Until the anomaly of 2020, Albuquerque tourism had been steadily on the rise for the better part of a decade, with both the number of visitors and the amount of money those visitors fed into our economy increasing year after year.
While many local entrepreneurs saw this as a sign to get involved in the tourism business, none took it to nearly the same level as Jesse Herron and his business partner, Mike Silva. They met while working for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (now Visit ABQ), and decided to go into business for themselves, opening a series of enterprises that created unique experiences for visitors and locals alike.
“We jumped into the tour industry in 2009 with ABQ Trolley Co.,” Jesse wrote in response to a series of email questions. “We started doing brewery tours in 2011, and we established a good rapport with local breweries like Marble, La Cumbre and Il Vicino (now Canteen). The connection with those breweries and even more expanded in 2015 when we began the Duke City Pedaler.”
(As an aside, Stoutmeister got to ride on the Pedaler on one of its first trips from Marble to Tractor and other breweries in the Wells Park/downtown area.)
In 2014, Jesse came across some available property in Wells Park and decided to put his brewery connections to good use.
“I had made some great relationships and friendships in the hospitality and beer industry, and it gave me the confidence to open up something else in that industry,” he wrote.
As far as opting for a bed and brew instead of breakfast, that part felt obvious to Jesse for multiple reasons.
“I strived to flip the script on the traditional B&B concept entirely (additionally, I’m not much of a morning person),” he wrote. “Rather, people have embraced booking a ‘room with a brew.’ The ‘brew’ concept was inspired by the idea that beer brings people together. That is the underlying basis and hope for the venture: to bring people from all walks of life together over a New Mexican beer.”
With the uniting factor of beer in mind, Jesse had an exceptional idea.
“I had the property listed on Airbnb since 2015, but I wanted something more unique and something that I could have fun with,” he wrote. “So, I googled ‘bed and brew’ and sure enough, it was a thing. Although, it’s still a new type of lodging and there are only a dozen or so ‘bed and brews’ in the US.”
With the likes of Dogfish Head Brewing (The Dogfish Inn in Delaware), and BrewDog Brewery (Doghouse Hotel and Brewery in Columbus, Ohio), adding accommodations to their repertoire, Jesse saw an opportunity to keep Albuquerque on the national beer map.
“The uniqueness appeals to a growing demographic that doesn’t want to stay at a corporate hotel chain,” he wrote. “They actively seek out unique lodging options … an immersion into a locale where they can embrace the local culture. I think you definitely get that here.”
In true Albuquerque fashion, the Painted Lady is located in a building that is drenched in sordid, wild west history. Around 1904, a Spanish immigrant named Cesario ‘Sario’ Gonzales, opened the Swastika Saloon (referring to the original meaning of the swastika symbol as one of life and prosperity) which also served as a brothel full of ‘painted ladies’. This house of ill repute was the site of multiple violent bar fights, stabbings, and even murders, and its tainted history left a mark that refuses to fade.
“When I first bought the property, a neighbor (who turned out to be a relative of the family that ran the brothel/saloon), told me it was ‘haunted as hell,’ ” Jesse wrote.
The neighbor wasn’t mistaken, as Jesse and others have experienced a wide variety of paranormal experiences in the building.
“He then mentioned how the family turned to bootlegging during Prohibition, how they buried their money on the property because they didn’t trust banks, and that Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett stayed here,” Jesse wrote.
The Painted Lady was even featured on an episode of the Travel Channel show, Ghost Adventures, in November 2020. Recognizing that a haunted hotel is a draw for some, the B&B now offers a Brews & Boos package for patrons who enjoy a spook with their suds.
Opening the state’s first bed & brew was an arduous journey, involving multiple licenses, zoning changes, and procuring more real estate (which meant even more zoning changes).
“When you tell the local government that you are starting something that doesn’t currently exist, like a ‘bed and brew,’ they all sort of scratch their heads because there is no precedent,” he wrote. “Now, the entire property (just about an acre) is zoned MX-T with special uses for event facility, brewery (artisanal manufacturing) and taproom.
“We’ve been providing overnight guests with two beers per day since August 3, 2018 (International Beer Day). The State B&B liquor license permits serving 24 ounces of beer per guest, per day. This has worked great for us and it definitely highlights local craft beer (and a lot of the beer is sourced from Wells Park breweries).”
He finally received his small brewer license toward the end of last year, but views the brewery aspect of this business more as an additional benefit for overnight guests and event attendees than a business venture all its own.
