodloversnm.com.