A writer, publisher, restaurateur, cook, and arts and literary community-builder, Dan Landes does the Renaissance-man thing the 21st-century way: He oversees the day-to-day at his hip eatery City, O’City, which also serves as a base for the upstairs performance space Deer Pile and the adjacent 1280 Sherman Street artist studios. A creative himself who fosters the work of other creatives, Landes has built a bohemian empire in Capitol Hill while still making time for what he calls his greatest accomplishment: raising his two sons, Charley and Henry. Learn more about Landes as he answers our 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Dan Landes: I like booze and adventure, so I imagine Mark Twain and I could get into some trouble worth writing about. I’d be Huck Finn to his Tom Sawyer. In this fantasy, we are not little hellions with skid marks in our drawers, but in our early twenties, wearing linen suits and Panama hats, playing cards in pre-Castro Cuba.
The stakes are high. Mark, I mean Samuel — ah, hell, I call him ‘Shooter’ because he fleeced 500 bucks off of me with a set of loaded dice one winter day in New Orleans — has once again gotten us into deep trouble. The whole kerfuffle began poolside at Club Havana, where we were enjoying icy rum drinks and the company of beautiful women in two-piece bathing suits. It wasn’t long before the booze had us all randy and disrobed. Shooter got caught licking the salt off the delicate curve of Daniela De Souza’s inner thigh by her betrothed, the murderous Rum Runner and full-time pirate Mandrake the Pink. Don’t smirk. Mandrake has sewn many a smirking mouth shut.
Upon being caught, Shooter and Daniela were immediately judged and juried by the notorious Rum Runner. It was an efficient trial in which Mandrake chose for Shooter death by machete hacks, and for Daniela — she was to tied to the mast of his ship until the flesh fell from her graceful bones.
Did you know the Spanish word for business is negocios? Yes, like the word "negotiate." Shooter must have known this, because upon sentencing, he started up negotiations with Mandrake as though he were Abraham trying to talk God into sparing his son Isaac. Shooter hooked Mandrake into a one-upmanship competition that lasted for 36 hours. At one point in the contest, they competed in breath-holding, one-leg balancing and whose pitch was more perfect, and they compared odd things their bodies could do, like popping shoulders out-of-socket and burping the Lord’s prayer. The outcome was a draw, and so it was decided they would play one single hand of five-card stud. If Shooter wins, he gets to keep his life, the pirate ship and its curvaceous mast ornament. If he looses, Mandrake gets access to Shooter’s vast off-shore fortunes, wink wink, and to chop him into stew meat. Apparently Shooter offered up my left hand to sweeten the deal.
So here we sit, Mark Twain and I, on the gambling floor of Club Havana, wearing linen suits and Panama hats, about to swindle yet another cad.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Trump supporters. Although I have yet to actually meet or interact with one, I find them very interesting. I have made many friends locally and throughout the world because I assume that people are intelligent. Assuming another’s intelligence creates an opportunity for deeper interaction, more listening, more learning. Assuming that Trump supporters are intelligent, I am curious why they would support a diabolical baby like Donald Trump. I don’t believe Trump supporters are all vicious xenophobes, with souls gone bitter from lack of empathy and an abundance of fear. I see people fed up with D.C. and rightfully so, but still — why support a loudmouth bigot, who compensates for his lack of substance with bullying and pompousness? Do Trump supporters truly believe that what we need now is a president of monumental ineptitude to make this nation great again?
I must be missing something. When I hear the bile spewing from his smug mouth about uprooting and deporting millions of hard-working humans and families, it seems so cruel and unnecessary. His idea of building a wall on the border of Mexico replete with barbwire and gun turrets seems asinine. My ire goes through the roof when this sociopath suggests banning all Muslims, spying on them and their place of worship, thereby vilifying an entire religion.
When I was young and learning about the atrocities of the Holocaust, I would hear the sentiment “never again.” That sentiment surprised me. I couldn’t imagine that something like the Holocaust could ever happen again. You don’t even need to say “never again.” We would never repeat such an atrocity. Right? Another Holocaust just couldn’t happen. Right? Now I’m not sure. If intelligent people truly support a vitriolic piece of shit like Trump, perhaps it could.
