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Monday, March 22, 2010

Muddy's Cafe on 22nd and California. Summer of '92

Awash in self-doubt, I was not unlike many twenty-year-olds: misanthropic, disheartened and sardonic, perhaps I was just slightly better read. I was post-Kerouac's Dharma Bums but pre-Bukowski's Ham on Rye when I ambled into Muddy'slooking for work. With desired results I filled out the application in what I thought divinely inspired spontaneous prose.

On my first shift the cook who was scheduled to train me had been arrested for breaking into a warehouse and throwing what was one of the first raves in Denver. I ran the kitchen solo on my first night. I was assured by waitstaff I could handle it, the menu was not too complicated, and being a Tuesday night, it was notoriously slow. Once a prediction of a slow night is issued aloud in a restaurant, the curse is already at play to pack the place in the most unsynchronistic way. When the show let out from the Mercury Cafe at 2 a.m., I got my ass handed to me.

Somehow I managed to get the food out faster and with less mistakes than previous cooks, so I was welcomed into the underbelly of the Muddy's staff in the summer of 1992. Little did I know that summer I would find my calling, see my future wife and have quantum physics explained by a vampire.

Downtown Denver was being revamped by short-sighted development and uncreative entrepreneurship, leaving Muddy's as a true bastion for the malcontent, the nocturnal, the macabre princesses, the role-playing-game occultist, the opportunistic drug dealers and others who sought refuge from the sporty new look of downtown. Muddy's was the Moulin Rouge of the Queen City. Tables filled with subjective tarot-card readers, maudlin writers and young theater enthusiasts all mixing under a cloud of clove smoke bopping to the sound of live improv jazz. Being far too pragmatic to purely "hang out" at Muddy's, I enjoyed the utilitarian purpose of my participation in this underworld, feeding people. So fulfilling did I find this that I continue doing it today as the owner of WaterCourse Foods, City, O’ City, WaterCourse Bakery and Osa Mariposa.

Denver remained somewhat pure back then. The coastal influences were diluted by distance and open to manipulation by Midwestern boredom. Country music had never sounded more gothic, punk rock never played so loud. Early-evening thunderstorms washed the grime from the day down the drains, leaving a cool, fresh start for the evening.

One such summer evening the Rok Tots, an ungodly loud band played the Lion's Lair, a spontaneous and unrefined hero for the local music scene. Unbeknownst to me, the bartender was the lovely Michelle McManus, whom I would marry six years later. Muddy's, the Mercury Cafe, the Lion's Lair and Calvin's made up an incongruous setting for the comings and goings of a small underground scene.

Like mourning a cup of coffee that has been consumed, I would be a fool to lament the good old days of Denver. Denver's heyday was many, many years ago, when the grand valley flooded every century and the occupants traveled through in moccasins. By the 1990s we were well on our way to compromising our independent integrity to be a second-rate "real" city. Muddy's was a last bastion of the independent semi-urban west.

I read the man who put in a discotheque where Muddy's once stood decided to leave up a few walls for artistic or sentimental value. Bullshit. I am sure there are zoning and permit benefits to leaving them up. The building, as Tim Fink put it, was a piece of shit. That building is just a sarcophagus that entombed a memory of a time in Denver's history when reading, music, poetry and strong-ass coffee were important to our culture. The building is not worth eulogizing, the culture is.
Rest in peace.


  1. I used to work there too. Sometimes I Google Muddy's... just because. I enjoyed reading this.

  2. I also enjoyed reading this. A few months back I was talking with my ex and we were remembering some of the good times we had at Muddy's. We didn't know each other back then, but we both hung out there with our respective friends. I miss that place.

  3. Good read. I feel a pang of loss when I think of that place. I was there on and off from about '90 to '95. The low light, the chatter, the graffiti that covered everything, the way the wooden booths creaked when we sat in them. The people. Muddy's still exists as it's own room in my psyche, in my memory. I can never go back but once in a a while I can peer in and smile wistfully.

  4. The the warm Almond Milk was the best! I loved the nooks and crannies too. Miss that place!

  5. There has not been any place I have ever seen that was even half as chaotic and beautiful as Muddys. I spent virtually every night of my life there for years. They still make up the bulk of what I consider the best years of my life. Miss you all!

  6. yes i to spent many a late night at muddy's I was part of the early late 80's early 90's punk rock scene. We were all a bunch of kids who had been kicked out or left home for one reason or another,and we found solice with each other. I am now almost 40, it seems so long ago now, we all have moved on or grown up. I miss those days. Every summer that I go back to Denver they have torn yet another of those old buildings down. It's really sad to see how much it's all changed.