Twin sisters Doniece and Dena Derani, who owned Gypsy House Cafe, were devastated when the building they rented at the corner of East 13th Avenue and Marion Street sold in 2016, forcing them to close their coffee shop and hookah lounge, a haven for Denver artists, musicians and poets.
They took the art and photography they had accumulated over twelve years off the walls, gave away the well-worn couches and coffee-stained tables, and, blaming gentrification, said goodbye to their customers, many of whom saw Gypsy House as a home away from home. Heartbroken, the Derani sisters left Denver, trying to find a new city where they could set up shop.
They spent time in Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans during their search. Doniece compares herself to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she was swept up by the tornado, exploring new lands but missing home.
“I never knew that I loved Colorado so much until I tried leaving,” Doniece says.
Through their travels, she and Dena learned that gentrification was creating problems for small-business owners in every city they explored, so they kept checking back in with Denver, wondering, “Do you want us or not?”
Eventually, they found an available space they could afford. “South Broadway kept calling us," says Doniece.
While Denver was the most expensive location in terms of real estate, the sisters were determined to reopen here. “It’s time now,” Doniece says with a determined smile. “Everything in divine time.”
They found the new location, at 1545 South Broadway, back in June. Built in 1924, the former VFW bar turned art studio sits in the middle of the block; it has a wide, welcoming façade. Two gypsy-themed murals by New Mexico’s Vela Art already decorate the outside walls. With two floors and 4,100 square feet (over 800 more than before), Doniece and Dena are eager to welcome customers old and new into their colorful cafe.
“I’m just getting used to calling this place Gypsy,” Doniece says. “It’s going to be different. I think no matter what, we still have our vibe. Gypsy House comes with us.”
The original cafe specialized in building community, and the sisters deliberately carried that tradition into the new space. They have already hosted events and are booked for more in the future. As the city has grown, so has interest in arty events along this stretch of South Broadway, so the sisters will expand their offerings to match. Eventually they would like to have an in-house boutique or host pop-up shops where creative Coloradans can sell their wares.
The sisters grew up in Morrison, and Doniece remembers when South Broadway businesses were mostly antique shops, and the street otherwise felt somewhat abandoned. Today South Broadway harbors breweries, galleries and restaurants that scream “hip destination.”
“I think in my mind I still have little old Denver in my head,” Dena admits. “This is turning into a big city.”
Even with all of Denver’s changes, the sisters feel right at home on South Broadway, surrounded by other unique and independent businesses. Their new Gypsy House sits between Certified Tattoo Studios and Alternation Brewing Company, and they appreciate the communal and eclectic vibe created by the mix of storefronts.
The sisters set up a GoFundMe to ask for donations so that they could reopen; they also invited people to donate their time to work on renovations. The bright teal, pink and green walls painted with palm trees and hummingbirds, along with the cafe's mismatched furniture, have all come together through the Deranis’ hard work, as well as through the support of the community.
In addition to coffee, they plan to serve beer and wine at their new place. Offering hookah is still up in the air, but knowing how much people enjoy smoking, they are looking into city regulations to see if they can make it available. Overall, they say, they want to re-create the original lounge atmosphere, but a more “grown-up” version.
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“You’re going to walk in here and you’re going to say hi to three or four people you may know — and if not, you’re going to know them by the time you leave,” Doniece says. “We want everyone to be comfortable and feel like they can express themselves.”
While they planned on opening in September, they're now looking toward February or March. Most of the construction is complete; the only item left on the to-do list is to build a ramp to make the building accessible and bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
As soon as the city grants its approval, the new Gypsy House will open its doors.
“I don’t think Gypsy House would work anywhere else,” Dena says. “Denver and the community made Gypsy House what is was. I just think we weren’t done being here yet.”