Published September 26, 2013
When the series finale of "Breaking Bad" airs on Sept. 29, more than just the millions of fans who've been addicted to the show will be heartbroken. The city of Albuquerque will be nursing an emotional hangover, as well.
Few cities have played as integral a role in a TV show as "Breaking Bad" -- which features Albuquerque --affectionately known as ABQ after its airport code-- prominently that it might be considered a main character. Albuquerque has become one of America's hottest filming destinations: the tax incentives and lack of minimum film-spend make it irresistible for producers looking to save money. Also, in the past several years, marquee blockbusters like "The Avengers", "The Lone Ranger" and the upcoming Johnny Depp film "Transcendence" have all filmed in the city.
As the hometown of chemistry teacher-turned meth kingpin Walter White, the original Mile-High city of 800,000 people has really come into its own --and become a favorite tourist destination.
"Before Breaking Bad", Albuquerque was one of those places most people didn't really think about, other than perhaps in passing as Nana and Pop-Pop's retirement home.
"When I used to say I'm from New Mexico, people would say, 'Oh, I love Santa Fe!'" says Ann Lerner, director of the Albuquerque Film Office. "Now they can spell Albuquerque. "Breaking Bad" was a game-changer for putting us on the map."
Every business in Albuquerque seems determined to capitalize on the show's success, but it begs the question: just what is going to happen to Albuquerque after the city that Heisenberg built goes off the air?
There are several companies devoted to giving tourists up-close-and-personal views of "Breaking Bad" locations, including The BaD Tour with ABQ Trolley Co., Biking Bad tours with Routes Rental bicycle company (each tour centers around a different main character), and The Candy Lady's Breaking Bad Experience limousine tour.
There's the Bathing Bad spa experience at Great Face & Body, where you can make your own blue bath salts. Have a pint of Walt's White Lie and Heisenberg Dark limited-edition IPAs at Marble Brewery. And there's the Breaking Bad package (featuring Heisenberg postcards, Los Pollos Hermanos food seasoning, two "Breaking Bad"-themed drinks, one-night deluxe accommodations, and two baggies of The Candy Lady's sugary blue "meth"), at the buzzing Hotel Albuquerque, which hosted the series wrap party at its Casa d'Estencia nightclub.
Lerner says that despite the increase in tourism due to the show, Albuquerque will continue to have a lot to offer visitors long after its finale.
""Breaking Bad" is about a desperate man and is a story that will be studied long after it's off the air. People from Variety called me and asked, 'Are you sad "Breaking Bad" is over?' I'm not sad! We have so much going on in Albuquerque, so many things that we film here. Albuquerque Studios are the largest in the US, Reelz has a studio here. I mean, we're hot."
Jason Greene, executive chef and co-owner of organic cafe The Grove, agrees. Together with his wife and co-owner Lauren Greene, they decided to move from Las Vegas to take advantage of Albuquerque's exploding opportunities for their young family. "Albuquerque has been great to us," Greene says. "It's been very welcoming. As long as we're busy, we'll stay. We really like it."
Indeed, when you scratch below the surface and tune out the "Breaking Bad" cacophony, it's not long before you realize that Albuquerque has ample charms. With 310 days of sunshine a year, a dry climate, little traffic and an affordable real-estate market, it's no wonder that people like the Greenes have made it home.
The yearly Hot Air Balloon Festival October 5 - 9 attracts thousands of people from around the world and is sponsored by luxury watchmaker Breitling, while the Flamenco Festival, the largest outside of Spain and celebrating 26 years of dance, ensures that Albuquerque isn't hurting for culture.
The Native American Pueblo influence can be seen throughout the city, most notably at the Petroglyph National Monument, and public art mandates tacked onto new building projects keep the city beautiful, cutting-edge and trendy. Restaurants like the sprawling El Pinto, with New Mexico's largest tequila collection, and Los Poblanos, located at a historic farmhouse B&B, rival New York and LA's finest.
"People are still taking bus tours in New Jersey for the Sopranos, and the show went off the air in 2006," points out Keith West-Harrison of Great Face & Body. He and his partner Andre West-Harrison moved to Albuquerque from New Orleans after Katrina, and are enthralled by the city. They're planning to renovate their 9,000 square foot building into a green spa, yoga and music space, complete with rooftop garden.
"In Albuquerque, the people are genuine. When they say, 'How are you?' they are actually waiting for a response. We say Albuquerque is 6 degrees of separation--everything you need is just a phone call away."
The small-town spirit of Albuquerque is never more evident than when taking Jesse Heron and Michael M. Silva's ABQ Trolley Co. Tour, which brings locals to the sidewalks, waving warmly at the tourists on the custom open-air trolley as they pass by "Breaking Bad" landmarks like the Crossroads Motel, Saul Goodman's law office and Jesse Pinkman's house.
Halfway through the tour, outside the Cheese and Coffee Cafe, an employee walks curbside to the trolley to offer cookies. This homey, we're-all-neighbors feeling cocoons the city, which might be winding down on its 15 minutes, but seems poised to settle into a cozy groove and happy to leave the glitz and the glam to Santa Fe and Taos.
"Because of "Breaking Bad", now people say Albuquerque is cool," says Lerner. "That's not a word that has been used to describe our city before."