This Denver Bar Once Welcomed Frank Sinatra And Jack Kerouac. Now It's Closed

Dec 26, 2020
Originally published on December 27, 2020 11:55 pm

The legendary El Chapultepec has closed after 87 years in business — not only because of the pandemic, but also because Denver has changed.

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Imagine being at your local bar and seeing Jack Kerouac, Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra. That was the scene in the heyday of Denver's El Chapultepec, which closed earlier this month after 87 years. From Colorado Public Radio, reporter Monica Castillo has this appreciation.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JAZZ CORPS FEAT. ROLAND KIRK'S "MEANWHILE")

MONICA CASTILLO, BYLINE: Follow the glow of an old, weathered sign with a three-pronged cactus in downtown Denver. Below the sign is a short brick building with small windows. It might not look like much, but El Chapultepec once welcomed legends, locals and visitors alike to its packed jazz shows.

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CASTILLO: Carlos Lando, the general manager of jazz station KUVO, remembers the venue affectionately known as The Pec.

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CARLOS LANDO: When you saw the cantina sign, that's where the action was. That's where jazz was.

CASTILLO: The Pec began its life as a Mexican restaurant in the 1930s. In the '60s, new owner Jerry Krantz began hosting the occasional jazz night. Eventually, those jazz nights turned into jazz every night for free.

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LANDO: If you had enough money to buy a beer and you wanted to enjoy some music, you were welcome. And you'll be in there rubbing elbows with the mayor, with a senator, with a famous musician or a famous celebrity, movie star, whatever. This was the place where everybody came to kind of let their hair down and unwind.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JAZZ CORPS FEAT. ROLAND KIRK'S "MEANWHILE")

CASTILLO: It was where musicians like Wynton Marsalis would take his trumpet after a concert at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It was where touring saxophonist Red Holloway could jam with local musicians.

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CASTILLO: There was also a house band and regulars, like saxophone player Freddy Rodriguez Sr. He played The Pec's tiny stage for roughly 40 years until he died - complications from COVID-19 in March.

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CASTILLO: Denver Post jazz critic Bret Saunders visited The Pec since the '90s.

BRET SAUNDERS: There are clubs in the country, without naming any names - although let's just say a club in New York - where you have to pay a big fee upfront, you'd have to stay for dinner and there would be a minimum on drinks. After the first set, you're out of there because they have to clear the room for the next round of paying customers. At El Chapultepec, everyone was welcome.

CASTILLO: The Pec's heyday lasted from the '60s to the '90s. Then the Colorado Rockies built Coors Field baseball stadium. Standing in front of The Pec, Krantz's daughter and co-owner of the club Anna Diaz says that really hurt business.

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ANNA DIAZ: Jazz musicians, blues musicians - they shouldn't have to time their sets around the baseball innings and when the crowd's going to get out and be wild. They should be able to play their music and the crowd just be there to enjoy them.

CASTILLO: But The Pec carried on through gentrification until the coronavirus. Diaz says that was the coda for the club.

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DIAZ: The Pec is not for sale, and the decision is final. There's not going to be a GoFundMe that's going to reverse our choice, so we just want to be clear about that. It's very intimate to us, and we're just ready to close that chapter and keep it with us.

CASTILLO: The building and its famous cantina sign remain as historic landmarks. Now they're a reminder of the jazz hot spot that once was.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOLLOWAY'S "STILL GROOVIN'")

CASTILLO: For NPR News, I'm Monica Castillo.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOLLOWAY'S "STILL GROOVIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.