Going Underground

The All-Inn -- that's what Jesse Morreale is calling his newest acquisition, at 3015 East Colfax Avenue, the former Executive Inn Motor Hotel. The All-Inn, as in his big bet, his best bluff, his largest pot to date.

The number being tossed around is $2.1 million to buy off the liens against the building and its three-quarters of an acre on Colfax, an investment that might make Morreale look like a genius as this stretch starts to gentrify -- a year from now, or maybe two or ten. There were complications with the deal, misfiled paperwork, nuisance complaints. It took Morreale (who already owns La Rumba, at 99 West Ninth Avenue; Mezcal, right down the street from the All-Inn; and Sketch, due to debut February 10 in the heart of Cherry Creek) better than a year of tap-dancing to close on the property, and there are still zoning issues being hashed out, hookers and dealers to be chased off, neighbors to appease. For the time being, the former owners of the place -- Jong Kim and his family -- are still running it, renting out the 56 upstairs rooms and keeping the money (such as it is) flowing.

But Morreale was buying much more than a hotel -- and he didn't even know it until after all the paperwork was done.

One day, as Denver City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth was hand-holding Morreale through one meeting or another, she asked if he knew that the Executive had once had a restaurant. A restaurant and bar that had been shuttered for close to thirty years, hidden away on the ground floor of the run-down hotel with its peeling paint and water-stained tile and extension cords Scotch-taped to the ceiling. Behind a door off the lobby and around a short curve was a restaurant that had been forgotten, as if one night there had been a last call and then the place called Perry's had simply vanished from the face of the earth.

"I had no idea," Morreale tells me. "Seriously, no idea until we went down there."

"We" means Morreale and friend/accomplice/partner-in-crime Sean Yontz. A few weeks ago, the two of them got to do what every Indiana Jones fan, every skulking, pimple-faced teenager who ever burned up a Friday night playing Dungeons & Dragons always dreamed of doing. They found a key, they opened a door, and behind it they found a lost city. Okay, a lost restaurant, but still -- how cool is that?

"There was a lot of shit in here," Morreale explains as we stand in the lobby, him fumbling with his keys, Yontz somewhere off in the wings. "Old mattresses and stacks of phone books and chairs. Bikes. Things people had left behind in the rooms. We had to get all that out of here. But it was all here, man. All we had to do was find the breakers and change some lightbulbs. I mean, look at this!"

And with that, he popped the door and led me out onto the floor of his new kingdom.

Now, I can't imagine how Howard Carter must have felt when he found the first step leading down to King Tut's tomb. I can't guess at the expression on the face of Robert Ballard when his little submarine thing shot him back the first pictures of the wreck of the Titanic lying broken on the ocean floor. But I know exactly how Morreale must've felt when he opened that door for the first time. He was thinking, Jackpot. He was thinking, Throw me the whip and I'll throw you the idol.

"I couldn't believe it," Morreale says. "You have to imagine it piled with stuff, but still..."

Perry's is a time capsule, a museum piece, a surprisingly well-preserved example of swinging-'70s swank before it was retro, brought almost whole from back when it was the hottest groove around. The carpets are orange, geometrically patterned and vaguely creepy, like the upholstery in your weird uncle's basement (the one who still collects Bee Gees vinyl and tries to throw key parties with the neighbors). The booths are quilted black leather, the dance floor tiled and backed by mirrors. The sconces are polished chrome and look like a railway signalman's lantern from the Acidville-Freaktown line, the chandeliers worked into post-art-deco tangles of metal vines and leaves. The bar is glassed-in and mirrored, with room enough for maybe ten stools facing a lounge area done in stone and dark wood. And at the far end of the room, there's a tiny stage where John Denver used to play.

"There were a couple places in the city where he played," Morreale says. "This was one of them."

There's also a DJ booth, a heated vestibule and separate entrance onto Colfax, a main dining floor with private rooms pocketed along the back wall, and mirrors, still in their original gilt frames, stacked to the side and still bearing readable production stamps dated 1959 -- the year Perry's opened for business.