Cafe Society

Club Fed

Jerry Feld's Club 404 (Your Host: Jerry Feld) is the soul of old Denver. Zebulon Pike and William Bent may have missed this wonderful, windowless refuge under the red awning at Fourth Avenue and Broadway by a decade or two, but virtually everyone who's lived in our fair city during the twentieth century has dropped in for a big bowl of buffalo stew, the 22-ounce T-bone or the "World Famous Jerrito" (named for--who else?--Your Host: Jerry Feld).

The beer is cold, the lunch plates are huge, and the menu is, well, eclectic--linguine with clam sauce to barbecue ribs to beef enchiladas. The bar talk is notably pointed, ranging one recent noon hour from the dark legacy of the Holocaust to the iconography of Teletubbies to the ongoing pitching woes of the Colorado Rockies to the aesthetic shadings of a defense attorney's rant in district court earlier that morning. "I'm tellin' ya, they shoulda put a straitjacket on this guy!" one patron observed. "But he had the jury beggin' for more."

What more could you ask for while settled in at the 404? Why, to be called "honey" by the waitress, of course, as she wobbles tableward under a steaming platter of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy that would give an interior lineman pause. Or to confront the "Large Combination Plate," four or five pounds of unnameable Mexican food awash in green chili and camouflaged by two acres of lettuce and tomatoes. If, in this mire, you can distinguish the combination burrito from the chile relleno, or even the taco from the enchilada, then you've been around, amigo.

For our money (and you don't part with much of it in here), the crown jewels of Jerry Feld's wide-ranging culinary art are his buffalo meatloaf, his deep-fried catfish and what he calls his "beautiful prime rib"--stick-to-the-ribs staples that will do the trick for the most dedicated trencherman. Recently, a friend of some girth happily put away a huge slab of Jerry's luscious prime, a gigantic baked potato and an iceberg salad drenched with blue-cheese dressing from an enormous syrup jug--and found himself so well-pleased by the experience that he immediately repeated it. At $9.95 per plate, he could afford to, although a single order will suffice for people of normal circumference.

As for the 22-ounce T-bone, usually offered as an evening special at $6.95, come hungry. Although we prefer the 404's prime rib, the jumbo steak, while not the tenderest thing on the planet, is also a worthy project. The tropical fish in Jerry Feld's aquarium may grow visibly older in the time it takes to plow through this behemoth, but stick with it. For dessert, there's always a slice of chocolate cake the size of a paving stone.

It is difficult in this limited space to do justice to all of Club 404's functions. It is at once a temple of basic cooking (Hallelujah! the grilled ham and cheese; Hosannah! the baked half-chicken), the site of lively debates and, unexpectedly, an outpost of beer connoisseurship featuring Anchor Steam, Fat Tire, Guinness and Harp, among others, on tap, as well as gourmet bottles such as Samuel Adams, Newcastle and Pilsner Urquell.

The place also serves as a mini-mall. Each day the staff throws a brown tarp over the pool table and loads her up with mustard and ketchup bottles, salsa bowls, baskets of crackers, pitchers of water, those jugs of salad dressing and iced tubs of butter pats. Happily, there's still room for a pretty nice selection of Colorado Rockies Christmas ornaments, a stack of baseball caps advertising such things as the Duquesne Golf Club and Eagles' Landing Ocean Beach, and assorted trinkets and gewgaws. While tucking into your roast loin of pork ($8.95), you may even want to purchase a wristwatch or a bracelet from the vender wending his way among the tables with his red-plaid sample case.

Need we say more about this extraordinary dining, social and shopping experience? Not much. Just that Jerry Feld's smiling, mustachioed face adorns both menu front and wall clock. That the same Saturday lunch crowd has been meeting at a common table since the Eisenhower administration. And that once you've had ten prime ribs or T-bones and gotten your card stamped each time, the eleventh dinner is free.

Try that at Del Frisco's or Morton's.

Club 404, 404 Broadway, 303-778-9605. Kitchen hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday. Bar hours: 7:30 a.m.-closing seven days a week.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo