I used to have this recurring dream where I was walking along a strip mall in my grandparents' neighborhood of Mayfair/Hale. I was always heading to La Bola, a Mexican restaurant we used to go to when I was a kid. I would walk up to the door in broad daylight, pull on its oversized wrought-iron handle, and look into the dark and dank bar room beyond. But that was as far as I got -- I would always wake up before I could really see what the interior looked like.
About a decade ago, I made my roommate go with me to this strip mall to see if La Bola was still there and if it looked like that dream I couldn't seem to finish. It didn't: La Bola was gone, replaced by an Italian restaurant. I opened the door and there was no bar room, no mysterious dim and cool space to step into -- just a regular restaurant.
I was in that same neighborhood again yesterday, after I heard that All-V's All Variety had closed after almost half a century on East Eighth Avenue. As with La Bola, I wanted to go inside the sub shop one last time, but no such luck. It was done.
La Bola was replaced by many things over the years; the Jersey Street Bar & Grill is the location's current occupant. The shoppette housing the restaurant remains unchanged from the early 2000s, when I visited it last, both in my dreams and in my waking life. I'm pretty sure the strip mall at Ninth and Jersey hasn't changed much at all since it was built several decades ago.
All-V's, too, looked the same -- in that strange way a business often looks when it closes suddenly. It was like a still-life of my last visit to All-V's for a sandwich -- which was probably in the early '90s. Short, country-kitsch curtains bordered the top and bottom of the long front window, and strangely, a copy of Westword still sat on a table, as if someone had been reading it while getting down on one last All-V's classic hot or cold sub.
I remember strolling to this simple sub shop when I was in seventh and eighth grades, walking the few blocks from my Catholic school just down the way on Elm Street. It wasn't a regular hangout, by any means, but I recall feeling very grown up going to a place like All-V's without adult supervision but instead with my friend Betsy, who to me was extra lucky because her parents both worked and she had free rein of her after-school time.
(I had a stay-at-home dad, which sucked any life and chance out of being able to wander around alone not doing homework after school -- minus the beautiful caveat that was being at someone else's house. My father also did my homework with me in a way that felt like extra school, complete with a chalkboard in our kitchen for math problems.)
But much as I learned with Gunther Toody's, part of the reason businesses like this close is because we stop going to them. The same thing happened to the Dolly Madison that used to sit next to All-V's, a spot I also stopped by after school. I visited Dolly Madison's with my grandfather when I was still in elementary school, enjoying sherbet from a wax paper cup with a piece of wood for a utensil. That place was even more of a time-warp than All-V's on the inside, complete with wood paneling and awful lighting, something that was glaringly obvious and out-of-date even to me as a six-year-old.
It's no secret why All-V's went away: The sign clearly shows that it was seized for non-payment of taxes. But there is also a heartfelt sign from the owners, a sort of companion "But, wait, there's more!" explanation addressed to its customers that shows the kind of place All-V's was. It changed hands several times over its fifty years, but it doesn't seem like much about the unpretentious sandwich-and-fries shop itself had changed.
Denver has been growing for decades, but it is still not quite a true big city. At the same time, it is too big to be a small town. Every time I visit a strip mall from my past -- like the one that was home to All-V's -- it feels like a visit to my home town. Denver shifts and changes shape so quickly, it can be hard to remember what once occupied a busy street corner; I'm strangely gratified to find that shoppettes like the one that held All-V's and Dolly Madison in my memory or the Jersey Street spot that was once home to my dreams and La Bola still exist.
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I don't know if the existence of little commercial strips in the middle of your 'hood give you some kind of bizarre comfort, too, but I would give anything to be able to go to All-V's one last time and get an Italian on wheat. Or stop by Aylard's Crestmoor Drug and buy some gum and a tiny glass and metal tub of Carmex. Or walk up the street to Video Movie Madness in Virginia Village and grab a copy of Hairspray on VHS. Or better yet, be able to travel back in time to my childhood 7-Eleven for a Slurpee -- instead of having to go to the brand-new one that was built across the street from my beloved, now abandoned store. Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies