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Mouthing Off

Here today, gone tamale: Diners making their weekly pilgrimage to the Mexico City Lounge, 2115 Larimer Street, for last Wednesday's steak-taco fix were shocked--shocked!--to find the doors chained shut, with a note announcing that the restaurant was temporarily closed and offering the Bamboo Hut at 2449 Larimer as a taco alternative. But up at the Hut, the news was even worse: It seems the Mexico City had closed overnight, throwing employees with decades of experience out of work. The problem? The octogenarian owner is ill, and her family has been unable to either sell the place or come up with a succession plan. So instead, another landmark of old Larimer bites the dust.

Even biting into one of the Hut's excellent burritos smothered with sense-singeing green chile was scant consolation for the loss. For now, we'll have to get our good grease fix at the Hut or at El Toro, at 4957 Colorado Boulevard, which serves up some of the same Mexico City family recipes.

And there's another endangered spot in town, since the land under the White Spot at 800 Broadway is reportedly in play. The White Spot employee who answered my call made it clear that the eatery doesn't want the info made public, but I don't think she understood that I'm not looking to do the place in. Quite the contrary: When I heard there was a deal in the works for Rickenbaugh Cadillac to buy the lot this particular White Spot has been covering since 1961 and raze the building, I went ballistic.

"Sure, you can print that, even though it's not a done deal yet," the employee said, "if that's the kind of newspaper you work for." The truth is, nearly everyone at this newspaper let out a cry of distress when they heard that this could be the first year since 1946 that there won't be a White Spot in Denver. William Clements opened the first White Spot at 22 South Broadway shortly after World War II and quickly parlayed the concept of 24-hour dining into eight more White Spots, along with another couple dozen pizza places, bars and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Clements died in 1982, and soon after, Denver's economy went down the toilet. His son, Tony Clement, took over and closed all but two Spots, the 800 Broadway location and one at Colfax and Harrison that finally shut down five years ago.

Since then, the Broadway Spot has valiantly carried on the fifty-year tradition, always open when you want a quick cup of coffee with a slice of pie or cheap eats for the working man and seniors on a budget. And while business hasn't been spectacular, White Spot has a large group of loyal regulars who will now be forced to eat at Denny's, where the food may be just as good or better, but the atmosphere will be all wrong.

"Even if the deal is done, we'll still be open for a while," the woman said. "So don't make people think we're closing, 'cause then they'll stop coming."

So don't stop going. In fact, go more often. 'Cause when this White Spot goes, it'll go for good.

Religious rights: An e-mail from alert reader David Olson about alcohol, the Muslim religion and my review of Marrakesh, at 1951 South Havana in Aurora ("The Road to Morocco," April 2), prompted me to call Marrakesh part-owner Abdul Aftah. As Olson pointed out in his message, strict Muslims do not drink alcohol--and Aftah serves it at his restaurant. "What is Morocco, a Muslim country, doing producing red wine, an alcoholic beverage forbidden by Allah and Islam?" asked Olson. "And what is Abdul, presumably a good Muslim, doing serving wine?"

"God does not say 'Do not drink,'" answers Aftah. "It is not what it says in the Koran. Muslim is Muslim. Ask your readers why they don't go over to Morocco and ask that country why they make wine there and ask them why there are bars. So many Muslims think God tells them to just sit around in a mosque and not work and let other people support you. I say work, and if you want to drink, drink." And besides, he adds, in Denver, restaurants must serve alcohol in order to survive. "It would be useless to open a restaurant here," Aftah says. "It's impossible. People here want to drink. I'm Muslim, but I drink. That is between me and my God."

Still, several other Middle Eastern places in the area have found success without serving alcohol. Jerusalem (1980 East Evans Avenue) is arguably the best Middle Eastern spot in town, certainly the busiest, and it's been alcohol-free since it opened eighteen years ago. And Damascus (2276 South Colorado Boulevard) has served alcohol-free lunches and dinners for seven years. "They make it an excuse," says Damascus owner Mahmoud Kassir of Muslim-owned eateries with liquor licenses. "If you are true to your religion and your beliefs, then you make it work. I have not had any problems with not serving alcohol. People do not come here just for drinking; they come here to eat the food." Occasionally customers have decided to take their food to go after they discover the restaurant's no-liquor policy, but "they always come back," Kassir says. "The alcohol is not what's important to them."

Cedars, at 1550 South Federal Boulevard, another excellent Middle Eastern place, does serve alcohol--but it's owned by Adib Dagher and his family, all of whom are Christians from Lebanon.

Free advertising: If you are the drinking type, The Swan at the Inverness Hotel & Golf Club (200 Inverness Drive West in Englewood) will host a series of wine dinners starting May 18 with one featuring Taittinger champagnes. On June 15 the focus will be Jordan Vineyards, and on July 20 Joseph Phelps is the featured winery. All of the dinners start at 6 p.m. and cost $75 per person. Call 799-5800 for reservations.

While you have your calendar out, mark next Sunday for the annual Spring Mountain Man Rendezvous at The Fort, 19192 Route 8 in Morrison. Profits from the May 17 event--which is free to the public and includes concessions of early Western food, handmade period crafts and mountain-man competitions such as tomahawk-throwing--will benefit Children's Hospital. Call 697-4771 for more information, or just show up at noon. Western wear is optional.

--Wagner

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