Ronnie Bay is no sissy.
Ten years ago, when he took over the Micky Manor on North Federal Boulevard, he had to fight inch by inch, night by night, to turn the bar back into the neighborhood landmark it had been when it opened in 1930.
Life in the Marines was easier. In fact, when Bay was first called in to run the place for a sick friend, he couldn't believe how far it had slid. After all, this was the bar where the eight-year-old Ronnie had eaten burgers while his mother, his aunt and his grandmother--the widow of a cop, and herself Colorado's first female cab driver--downed their Saturday morning beers. When he got a little older, Ronnie and his friends were hired to clean the place. But now that he was decades older, Bay faced the biggest cleanup job of his life. The bar was full of deadbeats, of gang members, of faces he'd seen on wanted posters. "I was calling everyone 'Sir,'" he remembers. "The Marine Corps and the Denver Broncos couldn't take care of this place."
But Bay did. He bought the bar--he's the third owner in 66 years--and he started bringing it back. He faced down the cholos, shaking them down for weapons. Unless he collected at least four or five guns on a Friday, Bay didn't consider it a good night. He threw out the fellows doing drug deals. Once, as he left the bathroom, Bay saw a guy coming in the back door, hitching up his pants. "It made sense that was doing that," Bay says, but the action didn't ring true--so Bay grabbed him from behind, just as the guy was pulling out a .45.
In one of his quainter efforts, Bay also resurrected the Legion of Decency plaque that had hung in the bar when he was a kid, when cussing would cost you a nickel that the Italian owner would send to Catholic charities. With a nod to inflation, Bay raised the ante to a quarter for every time a customer swore. At the end of the year, he'd collected over $300--the bar's only pure profit. Thanks to Bay's other enforcement efforts, the Micky Manor's average daily income had dropped from $800 to $50.
Slowly, things turned around. Bay began closing the bar earlier and earlier, which cut down on the riff-raff (he now shuts the doors at 7 p.m.). He started collecting a long string of perfect scores from the health department. And five years ago he reintroduced the Rockybilt hamburger, a delicious Denver classic. "Do you believe in blessings?" Bay asks. "I went in to trademark the name, and the guy who'd had it for ten years had let it lapse the day before."
Bay not only believes in blessings, but he is sharing his good fortune. Once he got his own bar back on track, he started working on the rest of the neighborhood. He hired young Hispanic artists to paint religious murals on the back of his circa 1897 storefront, which cut down on graffiti on his building as well as in the surrounding area. He became president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, whose most recent accomplishment was the closing of the down-and-dirty Ritchie's Bar, around the corner on 26th Avenue. "Most of those guys were my old customers," he says. Ritchie's was the place where, according to Bay, current Denver police chief Dave Michaud once shot off a man's testicle--but that's another story.
For Bay, there is always another story. About Japanese history, about his days loading pop at the Big Chief bottling company, about how Disney came after the Micky Manor until the bar's founder agreed to drop the "Mouse" out of its name (the neon figures of Mickey and Minnie remain, however). But mostly, Bay's stories are about the neighborhood he grew up in and still calls home. "The kids in this neighborhood know me and don't mess with me," he says. "They know the Micky Manor is anything but chickenshit."
That'll be a quarter.
And when he heard that the organizers of Denver's Million Man March planned to hold their April 29 gathering in his neighborhood, at Mile High Stadium, he started asking some hard questions--the sort of questions that got other people, including Denver school board member Lee White, labeled a "sissy" by Jamal Muhammad. When Promise Keepers came to Mile High, Bay points out, they did advance work with the city and with the neighborhood, and things worked out fine. But so far, Bay's group hasn't heard a word from the city, much less the March's organizers, who are supposed to shell out a quarter of a million dollars to rent the facility. All they've heard is what's been in the newspapers and on the radio and TV. All they've heard is Jamal Muhammad's rhetoric--or at least the more incendiary passages that have been repeated publicly.
Bay is not exactly a delicate fellow, and he's not comfortable dancing around a subject. His neighborhood is 75 percent Hispanic, and lowriders cruise outside on Federal. "Bringing that group to this area," he says, "is like putting a match to gasoline."
Not that he's a racist--but Ronnie Bay is no sissy. "Look, I don't care if you're black or Mexican or white," he adds. "If you're an asshole, you're an asshole."
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Another quarter. Or two.
Bay's group has been working on a letter to the mayor, asking that somebody, anybody, finally address the issue of what bringing so many outsiders--many of them from outside Denver itself--into this neighborhood could mean. They're willing to work with the city, he says.
But even as Bay labored over his letter Tuesday night, his questions--and maybe his prayers--were being answered.
Denver's Million Man March has called a press conference for later this week. Although organizer Alvertis Simmons wouldn't discuss its content, word on the streets had the March being moved--maybe to City Park, maybe to the Denver Coliseum.
Into someone else's neighborhood.