A Rare Bird

For half a century, the immigrant working men of Louisville hacked out a living in the Acme Mine below the dirt streets of their town, swinging pickaxes, inhaling coal dust in the gloom and praying for Sunday. On Sunday the miners would go to church and, if times were good, they would take their families to dinner at the Blue Parrot on Main Street.

Big platters of spaghetti. Steaming meatballs. A glass of vino tinto sipped in the glow of gaslight. It was simple, Old Country food, served up by their friends Mike and Mary Colacci. The Colaccis certainly knew what a good meal meant to working people. In the beginning, Mary would give her spaghetti away on Sundays. And before getting the restaurant on its feet in the 1920s, Mike, too, had slaved down below, alongside his customers.

The mines of the Northern Coal Field -- 171 of them in Boulder County -- are long gone now, and Mike Colacci died in 1970, at the age of 83. But the Blue Parrot carries on. Still owned and operated by the Colacci family, this nearby institution (just sixteen miles northwest of downtown Denver) is celebrating its eightieth anniversary, and it's still the place to get an oversized bowl of homemade spaghetti as thick as bridge cable, a meatball the size of the moon and an extra pot of piquant red sauce for dipping. Or a huge platter of gnocchi. Or ravioli almost as big as the bases at Coors Field. There's no ceremony here -- never has been -- and no bird food. Go hungry, tuck your napkin into your collar, then get down to business. And expect to take half your order out to the car with you.

Neither inflated pricing nor political correctness has found a home in Louisville. A large plate of spaghetti (and we mean large) with salad and homemade bread goes for $6.55, and an order of sausage or meatball bumps the check up just $1.75; a nice bottle of Ripetta Chianti will set you back fourteen bucks. Meanwhile, the kitchen still turns out a sausage-and-cheese sandwich called the, uh, "Wopburger" -- just as it has since the Truman administration.

Looking for innovation? Order a mocha latte. Or at breakfast, the management will be happy to serve pasta with your eggs or drench them in spaghetti sauce. Hey, you haven't lived.

In 1988, a fire took the Blue Parrot almost to the ground, but Mike's son Joe quickly rebuilt. The sparkling new Parrot doesn't have quite the charm of the original (that floral wallpaper in the plain-Jane dining room is stone Holiday Inn), but certain artifacts in the bar tell tales of yore. For instance, the flames spared Mary and mustachioed Mike's beautiful old wedding photograph, Mike's army discharge certificate (he was in the Italian army, 1910-1913) and letters of spaghetti appreciation from assorted governors and other non-Italian folk. Mike's granddaughter, Joan Riggins, now oversees the place, and her brother Richard Colacci runs the plant that bottles the Blue Parrot sauce, which is available in local grocery stores. Although Joe Colacci is semi-retired now, his sense of humor is not: Among the family pictures in the bar, there's one of Joe leaning over to tee up his golf ball, revealing a tear in the seat of his pants.

We love the Blue Parrot -- always have -- but to make a trip to Louisville complete, you must also stop in at Colacci's, two blocks away at 816 Main Street. Joe Colacci's brother Tony inaugurated this competing restaurant in 1955 -- a familial affront, it is said, that was never forgiven -- and sold it to new owners around 1970. With its Naugahyde booths, classic old bar and framed photo of General Douglas MacArthur, Colacci's remains almost precisely the same as it was the day it opened. This spring, a man named Myers tried to buy the place and remodel it into a brewpub, but the deal fell through.

So Colacci's remains. Along with the remnants of a family feud.

"There's Only One!" the front window's paint and neon tell us. "The Original World Famous Spaghetti." Down at the Blue Parrot, no one would agree. But that's another story, a dark mine into which few outsiders would dare descend.