M Uptown, a Beloved Gay Spot, Closes Its Doors...for Now?
Normally well lit for Drag Queen Bingo on a Tuesday, M Uptown was closed and cold on January 3.
A little over a year ago, we were reporting on the transformation of what was then Hamburger Mary’s into M Uptown, a new face for a decade-old business at 700 East 17th Avenue after its owners decided to scrap the Mary’s franchise for an independent, local and, most important, still very gay-friendly eatery, bar and club.
But M Uptown is now closed, though there's hope it will reopen with a remodel and new concept.
News of the sudden closure broke on Facebook January 3 as employees, waitstaff, bartenders and drag performers — who had made the location’s weekly Dreamgirls revue the city’s longest-running drag show — weighed in with shock, disappointment and requests for new jobs. Within hours, social media was filled with "in memoriam" items on the space as former employees and performers shared memories and videos, documenting M Uptown's role as a fixture of the community.
Yesterday the restaurant was still decorated for the holidays but was dark, with this optimistic sign taped to the door: “Closed for Renovations. Please visit our Facebook Page for Updates! Thank you and hope to see you soon!”
The sign taped to M Uptown's locked doors points to an optimistic future.
“Things kind of really came to a head with our building,” says Jennifer Kustok, co-owner of M Uptown with her husband, Jeff. “But I’m looking forward to the next couple of months of rethinking things and looking at a renovation of the space. It really needs it, and we may reopen with a different concept.”
At least Kustok doesn't need to worry about losing the lease, as has happened for other stalwarts — not just on East 17th Avenue, but throughout Denver: The building has been in Kustok’s family for decades. In fact, she has worked at the many changing faces of the venue — Dante Bichette’s, Cliff Young’s, Ruby’s — since she was fifteen years old, and the building is still very much theirs.
Jennifer and Jeff Kustok signed on for a Hamburger Mary’s franchise in 2005 and turned their place into a fixture of a new gay-borhood, with the now-shuttered J.R.’s across the street and the recently moved Wrangler just down the block. Along with a menu of burgers, they quickly put Dreamgirls, Drag Queen Bingo and Karaoke Mary on the roster, and kept the entertainment going as Hamburger Mary's morphed into M Uptown.
M Uptown's rousing patio during warmer times.
“We’re not closing our doors," Jessica continues. "M Uptown was truly our restaurant; we wrote the menu, and I framed every picture that hung on those walls. I really believe we will come back even better. There wasn’t really one reason why we made this decision; there was a multitude of them. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
One of M Uptown’s most loyal employees, drag performer Jackie Summers, has been working with the Kustoks since shortly after Mary’s opened; he was still in shock when we asked him about the closing — temporary or not. “Basically, I feel the gay community thought we abandoned them with the name change,” he explains, adding that even though the name and menu were the only things that changed last year, “they stopped coming. Gay folks feel now that they can go anywhere."
After a recent Dreamgirls show with the Shearz family (Valerie, Lala, Amber, Mirage, Sugar and Adam) and special guest Janessa Befierce.
Jackie may have a point, because 2016 was a bad year for Denver’s gay bars and venues. The Eagle in RiNo closed to make way for a major development, and there are rumors that other gay watering holes have dried up. (Broadway’s, at 10th and Broadway, has been dark since New Year's Eve weekend.)
There's no word yet on what will happen to the Dreamgirls show, outrageous Drag Queen Bingo or any of M Uptown's other entertaining evenings. For updates on M Uptown, visit its Facebook page or website at m-uptown.com.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.