Welcome to crystal meth country: The Breaking Bad tour of Albuquerque (interactive graphic)

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Interest in Walter White and the town he calls home has never been higher - so what's it like living next-door to the world's most famous drug baron?

It's just before closing time at the Candy Lady in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the quaint little sweetshop is still remarkably busy. Locals have long been familiar with proprietor Debbie Ball’s exquisite homemade fudge, but it’s another product that attracts the out-of-towners. Ball, who is 61, created the blue rock sugar that posed as crystal meth for the first two seasons of Breaking Bad, the pitch-dark TV drama about Walter White, a milquetoast chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine magnate.


The Candy Lady has been in business since 1980, but when the recession bit and the store faced financial oblivion, Ball took a leaf out of Walt's book and started pushing one-dollar "dime bags" of her blue meth candy to the public. After the show's star Bryan Cranston handed one to David Letterman on air last July, she sold 30,000 bags in 12 months, profits increased by 20 per cent, and the counterfeit Class A now accounts for a quarter of her daily sales.

Like its most famous fictional resident, Albuquerque has always been overlooked and underestimated, neglected by visitors to New Mexico in favour of its near neighbour, Santa Fe. But thanks to Breaking Bad – which comes to its dreaded conclusion tomorrow night – the city is in the middle of an unlikely tourism boom.

The ABQ Trolley Company's weekly tour of the show’s locations invariably sells out months in advance. Routes, a bike rental store, runs five separate "Biking Bad" excursions including "Walt's Descent" and "The Pinkman Experience". A downtown spa's "Bathing Bad" bath salts became the second most popular product on the novelty mail-order site Firebox, behind a tent that looks like a VW van. The top seller at the city's Rebel Donut bakery is the Breaking Bad "Blue Sky" donut – topped with blue icing and sugar crystals – which looks almost as bad for your health as actual meth.

The Candy Lady also sells Breaking Bad T-shirts, "Heisenberg" pork-pie hats, and $35 Pez dispensers doctored by a local artist to resemble characters from the series – Jesse Pinkman just sold out. "I'm meeting people from all over the world," Ball says, "who would never have been here at all if it weren’t for the show."

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan originally set his pilot script in Riverside County, California, just east of Los Angeles. But New Mexico offered a 25 per cent tax rebate to film productions, so the action was transplanted another 750 miles inland to Albuquerque. Five seasons later, the show has shot just one scene outside the state: a faux interview with New York-based broadcaster Charlie Rose, from last week's, penultimate instalment. Even snowy New Hampshire, which featured in the same episode, was recreated in New Mexico's Sandia mountains.

In fact, Albuquerque appears frequently on film and TV. It has stood in for Las Vegas, LA, Texas, Ohio, Afghanistan, Iraq and the planet Mars. In No Country For Old Men, it was passed off as El Paso. The Manhattan set of The Avengers was actually constructed inside the abandoned Albuquerque rail yards. Breaking Bad, however, is the first truly high-profile screen project in which the city plays itself. And New Mexico’s deserts, its cloud-spattered skies, and its Pueblo Revival architecture have become indivisible from the drama.

"Albuquerque itself has become… a really important character in our show," Cranston said recently. "It gave it a justifiable location. A sound, solid place that not many people have related to. They've seen Los Angeles, they've seen New York, but they haven't really seen Albuquerque."

Well, now they have. At Twisters, the fast food restaurant better known to Breaking Bad fans as Los Pollos Hermanos, the guest book at the counter has been recently signed by visitors from as far afield as Norway, South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia and Malaysia. Megan Mayo Ryan and her colleagues at the Albuquerque Conventions and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) were wary of the show's unsavoury subject matter when they first heard about it. Now they're all avid viewers. Before Breaking Bad, Albuquerque’s main tourist draws were its native American art and annual hot air balloon fiesta, which begins next Saturday. The majority of visitors were middle-aged couples from neighbouring states. Yet in the 12 months since it was added to their website, the ACVB's Breaking Bad page has attracted 36,000 hits, many from the UK.

Ryan arranges to meet at the Grove café, where Gus Fring's former methylamine supplier, Lydia, likes to hold her assignations. It's at the corner of Walter Street. At a recent film tourism panel, Ryan recalls, she listened to representatives from North Carolina discuss their experience following the filming of The Hunger Games in their state, while a delegate from Florida explained how holidaymakers could visit the real dolphin star of 2011's Dolphin Tale. Breaking Bad presented less tourist-friendly attractions: a carwash, a fast-food joint, a private home. So the ACVB used those locations as jumping-off points for other activities. Ryan says, "We put together a visitors' map that said, 'If you go to the carwash, why not try this nearby museum?'"

