By all accounts‚ Old Town is the heart of Albuquerque. It’s where the city began. It’s where tourists flock for sightseeing‚ shopping and dining. And it’s where the locals go to return to their roots.
“A person can visit Old Town and understand what New Mexico is all about‚” says Kathleen Avila‚ who co-owns Casa de Avila‚ an Old Town shop that sells handmade jewelry‚ gifts and home décor items‚ with her husband‚ John. “It gives you a sense of our history‚ art‚ culture and architecture‚ and there are wonderful opportunities to shop and dine.”
Anchored by the historic San Felipe de Neri Church‚ which was founded in 1706‚ Old Town is home to several houses and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several of these 300-year-old structures have been converted into quaint shops and eateries.
Stella Naranjo‚ president of the Old Town Merchants Association‚ owns a jewelry shop and art gallery in a converted home that dates from the 1700s.
“The buildings in Old Town are unbelievable to look at‚” Naranjo says. “Many have thick adobe walls‚ and others are made from pieces of hard clay cut from the ground and layered on top of each other.”
Naranjo’s Gallery of Art sells paintings‚ pottery‚ handmade jewelry‚ beadwork and other local art. Naranjo enjoys doing business in Old Town because of the friendly atmosphere.
“Everyone knows each other‚ and we have customers from all over the world who stop by and visit year after year‚” she says.
Naranjo’s is one of about 25 galleries that dot Old Town‚ many of which double as working artist studios. Roughly 100 shops and a handful of interesting museums‚ including the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History‚ the Turquoise Museum and the American International Rattlesnake Museum‚ add to Old Town’s appeal. Then‚ of course‚ there’s the food.
“A lot of local flavors are here‚ like the green or red chile New Mexico is noted for. It’s a bit on the spicy side‚” Naranjo says. “Our enchiladas are different – flat‚ not rolled. And we have blue corn tortillas made from Native American blue corn.”
Notable restaurants in Old Town include La Placita Dining Rooms‚ an old hacienda that serves tacos‚ chile rellenos‚ sopapillas and American entrees; La Crepe Michel‚ a hot spot for French crepes‚ salads and quiches; Antiquity‚ often called Albuquerque’s most romantic restaurant; and High Noon‚ popular for its buffalo burgers and New Mexican fare.
A day in Old Town wouldn’t be as sweet without stopping for a treat at Rolling in Dough Bakery & Cafe or The Candy Lady.
“Rolling in Dough has great pastries‚ and The Candy Lady makes wonderful‚ unusual candy‚” Naranjo says. “She makes a fabulous green-chile fudge.”
Many visitors to Old Town choose to stay at the legendary Bottger Mansion‚ a 1910 Victorian bed and breakfast that has played host to several famous guests‚ including the notorious American gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly in the 1940s. Elvis Presley and Janice Joplin also stayed at the Bottger‚ and Frank Sinatra sang at a wedding in the courtyard.
“Our guests like to stay here particularly because they can just walk around Old Town and don’t have to drive anywhere‚” says Kathy Hiatt‚ who co-owns Bottger Mansion with her husband‚ Steve. “The Bottger is one of only four Victorian mansions in Old Town‚ and it’s the only one whose original look hasn’t been changed.”
The Bottger features eight guest rooms‚ each with its own color scheme and private bath. Breakfast often includes seasonal fresh fruit and caramel pecan French toast‚ Southwest quiche or omelets.
The Bottger sells out months in advance of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and other large events. The first weekend in December‚ Old Town hosts its highly anticipated Holiday Stroll‚ when hundreds of luminarias light up Old Town’s walkways‚ nooks and crannies.
“Visiting Old Town gives you a sense of spirituality and calmness in today’s fast-paced world‚” Naranjo says. “It’s nice to return to your roots and just enjoy.”
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