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Whenever Sharmin Dharas designed a new room at her Nob Hill motel, Hotel Zazz, she asked her 2-year-old daughter what her favorite color was.
“Every week, I asked my daughter, you know, ‘What’s your favorite color?’ ” Dharas said. “And, of course, as a toddler, it never is the same.”
Whatever color tickled the tot that day would guide the décor for the room.
“I was designing the rooms as we went, so she really helped me with that,” Dharas said.
Dharas is renovating and reopening the midcentury motel, formerly University Lodge, as a boutique hotel experience just blocks from the University of New Mexico. The hotel is currently accepting guests, with a grand opening scheduled for early October – the same month that the speakeasy Z Lounge is scheduled to open on-site.
Dharas grew up in the University Lodge, which her parents bought in 1990, just as her own daughter will grow up in Hotel Zazz.
“Growing up here, I would ride my bicycle in the parking lot, I would play in the little fountain my parents created with the fish and stuff in the front,” Dharas said. “So, I wanted that same thing for my daughter, you know, where she could come and play here.”
Play is key at Hotel Zazz. Whimsical metal flowers adorn the railings and an oversized chess set is checkmate-ready in the courtyard. Dharas said she tried to make the hotel a feast for the senses; each room smells like banana slurpees, and includes vivid colors and tactile elements.
“When you come into a room, you might want to touch things,” Dharas said.
Although Dharas studied medicine and worked as a physician in Arizona, she never stopped loving hospitality.
“We would always see people from all over the world – Finland, Sweden, New Zealand – and they would come here because of the New Mexico culture and purchase, like, the turquoise from next door,” Dharas said.
Dharas took over the motel from her parents in 2019, when her daughter was just 1 month old. She said she used to joke with her parents that, when she had a baby, they had to give her their own baby: the motel.
“I knew our place had potential because, one, it’s Nob Hill; two, it’s the closest to UNM; three, it’s just a cool vibe of a motel, you know, the shape of it was awesome to begin with,” Dharas said. “And it was my home, so why not, right?”
Dharas commissioned two Nob Hill-based architects, Michelle Negrette and Sarah Zahm, to design Hotel Zazz.
“I did it purposefully where it’s Nob Hill and females, based on my whole brand values,” Dharas said.
The hotel also works with almost 50 artists, the majority of them women or people of color, Dharas said. Even the soaps in the bathroom are made by a mother-daughter duo.
Dharas also wrote a children’s book, “The Zazzy Adventures of Roozy and Raffie,” about the hotel. The proceeds of the book help to educate women in arts and culture. Customers who buy a copy also receive 15% off their stay at Hotel Zazz.
Although Dharas wants to move away from the reputation of the old motel, she said she also wants to respect the history of the neighborhood and the building.
“Nob Hill needs something fun, something exciting, something to bring more tourists to this neighborhood, and to be like the epicenter of fun,” Dharas said. “… I want to merge the old and the new because, without the old, I can’t be the new.”