Two wine tasting operations and one taproom are headed for Old Town as a key property changes hands

Expect extensive renovations at Plaza Don Luis in the next few months, with a soft opening around Memorial Day

The move, made possible only by a 2019 city ordinance change, could have major implications for the area

One barbecue joint has already moved in, and a bakery will arrive soon
Plaza Don Luis, famous for its annual tree lighting event, is one of the largest properties in Old Town.
At least two wine tastings rooms and a taproom will soon set up shop in Old Town, a move that promises to shake up the tourist-heavy district known for rolling up the streets fairly early in the evening.

The new businesses will move into Plaza Don Luis, a complex of buildings just northwest of Old Town Plaza Park, as part of the property's sale last week to Jasper Riddle, the owner of Noisy Water Winery. The winery operates tasting rooms in Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, Red River, and Santa Fe, and will open another in the Old Town property.

Sheehan Winery, which is located in the South Valley, will also open a tasting room on the site, as will a new operation called Outpost Taproom, Riddle told DAN. The New Mexico Wine Growers Association may also open a tasting room.

Riddle said forthcoming shops would also include the Lapis Room art gallery and a second location for Ruidoso-based Happy Hiker. Units on the second story of the complex will be devoted to short-term rentals. Fat T's, a barbecue restaurant that opened recently (article below), will stay on, and a bakery called Flying Roadrunner is slated to open in the next couple of months.

Renovations to the property look to be extensive and were already underway last week. The spruce-up job will include stucco repair, paint, and a general revamp of the seating situation ahead of a projected soft opening around Memorial Day.

"It's going to be a lot of lipstick," Riddle said.

Riddle himself is no stranger to Old Town. His wife Bailey Riddle is the founder of Old Barrel Tea Company (DAN, 9/1/20), which has a location on Plaza Street.

The change in ownership marks a bittersweet end-of-an-era for Karen Aceves, the proprietor of Aceves Old Town Basket & Rug Shop and the now-former owner of Plaza Don Luis. Her husband Henry bought the basket shop in 1982 and developed the larger property in the mid-1990s. Karen Aceves, having retired in 1997, took over the shop after he died in 2017.
This sign appeared outside the Aceves Old Town Basket & Rug shop last week.
"There's always sadness in selling family property," Aceves said, adding that "after all these years it's kind of nice to know I can retire again."

The Noisy Water tasting room will move into the basket shop's space.

Plaza Don Luis had been on the market before the pandemic hit, and while the upheaval of 2020 caused a delay, she says she's happy with the new owner and his plans.

"All I can say is it's going to be a revitalization of Old Town," Aceves said. "Plaza Don Luis is going to get a great makeover."

All the new investment is sure to change this prominent corner of Old Town, but whether there are also knock-on effects around the neighborhood is a matter that will be closely watched in the coming months and years. Wine tasting and taprooms have a way of attracting larger, younger, and potentially more local crowds willing to stay well into the evening, which would be a novelty in Old Town.

"They tend to start gathering momentum," said Kathy Hiatt, who runs the Bottger Mansion of Old Town, a bed and breakfast on San Felipe. "This could be the turning point Old Town has needed for decades."

"I think it could bring more traffic, more people," added Marie Coleman, the owner of Church Street Café. "I think it's a great idea."

"New blood is always welcome in Old Town, and especially stores and things that aren't the same old mix of Indian jewelry, tee shirts, and southwest knick-knacks," said John Hoffsis, the owner of Treasure House Books. "The taproom would certainly be appealing to locals, too, including me."

The migration of wine tasting operations and taprooms to Old Town was made possible only by a largely unheralded amendment, pushed by City Councilor Isaac Benton, to a 2019 bill that dealt mostly with signage regulations for the historic district. Previously, such operations had been allowed only as part of a restaurant, but the new regulations opened the door to New Mexico-based alcohol producers who wanted to set up a stand-alone shop. That simultaneously attracted the support of the New Mexico Wine Growers Association and deftly excluded the sorts of cheap packaged liquor sales that neighborhoods often fight hard to keep far away, as Old Town itself once did to prevent the Walgreens at Rio Grande and Central from selling alcohol.

Jasper Riddler credited the regulatory change with his decision to buy Plaza Don Luis: "That's the only reason I'm here," he said.

Left Turn Distilling, meanwhile, is slated to open a taproom and restaurant just up the street, at the corner of Romero and Mountain. Though originally scheduled for last year, the opening has been delayed by the pandemic and by a permitting process that is taking longer than expected, owner Brian Langwell said last November.
Smoke signals: How Fat T's plans to make a success of its first storefront
TOP: The tools of the barbecue trade. BOTTOM: Owner Tylor Torres shows off the city's official stamp of approval for his new location in Plaza Don Luis. (Photos courtesy of the restaurant.)
Opening a restaurant is always a gamble. That counts double during a pandemic that has hit Old Town particularly hard, and perhaps triple when you are located in an oft-forgotten back corner of Plaza Don Luis.

But despite all that, Tylor Torres, the owner of the barbecue restaurant Fat T's, has a few things that are definitely going his way. One is the new owner of the complex, who looks set to bring a bigger crowd to the area. Another is Outpost Taproom, which is moving in nearby and has agreed to facilitate the easy delivery of meals to its customers. And still another is the distinct possibility that customers will just follow their noses, attracted by the restaurant's large smoker.

"It's going to smell throughout a quarter of a mile at least," Torres said. "It's going to smell like Texas Oak."

Also part of the outreach plan: Turkey legs. They are the sort of portable and eye-catching food that people might carry around to other parts of Old Town, Torres reckons, subtly advertising the point of origin.

Torres has been in business since 2019, having focused on catering and brewery pop-ups before making the jump to a storefront in recent weeks. Though from Albuquerque, he says his style of barbecue is decidedly Texan. He smokes meat at between 215 and 220 degrees with a basic salt-and-pepper rub, something he says is appreciated by locals and expats from our neighbor to the east alike.

"They're holding me to a high standard," Torres said. "And I'm ready for it."
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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