“Rather, we will be brewing solely for our overnight guests and also to serve our event guests (weddings, primarily),” he wrote. “I’ve been getting a few phone calls a week from locals that want to come over for a beer and it just doesn’t make sense for us to be open to the public like a traditional brewery.
“Once we can ‘mass gather’ again, we will continue our monthly ‘Ghost of Painted Ladies Past’ magic show and other events that will attract locals and give them a chance to have a beer over here.”
The property also features a vintage ‘AlbuRquerque’ trolley car that will serve as the taproom for the daily guest ‘hoppy hour.’
Despite not being a traditional brewery, Jesse isn’t skimping on the setup, receiving help from Donavan Lane of Southwest Grape and Grain/Harmon Brewing to build the brewing system in the property’s historic adobe casita that served as a bakery in the early 1900s.
“The space will serve as a brewery for us, indoor event space and a home for the non-profit, Pink Warrior House,” Jesse wrote. “I think brewing our own beer will strengthen our reputation as a destination for craft beer lovers, provide a better ‘beer-centric’ experience for our guests, and ultimately provide a new revenue stream.”
Drawing inspiration from both personal preference and the history of the property, he is anxious to get brewing and isn’t afraid to experiment.
“Personally, I’m a huge fan of IPAs, sours and dark beer. But, I’d love to get creative and brew some really odd beers; stuff that no one else is doing,” Jesse wrote. “I imagine a four-beer core lineup with some local brews filling in, too. I’ve got a long list of names that largely pay tribute to our haunted aspect. Let’s just say that there will definitely be a beer called ‘Bad Touch Succubus!’ ”
As with the rest of the tourism industry, the pandemic wasn’t kind to the Painted Lady.
“Luckily, our size has played to our favor,” he wrote. “It’s a lot easier to fill two suites instead of 20 or 100-plus. March and April were awful, though. Pretty much every reservation that we had on the books in March and all the way through October was cancelled.
“On the upside, it gave me some time to do a wealth of ‘COVID projects.’ There’s been a ton of new things that we’ve launched or improved to better the guest experience. When the renovation happened back in 2014-15, we discovered a bunch of cool ‘artifacts.’ These range from pieces of original wallpaper, a checkerboard dance floor (possibly from the saloon), the sole of a lady’s shoe, chunks of adobe, plaster revealing the original wall colors, clothing, razor blades, old photos, etc. I spent some time showcasing these items in various shadow boxes that are now mounted in each suite. It’s sort of like a mini-museum of the place.”
As the owner and only member of the staff, a haunted bed & brew and brand-new brewery may seem like a lot to handle, but Jesse is far from done turning this property into an extremely unique destination.
“One of my goals for the next year or two is to renovate the old saloon unit on the west end of the property,” he wrote. “It still has the shag carpeting and drop ceiling from a renovation done decades ago. I’m anxious to get in there and see what’s hiding. Hopefully, we’ll get a blood stain or two (which the Lottie Suite has). I hope to have the ‘glampground’ open this spring. Guests will be able to camp out in our beer garden. I think we’ll be the only urban glamping site in New Mexico.”
Never short of unique ideas, Jesse puts his blood, sweat and tears into every venture on which he embarks, but he also has an amazing team in his corner.
“I just wanted to give a shout out to the local craft beer community. There truly is a sense of camaraderie and support here and I really feel like I’ve found ‘my people,’ ” Jesse wrote. “I’ve spent the past five years being an innkeeper and learning the ins and outs of that profession. Now, I’m looking forward to focusing on the brewing side of things. There’s no plans to become a production brewery or to have beers on grocery store shelves. I’m completely content with being small and becoming a destination for beer lovers.”
As the world starts to return to ‘normal’ (whatever that means), now is the time for businesses like the Painted Lady Bed & Brew to shine and grow, and they count on us, the members of our fine beer community, to support that growth. Check out the Painted Lady website for more information on the fascinating history of this property, and follow them on social media for exciting updates. Want a first-hand look at what Jesse is working on next? Book a vacation (or a staycation!) in one of the suites (if you dare).
Jesse would like to thank the following craft beer pros who were a big help over the past five-plus years: Angelo Oroña with Craft King Consulting, Donavan Lane at Southwest Grape & Grain, Matt Biggs with Red Door, Matt Simonds with Mother Trail, Skye Devore with Tractor Brewing, and the NM Brewers Guild (John Gozigian and Leah Black). Also, a big shoutout to Derek Filip at Filip Design for all the metal work, custom fences and the ability to do pretty much anything! And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Jeff Erway at La Cumbre for creating Elevated IPA, which pretty much got me started on this strange, albeit fulfilling path into craft beer!
May the beer be with you, always.