Come Fly With Me

United Airlines and Trader Vic's recently announced a partnership deal in which Vic -- or at least Vic's minions -- will provide the airline with both flight-ready Polynesian cuisine and mai-tai cocktails. Passengers flying first class on all flights to and from Hawaii will be offered complimentary frou-frou drinks, garden salads with Trader Vic's dressing, macadamia-crusted mahi mahi, barbecued short ribs and "pan-seared" chicken in miso-sake glaze. Oh, and an ice cream sundae. And probably a happy-ending massage, as well (though they're not advertising that). And United will also make some of these yummies available -- for a price, of course -- to all us regular shlubs in economy on any flight longer than five hours.

This promotion got me thinking about things that we here in Denver could do to give business travelers, tourists and even locals a taste of what it's like to really live in the Rocky Mountain West. Why should Hawaiians have all the fun? Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, take note:

1) Tour guides on all Colfax bus routes will loudly (and preferably drunkenly) offer a running commentary on exactly what the current eco-devo neighborhood gentrification is destroying. Said guides can wax rhapsodic about the crackhouses, little ethnic restaurants, cab stands, bookstores and tamale carts that have made way for new lofts and Starbucks franchises. As a matter of fact, all the bums and panhandlers who've been put out of work by the anti-homelessness initiatives or chased from their campsites by construction workers would be happy to do the job. Give each of these folks a megaphone, a pint of Early Times and a hat to pass, and I believe that Denver's rich urban history will be in excellent hands.

2) Set up a green-chile catapult above the Eisenhower Tunnel and let 'er rip. I'd suggest aiming mostly for cars with California plates, but far be it from me to impose my prejudices on the highly skilled catapult operators that the state will no doubt hire to operate the sucker. And remember that old saying about government contracts -- "Why build one when you can build two at twice the price"? Why don't we build a second one and aim it at New Mexico? Although I still believe that New Mexican green chile is better than Colorado's, people down there have been getting kinda uppity lately. But it's nothing that a constant barrage of thick, pork-studded Colorado verde wouldn't set right.

3) All planes bound for DIA will be stocked with breakfast burritos, tamales, Del Maguey pechuga mezcal and pony kegs of half-flat, lukewarm Coors. All of this largesse will be given free to passengers flying coach, whereas those in business class will have to leg-wrestle a hardy flight attendant in a Hickenlooper wig for the privilege of being served. Three falls, winner take all.

4) Rocky Mountain-oyster-eating contests will be held nightly on the 16th Street Mall. Since the only people on the mall are usually bewildered tourists looking for ESPN Zone, twitching hippies playing a cover of the Kinks' "Lola" on a clapped-out, pawnshop acoustic guitar missing an E-string, and crazy winos in tinfoil hats screeching about how Dom De Luise is reading their brain waves, I say we combine these three assets into one spectacular spectator event. The rules are simple: one tourist from Omaha or Queens or Berlin or wherever versus one of our own homegrown freaks with sixty seconds on the clock, and whoever eats the most bull testicles wins a free night with full amenities at Jet Hotel and dinner at The Fort. But since everyone in the world pretty much knows by now what Rocky Mountain oysters really are, I say we invent a new, cutesy name for them so that the tourists don't know what they're getting into until it's too late. Maybe something jazzy, like "Nut Steak," or something down-home, like "Prairie Apples" -- but I'll leave that to the city's marketing wizards to decide.

I have more ideas, but I'm not giving these things away free. City boosters are encouraged to leave a sack of Chipotle burritos at the front desk, wrapped in hundred-dollar bills and a bus pass -- because if no one else is going to get behind this "Gentrification Tour 2006" idea, I'll just have to do it myself.

Papa, don't preach: Earlier this summer, Hemingway's Key West Grill, at 1052 South Gaylord Street, changed its name to Max Gill and Grill. That change (and a rearrangement of partnerships, which brought in the owners of the Washington Park Grill just down the street) came about because lawyers from the Hemingway estate -- having finally figured out that for more than two decades, Denver has had a restaurant named for the writer -- called owner Max Barber and told him that the name had to go. Barber caved, brought in the guys from Wash Park (who are now handling daily operations), and a new restaurant was born.

The guy working the desk at Max said the author's estate has been chasing a whole bunch of restaurants that have been making bank on Papa's good name. But not all of those restaurants, because Bass Pro Shops -- the same folks who are partnered up with the Islamorada Fish Company so gently upbraided in this week's review (see page 49) -- operate a gigantic fish restaurant called Hemingway's Blue Water Cafe on the fourth floor of the Bass Pro shop in Springfield, Missouri. So I called general manager Lori Zeppenfeldt and asked if she'd gotten the same kind of nasty note that Max Barber had.

No, she said, although she'd heard some "rumblings" about the Hemingway estate going after other people who were throwing around Ernest's name all higgledy-piggledy. But Zeppenfeldt doesn't expect to ever get such a letter. And why is that?

Apparently, the folks behind Hemingway's Blue Water Cafe have "special permission from the family's estate," Zeppenfeldt said -- namely, a friendship between the founder of Bass Pro, John L. Morris, and some guy (no, I'm not making this up) named Bonefish Willy down in the Keys. See, Morris used to fish the Bimini Flats with Mr. Willy, and Mr. Willy used to fish that same stretch guessed it, Hemingway himself. Zeppenfeldt even has pictures on loan from the Hemingway estate and museum of Morris and Willy and Papa out on the water.

Which just goes to show that it really is all about who you know.

Leftovers: The folks behind Mondo Vino, a great wine store at 3601 West 32nd Avenue in Denver, did its expansion in the opposite order. The shop came first, then Cafe Mondo at 3301 Tejon Street, which started out last year just offering breakfast and lunch for the neighbors. But now that Cafe Mondo finally has its liquor license, it's added Friday- and Saturday-night dinners. Though the kitchen is small, the crew is putting out very interesting cheese and charcuterie plates and a surprisingly French menu, with duck rillette, chicken breasts stuffed with herbed chèvre, seared scallops over melted leeks and garlic risotto, and some desserts you just have to see to believe.

Finally, the old Sunny China space at 1156 South Broadway is sporting a sign that pronounces it's now Wild Basil.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan