Hospitality and Entertainment Index - January
Welcome to our monthly survey of places to eat, places to stay, and entertainment in greater Downtown. Let's get right to it! 
Indian food with a serious twist, served up during a 'weird' time for the Downtown core
Tikka Hut's roll combines ingredients as diverse as pico de gallo, tomato chutney, and tamarind...
...while the tikka burger features a beef/lamb patty and curry mayo.
There's even a hummus plate on offer as part of a menu that draws on flavors from Africa, the Middle East, and the Iberian peninsula. Tikka Hut
Back in the summer of 2019, Urban Taqueria opened in a brand new building: One Central, the big new construction triumph located just north of Alvarado Transit Center that featured retail on the ground floor and housing on the stories above.

There was every reason for optimism about the place back then. The corner of First and Central was in striking distance of the convention center's crowds, to say nothing of the office workers. there was an established movie theater, and a recreational ax-throwing establishment was set to move into the building - two businesses that tend to attract people who are hungry for something substantial on either end of their visit.

Cue the pandemic, and that picture changed rather dramatically. Today, the theater is gone, the convention crowds are thin at best, and the ax-throwing company never even moved in.

Things changed quite a bit for the taqueria as well. It has the same ownership, but it's not even a taqueria anymore.

"Good God it was horrible," said Hanif Mohamed, the proprietor of Tikka Hut, as he thinks back to the darkest days of the pandemic.

Back in 2020, there were at least a few tourists over the summer, but that gave way to a winter lockdown that drove all the customers away. Last year, he closed completely for several months then reopened, managing to 50 percent of normal pre-pandemic sales at one point.

Grim times, indeed. But if there was a silver lining to the last couple of years, it was a grand experiment Mohamed launched in the fall of 2020. Rather than continue just as a taqueria, he turned his prominent storefront into a "ghost kitchen" dedicated to preparing a wide variety of foods just for delivery - basically the only restaurant model that was doing well at the time.

For a few months at least, customers in area hotels and residences could order off of nine different menus from "restaurants" that existed primarily on paper. There was a Mediterranean brand, vegan food, a mac-and-cheese option, something called "Pawsome Snacks," and Tikka Hut.

The digital food hall of sorts also turned out to be a good vetting platform. Of the nine groups of options, one menu focused on the influences the Islamic world has had on Indian food (think: more subtle flavors, more grilled items, and no curries "as of yet"). It proved a hit, and stuck around even when the ghost kitchen idea went away.

"It gave us Tikka Hut," Mohamed said. "It told us there was a need for something else."

A need for something else also describes the situation on the radically-changed corner of First and Central. There is much anticipation about whatever eventually moves into the former Century 14 movie theater across Central. A bar called Canvas Artistry just moved into One Central, but its role in making the corner a destination is still TBD. And of course, the future of office work and the volume of conventioneers is still very much up in the air.

"Not everyone has come back," Mohamed said. "Downtown is weird right now." 
A whopping 130,523 people walked through the gates at the aquarium and botanic garden in December, making it the best-attended month in the last five years at least. The numbers don't separate out River of Lights traffic (we're expecting official figures in the coming days), but at the very least it seems safe to say that the marquee event is back in a big way despite the new hourly admission cap put in place to both deal with virus concerns and generally streamline the operation (DAN, 11/29/21).

The zoo, meanwhile, had its second-best December in five years, with 16,111 attendees.
The year ended on a quiet note at the Albuquerque Museum, which saw 5,440 visitors in December. You've got just under two weeks to see Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, and Indelible Blue: Indigo Across the Globe has just begun. Facing the Rising Sun, which is all about Black homesteaders in New Mexico, opens on January 22.

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, meanwhile, had 8,779 visitors in December. Forthcoming traveling exhibits there include Dogs, a Science Tail, which opens February 5.
Petition started to save Plaza Don Luis murals
Fans of two new murals at Old Town's Plaza Don Luis have launched an online petition drive to keep them ahead of a meeting today that will discuss whether they violate historic preservation rules in the district (DAN, 1/3/21).

The petition is directed to the city's Landmarks Commission, city government as a whole, and Mayor Tim Keller. It launched midday yesterday and had received nearly 450 signatures as of about 9 p.m.

The commission meets today at 3 p.m. to take up the matter of the murals and several other Plaza Don Luis renovations that went ahead without a "certificate of appropriateness," a city sign-off that is required for most exterior alterations in Old Town.

Jasper Riddle, who bought Plaza Don Luis early last year and commissioned the renovations and murals, is applying for a certificate to have them retroactively approved. City staff is recommending that commissioners grant partial approval of the request but that the murals be removed, "as they are not in keeping with the historic integrity and sense of place of Old Town."
Daily flight to Austin begins
American Airlines is operating the service, effective January 4. Details on the debut here.
Hotel occupancy report
National hotel occupancy started the new year at 54 percent, which is roughly 10 percent higher than the same time period in 2019, according to STR, an analytics firm. The latest local numbers published by Visit Albuquerque are from September and show a 65.6 percent occupancy rate, down 6.1 percent from the same month in 2019.
Short-term rentals hold steady over the new year
The 87102 zip code had 200 listings earlier this week, which is a higher level than all of the months in 2021. 87104 had 160, roughly where the number has been hovering for the last couple of months but still relatively high compared to most of last year.
Occupancy over the next eight weeks, meanwhile, is basically unchanged from December: 53.4 percent this month compared to 54.8 percent last month. 

And that's the Hospitality and Entertainment index! Click here for sources and methods.
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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