Where it's at in Albuquerque

A revived downtown is hopping with new cafes and galleries

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  • The KiMo Theatre has been a Central Avenue fixture since opening in 1927 and is notable for its distinctive Native American – influenced detail both inside and out.

    KiMo Theatre

    David Fenton

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Downtown Albuquerque remains a work in progress, but that's part of its appeal. Take Gold Avenue, which, with its anti-mall sensibility, is emerging as a destination for upscale boutique shopping. Here you'll find the high-fashion Ruby Shoesday, a modern space where shoes are displayed like art ― and in some cases priced accordingly. But there's still an old-school shoeshine joint on the street. And by night, the music clubs take over. You won't find a better pair of local showcases than the Atomic Cantina, with its absolutely top-shelf jukebox, or its neighbor, Burt's Tiki Lounge, where the Southwest meets the South Seas.

There's a similar independent spirit over on Fourth Street at the Downtown Contemporary Art Center, a gallery and studio collective in a converted residence hotel built in the early 1900s. Its director, artist Joshua Franco, took over the gallery in 2004. For a while, it was very much a one-man show, says Franco: He vacuumed the carpets, mopped the floors, and hung the art. Still, things were slow; some days only one person stopped in.

But as downtown has revived, so too has the center. Eighteen artists have studio spaces here, with another 40 on the waiting list. There's certainly an energy to the place, with the sounds of a drumming lesson coming from upstairs, and artists stopping in at each other's studios to take a break from their work.

And like downtown Albuquerque, the center is drawing new attention. Now, Franco says, collectors from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles bound for Santa Fe are stopping in to check out the scene.

"When I lived in Santa Fe, I would pass 50 galleries, just walking the dog," says Franco. "Everybody I met was an artist. What's happening in Albuquerque may have happened in other places 10, 15, or even 100 years ago. But here I feel like I'm right in on the birth of something. I'm lucky to witness it and to be part of it."

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