Thank God for Small Flavors

"You look and see the whole thing changing," he adds. "All the old ones will be going."

Johnnie's is already gone. Ed Maestas, the unofficial mayor of Larimer Street, was diagnosed with leukemia in the fall of '97 and died soon after; the restaurant that was supposed to replace his market never opened. The Elbow Room, which connects with Manuel's, was closed by the city years ago for general bad behavior and never reopened. Plans for that prize corner, and the century-old building that occupies it, have been stalled by the feuding Katchen heirs. They're the ones who are evicting Manuel's.

They're the ones who will tear the buildings down.
Because the neighborhood never got its historic designation, the owners can do whatever they want with that corner. It should make a swell parking lot.

Ironically, the neighborhood's push for historic designation was recently revived--too late to save La Casa de Manuel, but perhaps in time to preserve a few other Victorian storefronts that might otherwise be on the brink of distinction. City planner Dave Becker, who compiled the plan for northeast downtown, is now working with a committee to get landmark status for the area. They should have a draft of guidelines--the absence of such guidelines killed the last attempt a half-dozen years ago--in a month, and then there will be public meetings; with any luck, the proposal will go before the Denver Landmark Commission and City Council next spring. And in the meantime, there have been smaller success stories throughout the neighborhood between 20th and 26th streets and Lawrence and Blake. The Burlington Hotel has been restored to a fine shine. The old Bronco Inn has been bought by the folks who own Pasquini's. And around the corner from the old Elbow Room, Diamond Lil's--yes, the adult bookstore complete with live girls--is about to embark on an authentic, historic renovation. Its business, however, will remain thoroughly modern.

In a city intent on transforming itself, you have to thank God for small favors--the homegrown success stories that give a town its flavor.

"There's no comparison between Casa de Manuel and Wolfgang Puck," says Kathleen Brooker, the director of Historic Denver who's serving on the committee pushing the Ballpark Neighborhood's historic designation. "I just want to get the district done," she says. "It can always be redone, but it can never be replaced."

And the rest is history.
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