El Chapultepec is gone, but not forgotten
After more than 80 years, famed Denver jazz venue El Chapultepec closed its doors last December. While the final owner, Angela Guerrero, says that many reasons contributed to her decision, this venue joins a long list of local icons lost over the last year.
El Chapultepec first opened in 1933 as a Mexican restaurant with a bar, immediately after President Franklin D. Roosevelt lifted the prohibition of alcohol across the country. According to legend, the site operated as a speakeasy in the years before. Establishing a notable reputation around the country, El Chapultepec–commonly referred to as the ‘Pec–became like a musical beacon for Denver. It was known locally for its accessibility to anybody with no cover charge for entry, as well as its unmatched vibes.
Even before the ‘Pec first opened its doors as a cantina, jazz had become an integral part of the identity of the surrounding community. Five Points attracted Black immigrants from the American South during a period of the early 20th century referred to as the Great Migration, introducing the sounds of jazz first made popular by musicians along the Mississippi River. El Chapultepec originally featured Mexican-inspired acts in its early days, until the former owner and father of the current owner, Jerry Krantz, officially took over in 1968. Over the years, he brought a new era to the ‘Pec with his admiration for jazz, which also had deep roots in the Five Points music scene.
Some of the memorable people that stopped by the ‘Pec to perform include Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, and even former President Bill Clinton. Beat writer Jack Kerouac often spent time there while passing through the Denver area.
When Jerry Krantz passed away in 2012, his daughters Angela Guerrero and Anna Diaz carried on its legacy. Last March, the ‘Pec lost one of their long-time band leaders and tenor saxophonist, Freddy Rodrigez Sr., from complications to coronavirus. In the end, several reasons played into their decision besides the shutdowns and pandemic, as the ‘Pec endured years of gentrification that transformed the surrounding area. While the world changed around it, enduring the Second World War, the Great Recession, and so many other monumental shifts, the music inside kept beating on–that is, until now.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Dec. 8, Diaz elaborated on how “Denver is different than it used to be. 20th and Market is different than it used to be… Unfortunately, Denver’s outgrown us.”
Standing Downtown for decades at the border of LoDo and Five Points, the loss of El Chapultepec represents yet another blow to the identity and culture of Denver’s neighborhoods. Fortunately the building remains an official historic landmark in the City of Denver, but its fate remains uncertain. For those who appreciate jazz, another venue known as Dazzle will hopefully remain at its current location in the historic Bauer Building not far away from CU Denver and Auraria campus.
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