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The Mercury Cafe, Denver, Colorado

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The Mercury Café may not be 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe', but the food's close to being out of this world. A fixture in the Denver scene for over 25 years, the original incarnation opened in March, 1975. Through the years The Mercury Café has moved a number of times and has undergone several name changes, but as owner Marilyn Megenity put it, 'It's the vision, not the location that's the important thing'. And she's right. The Merc, as it's affectionately known, has remained true to Marilyn's vision of being 'committed to music, having a good time, and serving good food'. Marilyn has been serving up food, music and community events at The Merc's current location, 2199 California Street, since Halloween, 1990.

The restaurant is at the northeast edge of what's known as 'LoDo', short for Lower Downtown, in Denver. It fully occupies a two storey building at the corner of 22nd Street and California Street. There are two entrances - the main entrance on 22nd Street, and a second entrance on California Street. Along the southwest face of the building lie acres and acres of parking, along with murals of dancing dinosaurs.

Food for Thought

The Mercury Café is open nightly, Tuesday to Sunday. Dinner is served from 5.30pm to 11pm. Drinks, desserts and coffee continue to be served until 1.30am. On Saturdays and Sundays, it's open for brunch from 9am to 3pm. The menu is a delight for both carnivores and vegetarians (ovo-lacto, vegans, you name it), and each night Marilyn features specials that are listed on a chalkboard just inside the 22nd Street entrance. Marilyn's commitment to good food means that all the bread and pastries are made using whole grains, natural sweeteners, cold pressed oils and sea salt. Unless the menu indicates otherwise, the dish is vegetarian.

Food is served in the two dining areas on the ground floor, the Red Room, and, for lack of a better name, the Jungle Room, and both feature stages for entertainment. The Red Room hosts both a full service bar and the dessert bar; the Jungle Room is simply a dining area - both are lavishly and colourfully decorated. The Red Room features a papier-mâché tiger leaping out of the wall, and a park bench painted by Kenny Be - a local artist who's the staff cartoonist for Westword, Denver's weekly arts and entertainment newspaper. The Jungle Room features large murals along the walls. The first floor has a large wooden dance floor, with a bar at one end, a stage at the other, and seating along the three walls facing the stage.

Each year Westword has a 'Best of Denver' issue. The Merc was voted as being the, 'Best Restaurant when You're in the Zone' in June 2000. It has also been called, 'One of Denver's top ten restaurants' by Bill St John in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. Steve Rosen said, 'The real Denver Center for the Performing Arts is the Mercury Café' in the Denver Post.

In addition to being justly famous for the food, the Mercury Café is also well known as one of the hot-spots for music and dance as well as poetry and theatre. The Merc features swing dance lessons and swing dancing on Thursdays and Sundays. On Friday nights you can take Salon Style Argentine Tango lessons, then dance the night away at the 'Milonga Mecurioso'. If your dance tastes run to Cajun/Zydeco, The Merc features a monthly Cajun night. Should Irish ceilidhs float your boat, The Merc features an Irish ceilidh night once a month. Dances usually feature live bands.

Downstairs in the Jungle Room, there's an open poetry night every Friday and a Poetry Slam on Sundays. The Merc hosts small theatrical productions several times a month, again in the Jungle Room downstairs. The Red Room features open stage/open mike nights several times a month as well.

Over and above the excellent food and entertainment offered at The Mercury Café, what makes it so special is the ambience. Marilyn's vision of community encompasses and wholeheartedly embraces the best from 1967's summer of love. It's almost as if you enter a time warp when you walk through the door - when you enter, you're transported back to a time when the spirit of peace, love, and brotherhood was still in full force. In the face of a world that's becoming more streamlined, franchised and corporate by the minute, The Mercury Cafe is a refreshing oasis of hippie sensibilities.

If you want an evening of good food and good times in Denver, stop by the Mercury Café.

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