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Whenever Sharmin Dharas designed a new room at her Nob Hill motel, the Zazz Hotel, she asked her 2-year-old daughter what her favorite color was.
“Every week I would ask my daughter, you know, ‘What’s your favorite color?’ “Dharas said. “And, of course, as a toddler, it’s never the same.”
Whatever color tickled the little one that day, the decor of the room would be guided.
“I was designing the rooms as I went, so she really helped me with that,” Dharas said.
Dharas is renovating and reopening the mid-century motel, formerly University Lodge, as a boutique hotel 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 as the on-site speakeasy bar Z Lounge opens.
Dharas grew up at University Lodge, which her parents bought in 1990, just like her own daughter will grow up at the Zazz Hotel.
“Growing up here, I used to ride my bike in the parking lot, I used to play in the little fountain my parents made with fish and stuff out front,” Dharas said. “So I wanted the same for my daughter, you know, where she could come and play here.”
Gaming is the key to Hotel Zazz. Whimsical metal flowers adorn the railings and an oversized chess set is ready for checkmate in the yard. Dharas said she tried to make the hotel a feast for the senses; each room smells like bananas and includes bright colors and tactile elements.
“When you walk into a room, you might want to touch things,” Dharas said.
Although Dharas studied medicine and worked as a doctor in Arizona, she never stopped loving hospitality.
“We were always seeing people from all over the world – Finland, Sweden, New Zealand – and they were coming here because of the New Mexico culture and buying, for example, the turquoise next door,” Dharas said.
Dharas took over the motel from her parents in 2019, when her daughter was just one 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, number one, it’s Nob Hill; two, it is closest to the UNM; three, it’s just a cool vibe of a motel, you know, the shape of this one was great to start with,” Dharas said. “And it was my house, so why not, right?”
Dharas commissioned two Nob Hill architects, Michelle Negrette and Sarah Zahm, to design the Zazz Hotel.
“I did it on purpose where it’s Nob Hill and women, based on all of my brand values,” Dharas said.
The hotel also works with nearly 50 artists, the majority of whom are 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. Proceeds from the book help educate women in arts and culture. Guests who purchase a copy also get 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.”