The Legend of El Chapultepec
Local jazz bar boasts major clout
The first notion that strikes the mind of a patron of the established El Chapultepec is how unassuming the place seems at first glance. Hardly a stone’s throw away from Coors Field, at the corner of 20th and Market Street, the exterior of the building promotes a lively taproom interior. There are neon fixtures that adorn the brick walls and ceilings, and there are well-weathered visitors that occupy booths and barstools, features that are principles of any relaxed locale of the Denver bar scene. However, accompanying those visitors and withheld within those brick walls lies a lush tradition of one of Denver’s most historic live music venues and the site of the Mile-High City’s main fix of nightly jazz-blues performances.
El Chapultepec, named after the last Mexican stronghold of the Mexican-American War, has been welcoming locals of all kinds with their warm and invigorating atmosphere since 1933, and as of the late 1970s, has been showcasing local and acclaimed jazz artists without missing a beat. Since then, “The Pec,” as it is affectionately referred to by avid attendees, has received Westword’s “Best Jazz Club Award” six times in a row along with a few features on NBC’s Today Show, the Rocky Mountain News, and The Denver Post.
If that wasn’t enough to prove the legitimacy of El Chapultepec’s stake in the Denver music scene, the cozy Market Street venue boasts a lengthy and encyclopedic list of performers that range from the tightest local acts to the most prolific international artists. This list accommodates classic jazz darlings like Wynton Marsalis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennet but also includes some of the more modern groups, like ZZ Top, members from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band, and even pop icon Ed Sheeran. In addition to these larger-than-life virtuosos, El Chapultepec also retains a house band led for the past 40 years by local saxophonist Freddie Rodriguez with the assistance of Billy Wallace, Ed Battle, James Van Buren, Ken Walker, and Nat Yarborough.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of such a distinguished and celebrated hotspot, however, is that since its inception to the Denver scene in the 30s, El Chapultepec has been completely family owned and operated. Manager Angela Guerrero, who has inherited the bar from her father, called The Pec a staple not just of Denver but of the entire state of Colorado. Originally, the main attraction only included traditional jazz performances, but the venue has since opened up to a greater variety of styles and genres, including blues, funk, and more. This inclusivity stems from the ideology and versatility of El Chapultepec, as the venue’s target demographic opens up to all walks of life, a dogma reflected in the entire atmosphere associated with The Pec.
Located within spitting distance of the CU Commons building, El Chapultepec provides a musical experience that revitalizes the jazz community in Denver and serves as the ideal location for a weekend night on the town.