1 Nob Hill, New Mexico | Learning From Strangers

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Nob Hill, New Mexico

Central Avenue’s Nob Hill is the original Main Street of Albuquerque. It’s a mile-stretch of historic Route 66 and is the epicenter of transient-made-local flavor. Named after San Francisco’s Nob Hill, the Albuquerque Nob Hill is composed of irregular shops, boutiques, pubs, nightclubs, galleries and restaurants. The Nob Hill neighborhood is the axis where nocturnal beings meet diurnal beings and provides such visitors and patrons a tangled harmony of intrigue suitable for just about any palate. Despite its marked uniqueness and neon outlined personality (literally), Nob Hill wasn’t always a hustling and bustling focal point of Albuquerque.

 

Originally just a quaint and flowering neighborhood located east of Albuquerque’s downtown area, it was a place at which families returned to from a long day of work and where they applauded the brilliance of our Southwestern sunsets from their adobe-clad porches. Furthermore, Nob Hill was Albuquerque’s first suburb, as opposed to a barrio, and was part of the University of New Mexico area. Being so far east from Downtown Albuquerque, not even the city proper’s street car system made it out to Nob Hill.

1937, however, would mark the start of a new dawn for this suburban stretch when Central Avenue became a chunk of Historic Route 66. Throughout the era, which was the age of the Great Depression, Nob Hill was visited by the likes of hopeful Americans heading West looking for work, love and new beginnings.

Moreover, Route 66 routes from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, Illinois. Despite the common thought that this historic route trails straight across all eight states, the route actually makes a detour here in New Mexico. Up until 1937, the Historic 66 routed into New Mexico via Santa Rosa; way on the edge of the state, then jetted north to Santa Fe, and finally came down and connected again with the original Route 66 artery. In 1937, the government opened up Route 66 through Nob Hill. At the time, Central Ave. morphed from a country road to being the only paved road routing through New Mexico.

Today Nob Hill is visited by the famous. It has received adoration from Samuel L. Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Tina Fey and many more. Most outstanding are the area’s prominent business men & women, who, dreadlocked or purple haired, are the ones to thank for Nob Hill’s welcoming and eclectic spirit.

Meet Paula, co-owner of Birdlanda groovy hippie store that’s been in business since 1994. Paula is an insatiably perfect blend of everything Birdland reflects: creation, color, and cordiality.

Paula sells locally blown glass pipes, accessories, vintage poster art and quality tested dry herb and concentrate electronics. She’s all about sustainable connections, as everything, yes everything, Birdland markets comes from local suppliers. Furthermore, Birdland is making headway by becoming Nob Hill’s first medical cannabis dispensary. 

Kitty-corner to Birdland is Astro-Zombies, a haven for Manga manics, comic jocks and, as the store manager Joe told me, “We just sell cool stuff.” Now heading on 17 years of perpetual prosperity, Astro-Zombies is a known sanctuary for those in love with pop culture and fandom everything.

What’s more is that Astro-Zombies has been visited by The Goonies babe, Josh Brolin; Director of The Avengers, Joss Whedon; The Walking Dead comic genius, Robert Kirkman; and countless others. Evidence of their “dropping in”, according to store manager Joe, are their doodles on the Astro-Zombie ceiling.

Next door is Larry’s Hats; a micro shop specializing in hats that have, no joke, been frozen in time and reflect styles of the Victorian era, the Gilded Age, and 1940’s period zoot suit fedoras and pork pie hats. Ms. Julie, a part-timer of the joint and longtime friend of the store’s owner Larry Koch (pronounced “cook”), was a character of true jubilance as she welcomed me into the shop. Here, she is showcasing one of her favorite hats, and one she says, “is just my color.”

Next, we visited Masks Y Mas; a local custom furniture and unique gift shop gushing with glitter laden candy skulls, Dia de los Muertos figurines, and terrifyingly lovely canvas art. Kiko Torres, store owner, sure did hit the nail on the head by providing Nob Hill with its very own international anthology of magical, mystical and esoteric creations.

Last we toured Sachs Body Modification where we were welcomed by a green and seducing vixen who showcased her supple and tattooed mannequin breasts in the storefront window. Upon entering, we were greeted by a wax phallus that exhibited countless astounding piercings. 

Of course there is plenty more exploration and adventure offered in Nob Hill, but it’s an area that requires multiple days of inspection and probing. It’s a place that one must visit multiple times a year, every season, and for every event to truly understand its complexity, style and historical foundation. So, pay the place a visit yourself! 

Read about El Zapatero de Nob Hill, a shoemaker whose been making boots for 40-something years in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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