WHEN THE MEMPHIS P-TAILS took to the Lobo Theater stage in October, the Albuquerque blues band was one of the first acts to perform in the space. As guitarist Darin Goldston crooned the refrain, “I’m walking out on you, baby,” concertgoers grooved on the dance floor, accompanied by Electric Playhouse light projections on the brick walls to officially raise the curtain on the third act of one of Albuquerque’s oldest theaters.
Set on historic Route 66, the Lobo debuted with a red-carpet gala on August 19, 1938. For more than six decades, the classic movie house screened European, independent, and second-run films, but it halted operations in 2000. A handful of churches, including Calvary Nob Hill Church, occupied it until the pandemic shuttered those gatherings, too.
J. Richard Rivas, managing broker of Commercial Real Estate Services, oversaw leases of the theater and much of the block for the owners. After a parade of not-quite-right potential tenants, he decided to reinvent the Nob Hill landmark himself—and perhaps the neighborhood as well.
“A lot of Albuquerque businesses have closed,” says Rivas. “It will take the right kind of business to make the neighborhood grow again.” With experience at the Duke City’s Restaurant André and Werewolf Café in the 1990s, as well as operating a catering company, Rivas sees the Lobo Lounge & Event Center as just right.
In the works since April 2021, the theater’s renovation started with inspiration from the women’s bathroom. A floral pattern edging an original, 10-foot-diameter mirror motivated Rivas’s reimagining of the lobby as a swanky lounge. The vintage makeover seamlessly blends old and new with a reclaimed wooden bar, Art Deco lighting, and a series of mirrors etched to mimic the original ones. Men’s and women’s restroom signs, a table with foldout drawers to store film reels, and a still unopened safe are holdovers from the precursor theater.
The bar serves classic Manhattans, Sazeracs, and the signature Paramount Penicillin, which nods to the time when that film studio owned the theater. Rivas is still working out the details for food delivery from neighborhood restaurants.
With 300 original but restored seats, the intimate theater serves as a special event center with a dance floor, state-of-the-art sound system, and upper-level VIP seating. Since its October opening, the Lobo has hosted a New Mexico Music Hall of Fame concert and multiple Lobo Sessions, at which regional artists jam with local musicians. Rivas anticipates that, with another venue in town, more touring acts will book Albuquerque shows.
Yet he wants the Lobo Theater to strike a unique chord in a town that has already witnessed the historic 1924 Sunshine and 1941 El Rey theaters becoming live music venues featuring hip-hop, heavy metal, and electronica. “I wanted to create somewhere I could take my wife,” says Rivas, who plans to book more blues, soul, and traditional acts. “That’s a big deal for me.”