Where it's at in Albuquerque

A revived downtown is hopping with new cafes and galleries

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  • Downtown Contemporary Art Center offers a showcase for local artists.

    Art gallery

    David Fenton

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The Downtown revival

Walk into the downtown Albuquerque eatery Flying Star Cafe on a weekend afternoon and you're instantly swept up by its swirling, colorful decor. This is a neighborhood hangout with style: Couples who live in new downtown lofts are enjoying lunch with their kids, and there's a lineup of students and 20-somethings on the banquettes, tethered to their iPods but surfing wireless on the Web.

Flying Star has brought new energy to this onetime gas company building designed by renowned New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem in 1950. The cafe is also a symbol of Albuquerque's increasingly vibrant downtown. It's hard to describe the area as an overnight success ― after all, people have lived here for at least 11,000 years, and the city itself is celebrating a tricentennial. Still, urban planners now tout its revival as the fastest downtown turnaround anywhere in the country.

Some may be surprised, but not Steve Wedeen. He's president and chief creative officer at the agency Vaughn Wedeen and recently was chair of the nonprofit Downtown Action Team, which guided the revitalization. He sees Albuquerque as another Austin or Portland, a medium-size city that taps into its own distinct identity instead of being a clone of anywhere else.

"That kind of depth is something that people innately sense," says Wedeen. "It's the difference between veneer and solid wood."



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