El Chapultepec, the Crown Jewel of Denver Jazz, Has Closed

After nine decades, El Chapultepec is shutting down.
After nine decades, El Chapultepec is shutting down. Westword
El Chapultepec, which opened the day after Prohibition ended in 1933 and went on to become one of Denver's legendary jazz venues, has closed after a nearly nine-decade run.

The “Krantz family sends our love to all who this decision affects, we did not take it lightly,” wrote Angela Guerrero on social media. Guerrero took over the venue and restaurant after her father, Jerry Krantz, passed away in 2012 at age 77. “The Pec is a living, breathing, member of both our family and the Denver community. The decision was multifactorial and though we know it’s the right thing to do.”

Rumors of the news, first reported by the Denver Post, surfaced on social media late December 6. Dave Flomberg, Joshua Trinidad, Armando Lopez, Venus Cruz and other longtime members of the entertainment scene lamented the closure.

Guerrero is slated to hold a press conference on Tuesday, December 8, to elaborate on the decision.

Evan Makovsky, co-owner of Shames Makovsky Realty Company, bought the building at 1962 Market Street after Krantz died, so that the Krantz family could continue to run the legendary jazz club.

"At this point, we are all saddened to see El Chapultepec close," wrote Makovsky spokesperson Nina Thomas. "We do not have any comments yet for plans for the building, and we are working with Angela Guerrero on her move out."

While the loss of El Chapultepec is devastating for Denver, the building is not going anywhere anytime soon, as it is protected as part of the LoDo Historic District, established in 1988.

Legend has it that even before it officially opened, the bar was operating during Prohibition as a speakeasy, and the ’Pec's colorful history doesn't stop there. In 1968, Krantz inherited the bar from his father-in-law, Tony Romano. Krantz spent time as a young man working in Chicago jazz clubs. He originally booked mariachi bands to play the ’Pec on the weekends before bringing in jazz acts. But it made its name with jazz, and many legends have played that tiny stage, including Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and Tony Bennett, as well as such distinguished guests as rockers Bono, Mick Jagger and former President Bill Clinton.

The ’Pec was also home to local jazz royalty, particularly tenor saxophonist Freddy Rodriguez Sr., who headed up house bands for nearly four decades before dying at the age of 89 on March 25 from complications related to COVID-19. During Rodriguez's tenure at the club, many noted touring players sat in with his band. Brothers Wynton and Branford Marsalis joined Rodriguez, and Jaco Pastorius played Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” with the group.

For bassist Ken Walker, who went on to play with legends like Lew Soloff, Charles McPherson, Pete Christlieb, Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson, the ’Pec was essentially his university; he played there for twelve years, often seven nights a week, during the late ’80s and ’90s.

"People asked how I stayed there for so long," Walker told Westword in 2012. "It was like an education. I really learned how to play there. Playing there seven nights a week — you can't find that kind of experience anywhere."

Max Wagner, who headed up the house band at El Chapultepec for three years, told Westword in 2012, "The ’Pec is a unique and special thing. Across the whole country, it was one of the places that all the insider, hippest jazz artists knew about, the place where you could really blow and play the real stuff."

For close to ninety years, El Chapultepec kept it real.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon