"The British are coming, the British are coming."
The empty bottle of rotgut might have addled his other senses -- but it had spared the bum's sense of humor. From his position on the sidewalk in front of Herb's Hideout, the four about-to-lunch ladies marching out of LoDo and up to the Mexico City Lounge at 2115 Larimer Street must have looked as invasively clueless as a battalion of redcoats. This was a route little traveled in the late '80s -- before Coors Field, before Denver even had a major-league team, when LoDo was close to NoDough.
And today, "the British have arrived," says Karle Seydel. As the first director of the Larimer Square North Merchants' Association, Seydel had a ringside seat for much of the developing action in the area. At times, he was the action.
We're sitting in El Chapultepec, Jerry Krantz's classic jazz joint and saloon (now open for breakfast at 8 a.m.) at 20th and Market streets, talking about all the changes in the neighborhood. For a septuagenarian, the 'Pec is going strong; it even outlasted those young upstarts from The Real World: Denver, who lived down the block for four months this summer. Mexico City Lounge is still open, too, as is Herb's Hideout, although it has a new owner and a more upright, upscale clientele. But up the street, at 2449 Larimer, the Bamboo Hut is about to fold its tent -- after 25 years in business.
I discovered the Hut the way you find any great dive -- by word of mouth (and what a mouth it was: that of the late, great Jack Kisling of the Denver Post). When I first stumbled in one Sunday morning, The Silence of the Lambs was on TV, and irritated both by my vague directions and the fact that no Bamboo Hut was listed in the phone book, my anal friend grumbled his doubts that a place with this name could make decent green chile. But as we soon learned, J.R. Perez just didn't bother to change the name when he bought the joint in 1981 -- and the green chile was far better than decent, made with some of the peppers that the Perez family grew on their nearby farm.
But now Perez is done stirring the pot. In keeping with the area's lofty new neighbors, the landlord has jacked up the rent -- and like the Monkey Bean that closed in August and the Great Looks beauty shop that soon followed, the Bamboo Hut will close its doors on December 10. (The green chile lives on at Phil's Place, at 35th and Larimer, where Junie Garcia, J.R.'s niece, moved to run the kitchen at her son's saloon. And her aunt, J.R.'s sister, was once at the Mexico City Lounge -- but that's another story.)
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Joints like the Hut give a city its flavor. But across downtown, on Court Place, Denver's about to lose another classic: Duffy's, which will pour its last beer at the end of this month. The Mickey Manor on Federal has already disappeared; the trademark-busting Mickey and Minnie neon have been taken from the windows, and a banner pronounces that the new owners have renamed the joint the Twelfth Man.
A world-class city has world-class dives. Like El Chapultepec, where the jukebox is free "because this is America," says the fellow holding up the bar just a few stools away. And like other joints still scattered across Denver: Mozart Lounge, the Stadium Inn, Brewery Bar II, Don's Mixed Drinks and the Carioca (better known as Bar Bar). Let's toast them while we still can -- because the British are coming.
For another round, read Patricia Calhoun's blog, Wake-Up Call -- which will soon include a list of the town's other great dives. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.