Looking to add some color (big color!) into the oft-dark winter months? Consider a visit to Albuquerque, which is just over an hour via plane from Las Vegas and features one of the Southwest’s most stunning, vibrant, imaginative new boutique hotels in Hotel Zazz.
The concept is the brainchild and legacy of Dr. Sharmin Dharas, a second-generation hotelier. Dr. Dharas is the first in her family to attain a college degree and the first Muslim-American executive director of Emerge New Mexico. She is a physician by trade as well as the founder of Enhancing Higher Education, a nonprofit that takes nursing students from America to her parents’ native country of Tanzania to help train local first responders and medical staff in basic first aid and CPR.
While at first blush a buzzy boutique hotel may seem odd for a doctor, but Dr. Dharas’ parents purchased the property where Hotel Zazz now sits when Dr. Dharas was just 8 years old.
“Back then, it was a motel, and it was my first real home. Yes, we lived there while I was growing up,” says Dr. Dharas. “My parents worked at the then-motel 24 hours a day; work that helped pay for me to attend medical school.”
All these years later, when the opportunity arose to re-imagine the space into something a little more elevated to fit the evolving region surrounding it, Dr. Dharas jumped at the challenge and opportunity.
“The U-shaped property naturally allows for the space to serve as its own little microcosm, so it just took an inventive eye and many local artisans to help with the transformation,” says Dr. Dharas. “My vision was for the interior to feel as though I was welcoming you into my living room – because once upon a time it was my living room – as well as to showcase the space as a playground for all ages, both couples and families alike.”
Nearly 50 artists, all from the Southwest and many people of color and/or mothers like Dr. Dharas, contributed to the re-birth Hotel Zazz. Among them:
- Roberta Easter and Chrystal Trykoski, a mother-daughter duo who own Enchanted Soap. The locally-owned brand makes quality bath and body products. Each of their products, available in guest rooms and suites, are made from wild-foraged natural and nourishing ingredients to heal, invigorate and inspire.
- Jai Myer, the New Mexico-born artist who designed the living lobby wall. He is heralded across the Southwest for his exploration of texture, color and feeling through a polarizing meld of beauty and grotesque in abstract organic landscapes through his free association technique.
- Sarah Vogle, an Albuquerque-based artist known for painting, making, building and decorating. She contributed to the hotel by designing a living tree installation on property.
- Karim Rashid, a prolific furniture maker and designer with 4,000 designs in production and more than 300 awards across 40 countries, created the custom outdoor furniture.
- Mauricio Ramirez, a public art master, developed the hotel’s exterior mural.
- Lena Horgan, who works in many facets of art but in 2020 began using up-cycled sheet metal as her canvas and a metal grinder as her brush, designed the metal flowers across the property.
In addition to the artisan products and design work, careful attention to detail was also spent re-designing the well-appointed 49 rooms and suites as well. Today, each room tells a story through unique art and bold chromatic visuals while providing modern amenities ranging from luxe bath products, linens to wi-fi-enabled smart TVs and a perfect selfie wall in each room.
Across the property, the playground feel teased in the rooms continues to come alive via a life-sized chess board and bustling outdoor pool with regular evening entertainment including dive-in movies.
“It is actually a full-scale pool theater, to be exact,” says Dr. Dharas. “This space, which is 10 feet deep, was built in the 1950’s before there were codes, and it is grandfathered in to stay. The benefit of the pool design allows for sun in the day but ample professional lighting in the evening.”
The pool theater is not the only surprise in store for guests. “I wanted the exact area where I slept and spent my time playing to be something a little different than a room, suite or main event space,” says Dr. Dharas. “Enter the Z-Lounge Speakeasy.”
The dimly lit, romantic bar and lounge, accessible only to hotel guests and via a secret entry, serves as the primary culinary and cocktail hub on property, with gourmet nibbles and locally sourced specialty cocktails as well as beer, wine and mocktails.
“We also have a fabulous relationship with dozens of hotspots in the area, so we always want to connect directly with guests in advance or upon approval to help curate the perfect attractions, excursions and gastronomic adventures in our backyard,” says Dr. Dharas.
Other reasons to stay? There is a banana ice pop hour every day. And plans are in place in 2023 to launch a hotline that delivers Champagne straight to guests’ doors upon request.
And finally, each guest who purchases Dr. Dharas’ children’s book, The Zazzy Adventures of Roozy and Raffie, while staying gets a discount on his/her/their room. The book is meant to be a companion piece to any stay.
“In the book, after her mom checked in the last guest and turned in for the night, Roozy wanders into the unique guest room that has never been rented before,” says Dr. Dharas. “As she opens the door to the dimly lighted room, she sees a glowing hole in the wall. It slowly gets brighter as it spirals open.”
According to Dr. Dharas, as Roozy walks toward the hole, she sees a mini giraffe, who readers soon will learn is Raffie (and guests will quickly recognize from his murals in the hotel), glowing magically in front of her. “Roozy instantly knows that they could be best friends, and the book delves into their many adventures together right at Hotel Zazz,” says Dharas.
For more information, visit www.hotelzazz.com.
–Alison Bailin Batz