Fuck Trump and his Hitler tactics. Dude is inept in all ways.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
People looking at art. It’s a process repeated in galleries and museums all over the world. People stand a few feet away from the art, maybe with a glass of shitty red wine in their hand, and just look at it. Occasionally, they’ll lean in to read the placard on the wall next to the piece, step back, take a sip of said shitty red wine and then move sideways to the next piece of art. This process — look at art, sip drink, read the placard and repeat — continues from piece to piece, gallery to gallery, drink in hand, look at art, and move on. Something seems vacuous about this interaction with art. The whole act of observer and observed is becoming stale to me. I want the artist, the art and me swept up in an exchange of passions and ideas that leaves me forever changed.
I think the majority of artists working today should abandon the formula of creating work to be passively observed on a wall and focus their artistic talents on how to put their art inside people. I want the artist to include the observer in the art. Fuck people gently or roughly with it. Make them come. Make them tap out. Art today should rattle people’s head hard. Concuss them. Leave permanent damage. Knock a few teeth out.
If artists approached their job like soldiers approach theirs, our world would be more in balance and interesting. The establishment should fear artists and poets as if they have they power to undermine all sense of security and topple nations…because they do.
What's your day job?
Shiiiit. Apparently it’s having meetings. I have lots and lots of meetings. As a chef, I used to work with my hands. I made things that people put in their mouths and swallowed. Very intimate stuff. In order to create these things, I threw my body into the work. I wore out my lower back but generally was very happy. Now, I work almost exclusively with my head. I write short stories that make sense to me. I read books. I work side by side with brilliant people who bust their ass to make and serve food, write books and literary magazines, produce art/films and help people maintain health. Oh, and I waste too much time doing dumb shit on the Internet.
Here is a list of the things I’m involved at some level on a day to day basis: City, O’ City, WaterCourse Bakery, WaterCourse Foods, Deer Pile, Suspect Press, Suspect Press Publishing, Osa Mariposa, Denver Small Press Fest, Kindness Cap Hill, Queen City General Store, Contra Films, writer’s residency exchange for 2017 Biennial of Americas, fathering Henry and Charley Landes, travel journalism with the photographer Stephen Smith (@iamstephensmith).
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Tell them to find someone more deserving than me to bestow that kind of gift upon. And if they insist? I would take on the duty of finding someone more deserving than me to bestow it upon.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver? I hardly knew her. I am from Denver, a product of Denver Public Schools K-12. Thankfully, I dwelled deep in the cracks and absorbed precious little from the system’s attempt to educate me. I spent the majority of the school day trying to move inanimate objects with my mind and speed up time. School was a miserable time for me.
I barely graduated from high school but was accepted at Colorado State University because I wrote a very nice essay about the benefits of my mis-education. After quickly failing out of CSU, I traipsed my sorry ass back to Denver, where I started working in the kitchen at the all-night coffee shop, Muddy’s, on 22nd and California. It was there, working the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, that I found the Denver that I loved. Muddy’s was filled with weirdos, occultists, vampires, free-jazz enthusiasts, book lovers, poets, b-boys/girls, acid heads, scooter kids, punks, queers, night owls, psychics, goth girls and modern primitives. My people.
That was in ’93, Denver’s summer of violence, which left 74 people dead. Little kids were getting their domes blown off in drive-by shootings in neighborhoods now unaffordable by anyone interesting. We moved in the shadows, under the viaducts and down dark alleyways, from one side of Denver to the other. We’d hang out in warehouses to see shows. The abandoned buildings of Brighton Boulevard and lower downtown were routinely broken into, sound systems installed and all-night raves were thrown. We’d drink cheap beer and well whiskey at the Lion’s Lair with WW II vets, pimps, prostitutes and young punks. It was there I fell in love with the bartender/owner Michelle McManus (a true maker of this city), who would become the mother of my children, my wife, my business partner and, alas, my ex-wife. I found my place in this city feeding the menagerie of the night. I loved this Denver. Where, oh, where, has it gone?
Now Denver is high and far less complex. People with exquisite taste and too many opinions arrive every day looking for the same kind of experience they had in college. They aren’t searching out Denver’s established culture; they want to define it as if it didn’t already possess one. People are trying to force a happy, healthy, safe, clean identity on this dark and complicated city. It sucks. Those are my babyhead feelings of a bygone Denver: “Boo hoo, I want my macabre, Midwestern, fly-over city back. Replete with lack of opportunity and cheap rent!”
Denver is still an amazing place to live, if you can afford the rent. It has a diverse economy that supports entrepreneurial efforts. There are still many opportunities to start something here. Governor Hickenlooper is a solid dude (for a politician) who supports the arts. I don’t know Mayor Hancock, but heard he’s all right. Restaurants are packed and thriving. It’s bike-friendly. New small businesses are popping up. People are sun-soaked and eager to be here. People LOVE IT!, as evidenced by the bumper stickers I see on cars with out-of-state license plates.
