I spent my youth, like most anyone in this town, at smoky, mostly boring house parties or in coffee shops drinking $1.26 refillable cups of joe until my pee ran clear. There's not a lot to do here if you're not of boozing age, unless you start something yourself. Like a band.
Albuquerque has seen the rise and fall of plenty under-21 music venues. Different formats, different spaces, smoking or non. Do you need a pinball machine to make it work? Snacks? How do you ensure your youngish customers won't be drinking in the parking lot? After a handful of months, the good-hearted attempts usually wink out of existence if they don't have additional cash flow—and sometimes even if they do.
Think about it. Winning Coffee hosts great rock shows but functions as a restaurant and coffeehouse by day. The same is true of Blue Dragon and its folksy scene. The Cell and Sol Arts primarily put up theater but allow rock shows between productions. Like a big magnet, the Compound draws in metalheads for all-ages shows and a yearly festival, but it's also a record store. The fondly remembered Insomnia served up drinks, bands and a place to hang out until the wee smalls.
Denny's, IHOP and Village Inn have never made a space for live music among the hashbrowns and tabletop coffee pots. Those willing to pull into the parking lot with a generator and flatbed can usually squeeze out a couple of tunes before the police come and tell you to pack it in. Believe me.
So it's great to hear of a new under-21 spot open on weekend nights until 4 a.m. that's willing to let bands intrude on its tiny space at least once a week. Hunab Hookah at 3400 Constitution NE, just west of Carlisle, opened the doors to a colorful, black-lit and narrow room dotted with couches and rugs in February. Bands have played every Saturday since. In spite of the "psychedelic living room you always dreamed of" atmosphere, as owner Brian Basser describes it, the genre selection at Hunab is not limited to hippie jam bands. "We do anything, really," he says. "It's just a matter of, they gotta be having trouble getting gigs Downtown or they want to do more 18+ stuff so they can appeal to a wider audience."
Because Hunab is a hookah den serving flavored tobacco, you must be 18 to enter. So it doesn't quite span the entirety of the underage entertainment void, though it does cover the after-after hours crowd. Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Hunab's open until 3 a.m. Thursdays, 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and midnight on Sundays and Mondays.
"It's hard to get gigs if you've got an hour of music and it's all original," Basser says. "This is a place where young, upcoming bands can come and get their foot in the door and build up an audience." Saturday nights might become open-jam nights with Danny the Harp of Element 37, but Sundays are open for music, too, Basser says. Fridays showcase Electro Chakra or Que Onda DJ dance parties. Music to mosh to will probably never take the stage at Hunab, says Basser. "It's not the right vibe," he says. The police have been dropping by when Hunab's live music crosses over to the loud side, though Basser typically isn't afraid of volume. Still, he's trying to keep it down.
"We're squeaking by," says Basser. "We need all the help we can get. It's a baby, and it's growing up. I'm just taking care of it." It's going to take off, he says without a trace of worry in his voice. He's not chasing for the mainstream crowd. He wants to build a community of people who resonate with Hunab's space. And he's not really looking to make money. "That's not my motivator. I'm hoping the money will just come based on what I'm trying to provide."
In the name of nonbar music in Burque, cross your fingers.