Motel Hell

The Regency Hotel has had its ups and downs -- way downs.

"Nobody goes to the extreme measures that we go through to ensure that we have never had a drug problem and never will," Cormier continues. "You don't see meth labs here, because we go through every single room of this entire property on a weekly basis. And if anyone's staying over a week, we go through and check every single thing in their room. We go through their dressers. We go through their suitcases. We look under the beds, in the closets. We do a thorough investigation, and we have proven it not only to ourselves, but to any official from any agency, that we have not had and do not have and will not have a drug problem in this hotel."

Such repeated assurances may be intended for prospective buyers as well as public officials. This January, Cormier announced plans to sell the hotel to the highest bidder. According to his California auctioneer, bidding on the hotel will be closed March 20. Cormier refuses to reveal how many bids he has received or the size of the offers. A brochure put out by Accelerated Marketing Group, the firm Cormier hired to manage the sale of the hotel, entices with this pitch: "Located at the gateway to downtown Denver and Coors Field, the Regency Hotel offers the savvy investor an outstanding opportunity to either upgrade the existing property or to redevelop. With approximately 1,600 feet of freeway frontage and over 235,000 cars passing by daily, the site offers excellent access, visibility, and recognition. Currently the property is being used as an extended stay, budget hotel and concert facility."

While Ortega would like to see the Regency under new management, she's not getting her hopes up over the announced auction.

Mex and match: Giant horses mark the entrance to 
Los Caporales, the big draw at the Regency Hotel.
Brett Amole
Mex and match: Giant horses mark the entrance to Los Caporales, the big draw at the Regency Hotel.
The Regency Hotel
Brett Amole
The Regency Hotel

"I don't think he's going to sell unless the price is just right, and I don't think he's going to get a price that's going to make him happy, because he's rolling in dough over there," she says. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is the first of many times we see that property put up for auction by Mr. Cormier."

Cormier swears he's serious about selling. "My opinion is it will be sold, and someone will be the proud owner of the Regency," he says. But he plans to stay in the music business. "I don't think the Mexican-music scene and Art working together will ever cease in Denver," he adds. "When the hotel is sold, I'll simply relocate to another metro Denver location and continue to do the same thing."

It was nine at night, and I was in my room on the Regency's twelfth floor, looking down over one of the two gigantic Los Caporales parking lots, where four or five diesel-powered pickups were spinning doughnuts and drag racing in the freshly fallen snow. Dozens of smaller pickups, lowriders with neon blue and pink accents, were parked in rows along the edges of the parking lot, their lights turned on to illuminate the doughnut-spinning and drag racing, Rebel Without a Cause style.

Wary of the elevators now that Lee was off duty, I walked seven floors down through the stinking stairwells and came out on the fifth floor, where the hallway trash can was filled with pizza boxes, diapers and an unopened package of rotten ground beef.

I took an elevator the rest of the way down. Five minutes and $15 later, I was standing in the scarecrow position while a Los Caporales bouncer patted me down for weapons and contraband. A stenciled sign above the entrance to the nightclub read, "No gangsters, no baggy pants. Playerz 05, 13, 18 SouthPole not allowed," a message to street gangs whose members are barred.

While I was searched, I watched through a window as bouquets of young women in slinky spaghetti-strap dresses, wearing no jackets in spite of the biting wind and swirling flakes, trotted on high heels toward the entrance to the gold dome. The bouncer patted me on the shoulder twice, my sign I was free to go. I went into the ballroom, where tequila shots are served with tiny packets of salt and fat, juicy wedges of lime. Fiberglass sculptures of stallions lined the dance floor. It was still early, but there were a few couples moving to the music, the women hooking their thumbs in their dates' belts between songs as they stood close, waiting for the music to resume.

I grabbed a seat at a bar next to a lithe young woman wearing a backward beige beret. She introduced herself as Angelica Romero, age 22, born and raised in Denver. "I don't really fit in here," she said. And she didn't. She was the only female among hundreds in the place to sport any sort of headwear, just as I was one of the few men without a cowboy hat. I asked her why she was there. "I'm fourth-generation Mexican-American, and I'm coming here to get back in touch with my roots," she said. "I want to learn Spanish so bad, and I come here to learn." She shrugged. "It's better than taking a class."

Wherever I went inside Los Caporales, I felt eyes follow me -- which was understandable, since I was the only white guy there who wasn't a cop. There were four of them, off-duties hired by Cormier. They were in uniform, and from what I could tell, three of them spent most of their time in a back corner of the downstairs billiards room talking shop, while the fourth, a portly, white-haired officer, walked a beat between the upstairs and downstairs restrooms.

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