Going Underground

Page 2 of 3

Even trashed, the space is amazing -- a bar and restaurant that, in its day, would've been fit for Hef and the bunnies and all the blow they could haul.

"This isn't even the best part," Morreale says, pushing through a set of swinging doors at the back of the dining room and disappearing into the dark.

And maybe you've got to be a restaurant guy with some years behind you to go slack-jawed at the sight of a kitchen cold for more than a quarter-century. Maybe you have to have worked in places built in the '50s and '60s and still limping along decades later; have to be able to remember the smells, the jury-rigged repairs, the jostling of hips and elbows on a crowded hot line and the sepulchral funk of locker rooms in constant use since the Kennedy administration and never, ever cleaned.

Maybe you have to have some special knowledge to truly appreciate the scale of the kitchen that Perry's once had and to imagine what its guys must've been capable of in their heyday. I don't know. But I can tell you this: Just looking at it, I was struck dumb.

The kitchen is thousands of square feet, room enough for an army of cooks and chefs and runners and dishdogs, filled wall to wall and end to end with custom, stainless work stations and prep tables and salad cases and wells and lowboys and cooler/freezer combos. The hot line is capped with a massive hood, set with slant grills and salamanders and flat-tops -- room enough to work fifty plates simultaneously. The chalkboards for the night's specials and 86s still hang over everything. The dish room looks like it was fitted out yesterday. And the massive Hobart scale where once deliveries were weighed and portioned out to distant stations still works, even though the most recent tax and license stamp is dated 1977.

Morreale points out a dumbwaiter system built into the wall.

"Room service?" I ask.

"That's what we thought," he says, laughing. "But no. It goes down."

Then he opens another door, revealing stairs. He runs down into the dark with a flashlight, splashing through standing water on cement floors, and flips a couple of breakers to illuminate a space even bigger than the kitchen above, with a full bakery, offices, locker rooms, prep areas. There's a full rotisserie oven built right into the bricks of one wall, rusted and taller than me. Along another wall, brand-new equipment (brand-new almost thirty years ago, anyway) still sits in the box, never unpacked. This stuff alone is worth a few grand.

We could've explored for hours, days. Even Yontz and Morreale have yet to totally catalogue everything, and they're still overwhelmed every time they step into Perry's and back in time.

I ask Morreale what he's going to do with the place.

"Open it, " he says.

Open it, of course...but not right away. He's still got rooms rented upstairs, and he plans on turning part of the huge parking area into a pay lot for other nearby restaurants. According to his business plan, that will service the original debt. Then will come Perry's -- a turnkey operation, in his mind. Contractors have already been in, estimates taken for the work that's needed. And after that, a top-to-bottom renovation of the entire place, rooms and all. Hotelier Ian Schrager is one of Morreale's heroes, and this is his Ian Schrager project.

For now, though, he hits the breakers and the lights go out, Perry's lost in darkness one last time.

No-tell hotel: My principled shorting of our atrocious waitress at Panzano (see review) reminded me of a recent e-mail from Ben. "My question is about restaurant tipping," he wrote. "I am aware that some restaurants automatically charge a gratuity for large parties of diners. They usually declare the added charge on a sign, menu, etc. I realize that has been a standard practice for a long time. I don't have a problem with that. What I am concerned about is, first, is a gratuity the same thing as a tip? If not, then please define it for me. When I receive a bill with a Œgratuity' already added to the subtotal of the bill, and a blank space for a tip, and a blank space for a total, I am assuming the restaurant is expecting me to add a tip. Is this the way most restaurants present their bills to the customer? Is it legal/ethical for a restaurant to try and get a double tip from a customer?"

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan