Sharmin Dharas’s story isn’t just one of the American Dream come true. It’s one of an 8-year-old girl’s Nob Hill Dream come true.
“Basically, this was my childhood playground,” Dharas says of the Nob Hill neighborhood she grew up in and where she opened Hotel Zazz last year.
And when she finally got the financing to fully renovate the former University Lodge, “It opened up the world of dreams. That little girl that used to ride her bike all around here, I could finally play out all those things in my head.”
And Dharas has a lively imagination.
Hotel Zazz is meant to stimulate all the senses and does so in a most whimsical way. Splashed in bright colors and the tall Travel Lodge Sleepy Bear sign now blasting “ZAZZ,” it’s easy to spot at 3711 Central Ave. NE. The grounds are eye-catching, as well, featuring the work of 48 artists and outfitted in fanciful outdoor furniture.
“It really brings in the Lorax, Willie Wonka feel,” she says.
Such are the fantasies of an 8-year-old girl.
The daughter of immigrants who escaped Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, Dharas grew up in a different hotel a little farther up Central. She used to walk past the University Lodge on her way to classes at UNM. She went on to complete medical school at UNLV, where she met her husband.
“I told him all along that we were going to end up back here,” she says of Nob Hill.
Dharas traveled the world as a surgeon before the opportunity to return home came when she got pregnant.
You see, part of this tale includes the deal Dhara made with her parents. They told her if she would give them a grandchild, they would help her buy the hotel.
“It was a great deal for me,” she says. “I got to keep both.”
Dharas had it all worked out in her head what she wanted to do with the hotel – and on paper, too.
“We knew it would be successful; we worked out the numbers,” she says. “We knew how, we just needed to execute.”
The vision was for a locally-centric, female-based team to convert an old Route 66 roadside hotel into a modern-day boutique hotel.
Taking inspiration from the Rsvp Hotel in Bozeman, Mont., Meow Wolf and her own childhood fantasies, Dharas says she and her team set out to turn an old hotel into a bold hotel. They put together five “prototype” rooms just prior to the 2001 Balloon Fiesta.
After that, “We were booking rooms left and right,” she said.
Dharas says that gave her what she needed to secure a bank loan, opening up her world of dreams, some of which are encapsulated in the children’s book she wrote, “The Zazzy Adventures of Roozy and Raffie.”
The renovation is ongoing and there’s much more to come, like the Zazzibar Venue and Z-lounge Speakeasy, to complement the 48 rooms, which Dharas says each offer a unique visitor experience.
The smell of sweet banana Slurpy permeates the air. It’s the signature scent at Hotel Zazz.
“It’s a place that brings out the inner child,” Dharas says. “It’s fun for adults and children.”