Among the world's guilty pleasures, downing a bowl of thick, fragrant chile verde with chicharrones (fried pork scraps) at the Bamboo ranks right up there with sneaking a hot fudge sundae at 3 a.m., praying that Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders will contract bubonic plague, or blasting the Mustang through the aspen groves this side of Independence Pass at 90 miles an hour.
The authorities may not like it, but there is no greater love.
For eighteen years, Bamboo Hut owner Alex Perez Jr.--regulars call him J.R.--has been supplying what might be the city's most fiery bowl of green to working folk in paint-spattered pants, crisply suited business executives and the occasional street-dweller with $3.50 in his pocket. There's not a coward in the bunch: It takes courage--in the heart and in the alimentary canal--to contend with J.R.'s green, but the rewards are great. This stuff, as different from the pabulum ladled up in the gringo places as "smooth jazz" is from Coltrane, rings your bell and ignites your soul.
Feel like enlarging the experience from the merely wonderful to the sublime? Augment your order with a couple of steak tacos ($1.80 each). The corn shells are hot and oily, the filling perfection. The powerful, dark-hued salsa comes to the table in a squeeze bottle; they'd probably kill for it in New Jersey or North Dakota.
Time was that Perez and his brother grew their own jalapenos on a six-acre farm near Henderson ("What flavor they had!" he remembers) and hand-carried them to the tiny kitchen on Larimer Street. Since 1991, though, the proprietor has bought his hot peppers from local food purveyors. Little matter. J.R.'s niece, Junie, is the cook at the Bamboo, and her grandmother's recipe for green chile is as good now as it was fifty years ago. When satisfied customers ask, she even passes on her secrets. But mere amateurs rarely achieve Junie's surpassing results. After all, Picasso could tell you all about art, but that doesn't mean you could paint "Three Musicians."
As a place to drink beer and eat green chile (or menudo, which seems to be the early-morning choice), the Bamboo Hut couldn't be better. This tiny saloon consists of one iron-clad security door, one very experienced bar (inhabited by some very experienced patrons), half a dozen battered tables, one jukebox and three TV sets--usually featuring The People's Court or As the World Turns. This is 25th and Larimer, so there are some rules, all prominently posted: No Checks, No Credit Cards, No Loitering, No Kids on Pool Table, No Bedrolls, No Excess Baggage and Please Pay All Tickets at Bar With Cashier--Do Not Leave on Table. Thank You.
In other words, you won't run into Messrs. Nieman and Marcus in here. The morning worthies order the terrific chorizo con huevos ($4.75) or the short stack ($2), and the lunch crowd attacks fat burritos or (what's this!) the $3.75 roast beef dinner. But those in the know go for the bowl of green (no beans!), the menudo and the tacos. As for accompaniments, a $1.25 draft beer is just about perfect, gracias, but you can also score a bucket of Coronitas--five midget Coronas, on ice, for five bucks. Or a very nice margarita for $4.50, which is about what you'll spend on lunch.
Be forewarned: Construction in the neighborhood will make getting to the Bamboo an ordeal for a few more months, but we advise you to press on bravely. The road to heaven has never been easy.
The Bamboo Hut, 2449 Larimer Street (near Broadway), 303-296-9739. Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed the last Monday of each month.
Denver is full great joints--neighborhood spots that will never rate a Zagat mention but always add flavor to a city. We'll be serving up looks at some of the town's true joints on a semi-regular basis; if you have suggestions for places we should visit, e-mail us at [email protected].