I do love Denver. I don’t plan on leaving it. I will work hard to support the elements of it that are interesting to me. I will introduce myself and participate in collaborations with the new arrivals. I will write Denver stories. It is just unfortunate that Denver is evolving in a way that makes it the same as other cities. Which bores me to tears.
Here are some things that make me love this state:
-Colorado needs to take the lead on immigration rights by allowing migrant people to work here legally. Worker amnesty now!
-I would like Colorado to take the lead on addressing the issue being brought up by Black Lives Matters and Black Lives Matter 5280. As a state, we should be forthright and admit to the systematic persecution and the civil injustices endured by people of color. It’s time to acknowledge institutionalized racism and begin walking down a different path.
-I would like to see the Colorado Homeless Bill of Rights signed into law.
-Finally, we need to make right with the native people of this land. We can’t move forward while denying a genocide.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
As a community, Denverites could educate themselves on the efforts already in the works to help the art scene here. Denver Arts & Venues is doing so much already to support the arts. They created a comprehensive arts plan called Imagine 2020: Denver’s Cultural Arts Plan. Of the priorities listed in the plan, the following are the ones I support the most:
-Support Denver Public Schools arts education.
-Increase visibility of local creative and artistic talent.
-Address barriers that limit participation such as affordability, transportation and other factors.
-Increase availability of affordable and accessible live-work spaces for creative-sector workers.
-Imagine 2020 is worth reading and getting behind. Check it out online.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
The artist working with the concept of obliterating the barrier between artist and observer has fifty feet and three wheels. The artist who incorporates dragons, twenty-foot monsters and fire-breathing danger dune buggies to shatter what people have come to expect from a live musical performance. When Itchy-O performs, everyone present becomes swept up and involved. If you are not interacting and paying attention to the artist, you can get stomped on — or worse, ignored. I refer to Itchy-O as a singular artist, even though it’s made up of over 25 people, because the group operates with a hive mentality. There are no individuals in Itchy-O, just the collective.
Over the New Year, I went to see all three nights of Itchy-O at 3 Kings on Broadway. I purged and sweated out all the nasty shit that had accumulated in my body over the past year. Through interacting with the artist Itchy-O, I was physically, spiritually and emotionally transformed. That’s what’s up.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
So many exciting things going on this year. We are releasing a film, directed by Jess Lowe, based on a short story I wrote. It’s a Mezcal love story. The enormously talented artist Katherine Rutter and I are releasing an art/story book entitled Everything Is Everything, about a little boy, love and loss. Josiah Hesse, Brian Polk, Ken Arkind and I are continuing to improve our literary quarterly journal Suspect Press and increase its distribution across the Front Range. We are also starting the publishing arm of Suspect Press. Through this effort, we will help local writers find distribution for their work.
I am working on a documentary about one of my favorite artists and their journey to Tasmania in June. We are planning the second annual Denver Small Press Fest sometime in September. We are working with the Biennial of Americas and the Rocky Mountain Land Library to have a writer’s residency exchange between Mexico and Colorado. I am hoping to spend ten days at Owl Farm in Woody Creek to work on my second novel. I am going to Burning Man (with my son Charley) for the first time this year, where we will attend Denver artist Marie Vlasic and Jiva Armetta’s wedding on the playa.
I think that’s it. For now, anyway.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I am really expecting Denver writer Josiah Hesse to get noticed this year. His first novel, Carnality, is very dark and very good. It is the first book in a series. He is going to Owl Farm in April to work on the second book in the series, which will be released by Suspect Press. Josiah is a very talented and hardworking writer. His day job is as a journalist, writing for different news agencies like VICE, the Denver Post and The Guardian, but at night he works on great works of fiction. Denver is ready to be recognized for its literary talent, and I believe Josiah will be one of those standing in the spotlight. You can see Josiah read on March 19 at the 1280 Sherman Arts Open House.
Enter the world of Dan Landes at the 1280 Sherman Arts Open House, beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at 1280 Sherman Street, above City, O'City. An art exhibit and literary showcase, photo booth and comedy benefit will all be part of the evening, which wraps up with a late-night dance party, all for a $5 donation at the door. Visit the Facebook event page for details. Learn more about Suspect Press on Facebook.