The Lobo Theater in Nob Hill first opened its doors on Aug. 19, 1938 with a lavish red carpet event featuring spotlights, fireworks and a live radio broadcast. Now the man behind the venue's latest revival vows, "I'm gonna resurrect it on the same day."
The Lobo ceased operating as a movie theater in 2000 and was eventually refurbished as the Calvary Nob Hill Church. The church shut its doors in late 2019, and the space sat empty throughout the 2020 pandemic. But J. Richard Rivas, owner of Commercial Real Estate Services NM, is in the process of revamping the space as a "premier music venue." Rivas owns several other commercial properties on the block, leasing them to a variety of businesses. Rather than wait to find an appropriate tenant for the 80-plus-year-old theater, Rivas is taking matters into his own hands.
"We're sticking with a 1940s theme," says Rivas. "We're keeping a lot of the original bathroom signs, the old film reels. We're keeping it in the same kind of vibe." The World War II era movie theater's lobby will be transformed into the Lobo Lounge, a "groovy, 1940s-themed bar." The bar is in the process of obtaining its liquor license and will highlight local beers and liquors. There will also be an expanded snack bar area featuring a variety of upscale food items. "Instead of hot dogs and popcorn, we're looking to do some business with local people that are around us, working with them to develop some new food ideas." Rivas is talking with restaurants around Nob Hill about featuring their food at the Lobo. Patrons will be able to order food items from nearby restaurants (Zinc and Crazy Fish are possibilities) off a phone app, and the food will be delivered to their seats inside the theater.
The 400-seat theater itself will be transformed into the Lobo Events Center. The balcony seating area will have its own bar and could be used for private parties, while the floor space will add or subtract seating, depending on whether or not dance space is required for a concert. Rivas hopes to book a mix of local and national acts, while allowing folks to rent out the space for everything from "Christmas parties to birthday parties, movie premieres, jazz series, blues series, country series."
In addition to his work in Albuquerque's real estate and construction businesses, Rivas served as GM for the fine dining spot Restaurant Andre and helped build the Northeast Heights hotspot Werewolf Cafe. His experience in the hospitality biz speaks for itself. "I used to have a catering company called Creative Catering. We catered concert backstages from Albuquerque to Santa Fe all the way to Arizona. I've got backstage passes signed by Tina Turner, Plant and Page, George Straight." All that time backstage gave Rivas the music bug, and he's eager to start getting local bands into his new venue. "We also founded this thing called Lobo Sessions on Tuesdays. We bring in a featured artist, all big-time local players, and they get to do a jam session. The trials runs have been absolutely incredible."
Last Friday, the Lobo Lounge and Events Center offered audiences a sneak preview of things to come with a live concert featuring local Grateful Dead tribute band The Deal. The show sold out. More concerts are being scheduled ahead of the official Aug. 19 opening date. "We're still under construction," says Rivas. "But I want people to see what we're up to."
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