Miguel Jaramillo had just lost his job in retail when he found his calling as a Breaking Bad super-fan. The 28-year-old Albuquerque native, who shaves his head and grows a Walt-shaped goatee whenever the show is on the air, has logged some 70 locations on his Instagram account, " Breaking Bad Locations", which now has more than 11,000 followers. This year he launched an app, Touring Bad, which lets visitors take a self-guided smartphone tour.

Standing outside the White family home, on a quiet residential street in the city's northeastern suburbs, Jaramillo points out the spot on the driveway where a set of truck skid marks from the episode "Ozymandias" were visible until very recently. Its real occupants are a friendly, retired couple who have owned the house since it was built in the 1960s. "They're great with fans, as long as the fans are respectful," Jaramillo says. "They've had a few try to break into the back yard and take pictures of the swimming pool. A couple of people tried to throw pizzas onto the roof."

Naturally, there are those in Albuquerque who would prefer their city not be known for a show about crystal meth. In the local newspaper, following her first interview about her controversial candy, Ball says she "was the subject of all the letters to the editor, and all of them were bad. The people who object assume that the show is glorifying meth, and it absolutely isn't." Ball ought to know: her daughter-in-law died from a meth overdose last year.

The state's government is certainly happy about the Breaking Bad effect. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez recently signed the so-called " Breaking Bad bill", bumping up the tax-break for film productions to 30 per cent. There are persuasive rumours that JJ Abrams plans to shoot parts of his forthcoming Star Wars sequel there, while Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul is expected to begin shooting shortly.

Interest in Walter White's hometown is at its peak, and will inevitably decline after tomorrow night – when, one way or another, Walt will surely meet his end. Yet Keith West-Harrison of Great Face and Body, creators of the "Bathing Bad" bath salts, disagrees that Albuquerque's Breaking Bad moment must pass. "The Sopranos ended in 2006," he says, "but there's still a tour company in New Jersey charging $46 a head to go see where so-and-so got whacked."

Reality TV:  The locations

1. Jesse Pinkman’s House

9809 Margot Street, Albuquerque, NM 87104

Jesse’s house is in the upmarket Country Club neighbourhood of Albuquerque, just around the corner from a location in the John Travolta comedy Wild Hogs (2007) – which was set in Ohio.

2 Java Joe’s

906 Park Ave SW,  Albuquerque, NM

The café below Tuco’s HQ from season one, where Walt first identified himself as Heisenberg – and blew out the windows with a batch of fake, exploding meth.

3. Combo’s Corner

Corner of 1st, 2nd and Atlantic Streets SW. Approx address

on Google maps: 863 2nd Street SW

This nondescript intersection has seen a lot of Breaking Bad drama: it’s where Jesse’s pal Combo was shot, and Walt ran down two rival drug dealers in his Pontiac Aztec.

4. Albuquerque Rail Yards

Commercial Street SE NM 87102

The railway yards were used to shoot the now-iconic “All Hail the King” Breaking Bad poster campaign. A regular filming location, they were also the site of the New York set for The Avengers.

5. Los Pollos Hermanos

4257 Isleta Blvd SW, Albuquerque, NM 87105

Gus Fring’s restaurant is really Twisters, a real South-western  fast-food chain specialising in burgers and burritos. According to Miguel Jaramillos, however, the best breakfast burrito in Albuquerque can be found at Golden Pride BBQ, Chicken & Ribs.

6. The Grove Café and Market

600 Central Ave SE

The upmarket café where Lydia met Walt, Mike and, more recently,  Todd, is at the corner of Central Avenue and – would you believe it – Walter Street.

7. The Crossroads Motel

1001 Central Ave NE, Albuquerque, NM

This motel, known as the “crystal palace,” was the home of  meth-addicted prostitute, Wendy.

8. A1A Carwash

9516 Snow Heights Circle NE, Albuquerque, NM 87112

The A1A carwash (motto: “have an A1 day!”) is in fact the Octopus carwash motto: “Many hands to serve you.”

9. The White House

3828 Piermont Dr NE, Albuquerque, NM 87111

Walter White’s home has been owned by the same now-retired couple since it was built. They’re friendly with fans, unless the fans try to throw pizzas on to their roof.

10. Saul’s Office

9800 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87111

Saul Goodman’s office is now home to a nightclub called Hooligans.

11. The John B Robert Dam

Corner of Juan Tabo Blvd and Osuna Rd NE

Map coordinates 35°8’20”N   106°30’52”W

This photogenic spot is where Jesse and Walt were told to  wait for the vacuum cleaner repair man.

Arts and Entertainment
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn