The next time the old-boy network starts casting about for a female entrepreneur to elevate to Colorado's Business Hall of Fame, they should take a look at Marilyn Megenity.
They won't find her in some power- and fuel-mad Lexus: She's retrofitted her car to run on vegetable oil, and drives around town emitting the smell of old french fries -- and reminding the city that it would do well to push passive, clean energy, too. They won't spot her in a power suit, either, and they'll have to forgive her long, hippie-era hair, which is now laced with a little gray. But they can't ignore her impressive history: thirty years creating an institution that's now inseparable from Denver's cultural life. The Mercury Cafe.
On the Ides of March in 1975, when Megenity "was nothin' but a child," she opened her first cafe in Indian Hills, taking over an eatery named the Westerner. The business suited her even if the name didn't, and she soon moved to Denver to open Elrond's on 13th Avenue. It was the second of what would add up to eleven locations in fifteen years for a very moveable feast. Three more Elrond's preceded the first Mercury, at 1308 Pearl Street. "A group had been studying metaphysics together," Megenity explains. "Mercury has fabulous metaphysical connections." Not fabulous enough to keep the cafe in one place, though, and it went through several more incarnations before Megenity finally found a permanent home at 2199 California Street, then a slightly beyond-the-pale location on the outskirts of downtown. "We're sort of in a little Bermuda Triangle here," she says, "but once you've found us..."
Once you've found them, you'll join Merc fans both new and old, sixty-year-olds who've followed Megenity for three decades, sixteen-year-olds who've discovered a hip place to hang. "I have the children of former workers working with me," she notes.
There have been other changes, too. In 1996, Megenity stopped presenting many of the bands that had paid the way for the Merc. "I think violent male energy and violent male artistic expression is destructive for everyone involved. It's used by the giant corporate industry to program males into being militaristic. It's not an accident that defense contractors are involved in the music business. It's a vast right-wing conspiracy," she says, not much kidding. The summer she made the switch, she had to borrow money to stay open, but her moral gamble paid off with a venue that's more popular than ever.
On Saturday, April 30, Megenity marks thirty years at the Merc. The party begins at 6 p.m. with music by Cathy Burns, Dirk Dickson and Ralph DaFermo -- the last two performers "who've been playing for me since 1977," she notes. Then there will be a presentation of the farce Afghanistanby her theater group, Allied Witches; a belly-dancing session -- "it's like having a goddess experience"; and more music by Easy Bill & the Big Beat, featuring Mark Richardson, who started out with Megenity as a dishwasher, then "cooked on the line with me for years," Megenity says. Today he makes his living with music, not pots and pans. "I've never, ever looked for musicians," she says. "They've always come to me, because there are not enough places to play in town." The exception was a two-year search for a band for the Merc's increasingly popular tango nights. Megenity was collecting money at the door one evening -- a DJ was playing tango music upstairs -- when a guy came up to her and shyly asked if she ever needed a tango band. That was the start of a six-year relationship with Extasis, the act that will cap off the celebration.
If Megenity has her way, the Merc's party will continue for another thirty years. "I'm very happy here," she says. "I'm busy every day. I hope I drop dead dancing tango in my eighties."