You hadn't been able to smoke inside Paris on the Platte for several years now. But the cigarette-supporting coffeehouse was one of the last holdouts after the smoking ban went into effect in 2006 -- its legal status as a "cigar bar" let the smoking indoors continue, until the spot finally gave in and went smoke-free at the end of 2009.
Still, as word spread quickly through social networks that the spot simply known as "Paris" would have its final coffee service on Saturday, January 17, my newsfeed was flooded with cigarette memories. First cigarettes, late-night cigarettes, shared cigarettes -- they all happened at Paris on the Platte, a bastion for youth with nowhere else to hang out, bumping elbows with a cadre of adult-like Denver types who considered the place an urban oasis in an estranged cowtown.
Though I still made plenty of trips to Paris in recent years, I had sort of grown out of the area it called home. The once kinda-seedy (which made it appealing) section along Platte Street was the place I went to smoke cigarettes as a teenager, whether it be at Paris or across the street at Shakespeare's -- a cool, old-school pool hall. Sometimes we'd stop by Paris for a coffee or tea late-night after cruising Larimer Street for hours, circling the blocks of bars we weren't old enough to go into, taking in the unparalleled mobile people-watching experience that would one day just be known as the dreaded LoDo crowd.
When my twenties hit, I had many a meeting at Paris -- someone I knew was always starting a new magazine with no budget but needed writers. Or someone I knew was having an art show at Paris and needed friends to come support it. Or someone I knew would be playing a show there or hosting a dance night or comedy show or a poetry reading.
Paris was an often-overlooked space that invited creative people to hang out there and be creative, regardless of age. And as much as my social networks were flooded with similar happy memories of communing and smoking inside the glass doors of Paris -- much of which happened when folks were younger and less apt to just go to a bar because, well, they weren't yet old enough -- there was also an undercurrent of cynical commentary that surfaced.
It seems that some adults had forgotten how important a place like Paris on the Platte was to others (maybe even themselves) -- especially during our teenage years. I came across rude comments and smug status updates on Facebook proclaiming "boo hoo for another shitty coffee shop gone" or "Denver is changing, get over it." It was as if these people dismissed the fact that somewhere in its 28 years of service as Denver's oldest surviving coffee shop, Paris may have been the site of a first date, a first drag off of a clove or a first interaction with a cool stranger.
Saturday night, after I had stopped in for a latte and to say my last goodbye to Paris, I headed over to Su Teatro to see a show put on by the Black Actor's Guild. Very charming host Quinn Marchman (who couldn't be older than 24 or 25,) took the last few moments of the show to remember Paris, a place where many, many young people over the years had found a place to be themselves. Suddenly, I felt vindicated in my mourning. Paris on the Platte may have left the weekly hangout rotation for Denverites once they reached adulthood, but it was clear that the coffee shop had been serving its purpose all along -- as a space where all people (especially young people) could meet and talk and experience art and find a community.
In recent years, like much of Denver, Platte Street has become unrecognizable -- the once dark alley of a road with plenty of parking is now packed with condos and craft breweries. To quote owner Faye McGuire from a 2010 conversation she had with Westword, "Platte Street's a mix," concludes Maguire, who takes the long view of the neighborhood. "For all the great businesses we get in, we lose some, too."
Au revoir, Paris on the Platte. May all of our memories of shared teenage cigarettes live on forever.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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