Way forward for Denver’s iconic Mercury Cafe unsure, native creatives stepping as much as assist


It’s a Friday night time on the Mercury Cafe. On most summer time nights, there’s often a crowd within the eating room listening to stay music underneath the twinkling fairy lights and a tango lesson within the ballroom upstairs. However this summer time, in the midst of the pandemic, proprietor Marilyn Megenity watches a small handful of individuals “dancing like hippies” with masks on by themselves. It’s a a lot totally different sight, however seeing loyal prospects all the time offers her hope.
“What’s going to make the distinction is the group assist we’ve been given, which is superior and humbling and unbelievable,” Megenity mentioned.
The Mercury Cafe has been a cultural hub in Denver since 1975, settling in at its present location at 2199 California St. in 1990. The eclectic restaurant hosted every part underneath the solar — similar to weekly poetry slams, astrology golf equipment, Democratic Socialists of America conferences, stomach dancers, hip-hop classes and jazz bands — till the restaurant closed its doorways with the statewide shelter-in-place order in March.
In an interview with The Denver Put up Wednesday, Megenity described going from a bustling cafe identified for performances and its ambiance to navigating the world of to-go orders simply to remain open as a restaurant.
Now, the Mercury Cafe is open, however just for dinner Friday, Saturday and Sunday, together with a Sunday brunch service. There’s nonetheless stay music and performances, which began when it reopened as soon as dine-in service was allowed to renew. Megenity mentioned she’s “holding on by her fingernails.”
And as she makes ends meet with fewer prospects and occasions, poets and different creatives who got here up by way of Mercury Cafe have led the cost to unfold the phrase about what she wants.
Megenity mentioned it prices $600 an evening to pay her workers and performers, earlier than you activate the lights or serve any meals. Since eating places have extra enterprise on the weekends anyway, she made one among many troublesome choices and reduce the Merc’s hours.
However one factor she gained’t sacrifice is the standard of the meals. The Mercury Cafe is understood for its locally-sourced, natural substances, and the menu is as eclectic because the occasions, with enchiladas, burgers and pastas. At the same time as her income margins shrink, Megenity mentioned she stays dedicated to creating her restaurant as sustainable as doable.
The Mercury Cafe constructing could stand out with its two-story brick facade, starry inexperienced awning and dreamy mural of the moon on the entrance, however the house doesn’t come low-cost, Megenity mentioned. With two eating rooms and a dance corridor, she will often host 250 folks downstairs and 350 upstairs, however now she will solely host 100 prospects complete. She additionally has a small outside house with 9 tables, and he or she hasn’t utilized for a patio extension allow.
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With property taxes, insurance coverage and licensing, Megenity mentioned she pays about $70,000 a yr simply to open the constructing to prospects. She solely has yet one more fee left in 2020, because of a GoFundMe that’s raised over $60,000 since April. However come the New Yr, she doesn’t know if she will increase sufficient cash to remain afloat in 2021.
The Merc’s devoted buyer base reveals how revered the cafe is in Denver. Between in-person prospects and donations from GoFundMe, Megenity mentioned her loyal prospects are getting her by way of the pandemic. And Colorado poets have been integral within the effort to save lots of the Mercury Cafe, internet hosting livestream fundraisers, selling the GoFundMe on social media and dealing with Megenity to drag the cafe by way of.
Poet Andrea Gibson has been one of many cafe’s most vocal supporters with their current Westword op-ed, “Once I Die, Scatter My Ashes on the Mercury Cafe.” Poets and different artists have tried to harness their artistic vitality to save lots of the restaurant, however Gibson is aware of there’s nonetheless a giant probability this Denver establishment gained’t survive the pandemic.
“I’m doing every part I can to unfold the world,” Gibson mentioned. “It is a enterprise that I’ve watched so intently function with a lot clear integrity, and the concept of that not successful ultimately, it irks no matter justice valve I’ve in my coronary heart. It doesn’t really feel proper.”
Gibson, who makes use of they/them pronouns, mentioned they noticed spoken-word poetry for the primary time on the Mercury Cafe, and 20 years later, they nonetheless get the identical magical feeling from being within the house. It grew to become a hub for artwork and activism of their life, they usually’ve watched folks all around the world come out to assist the cafe within the pandemic.
And for many individuals, the Mercury Cafe is Megenity, who can’t assist however categorical fixed gratitude that the cafe has made it this far.
“Giving again to the particular person and the house that has held us and nurtured us feels so important to me,” Gibson mentioned. “It’s about giving again to the house that’s given a lot to Denver and has carried out it with a extremely clear intention.”
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