AS YOU CRUISE DOWN Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, the remnants of Route 66’s once-thriving motel culture often fade into the background—boarded windows, weed-covered entryways, a dark neon sign in an empty parking lot. Just west of Old Town, however, one sprawling property is impossible to miss. The stark white paint on its Pueblo Revival exterior gleams brilliantly in the desert sun. Charming wood vigas and Santorini blue doors and windows accent its adobe walls. At the entrance, a towering vintage neon sign evokes Southwest Americana with a depiction of a Native American man surrounded by a multicolored sunburst.

Originally operating from 1937 to 2005, the tastefully renovated El Vado Motel reopened in 2018 as a boutique motel, retail space, and food court. Upon entering El Vado’s lobby, it is clear the remodel by the Portland, Oregon–based development company Palindrome Communities was not meant to cater solely to nostalgia—or tourists. To the right, a cozy taproom with a blazing adobe fireplace greets guests with local Ponderosa Brewing Company beers, St. Clair wines, and Teller vodka cocktails. Outside, folks crowd around tables in the motor court’s former parking lot turned shaded courtyard.

Relax at El Vado’s taproom. Photograph by Jakob Schiller.

The smell of fried empanadas emanates from Buen Provecho, one of six “food pods,” or micro-restaurants, constructed out of a handful of former motel room carports. Others include Happy Chickenzz, fried chicken with a Laotian bent; Cafe Chica, offering an assortment of aesthetically pleasing Italian pastries; and 5 Star Burgers, which has a special menu for dogs visiting the pet-friendly patio. “Our mantra is ‘community first,’ ” says Nate Valdez, Palindrome’s area general manager. “We wanted this to be a community gathering place, a hip and cozy neighborhood hangout where people can bike in, grab a beer, and relax.”

El Vado provides plenty of R&R specifically for overnight guests as well. Toward the back of the property, the motel’s 22 rooms surround a sparkling swimming pool and private outdoor fireplace area. Sunlight pours through the glass front-facing walls of the single rooms and minisuites. Their interiors feature mid-century furniture, vigas, and framed black-and-white photographs from Albuquerque’s Route 66 heyday, giving recognition to the historic building’s provenance.

Rooms include original wood vigas. Photograph by Jakob Schiller.

Meanwhile, modern amenities such as memory-foam beds, high-definition TVs, and organic bath products provide the kind of upscale experience one would expect at such a chic establishment. Before hitting the road, guests would be remiss not to grab a souvenir at one of the motel’s locally owned boutiques. Like the food pods, these “micro retail pods” sit neatly in a row along the property’s eastern perimeter. The converted motel rooms are small, but each shop packs in a plethora of well-curated, locally focused inventory, selling everything from cacti to handmade candles to Breaking Bad bumper stickers.

Skillfully blending past and present, El Vado is already inspiring other vintage Albuquerque motels to follow suit. But what is most important to both the folks behind these projects and the local community is that these pieces of our collective cultural history are preserved for and enjoyed by future generations. “It’s about caretaking,” says Valdez. “We want to bring back that former glory.”

Read more: Experience the nostalgia of Tucumcari's Route 66 motels.

El Vado Motel

Year built: 1937.
Renovation: 2018.
Don’t miss: In the taproom, see a section of the building’s original adobe wall exposed behind glass and accompanied by other historic relics found on-site.
Neon: 1937 original and restored depiction of a Native American man surrounded by a multicolored sunburst.

2500 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque; 505-361-1667,


Grab breakfast just down the Mother Road at Central Grill and Coffee House. As with the El Vado and Monterey motels, Central Grill blends nostalgic ambience with updated tastes. Classic New Mexican roadside diner staples (pancakes, chicken-fried steak, huevos rancheros) are elevated far beyond greasy spoon fare. Pair the fresh-baked Southern-style biscuits and creamy pepper gravy with a foamy macchiato. Then walk off your meal by exploring the shops and galleries at Old Town Plaza, located directly across the street.