— by Tracy Weil, weilworks.com
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In 1988 I graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango and headed to Denver to try and find a job in the “big city.” Not really ready to start working a regular day job, I happened across an artful place called City Spirit Cafe. I dropped in and fell in love with the vibrant pink walls and playful tile mosaics covering the entire restaurant. I asked if they were hiring wait staff and sure enough they were. This is where I met owners Mickey and Susan.
The cafe was the brain child of local developer Mickey Zeppelin and artist Susan Wick. They opened the award winning cafe & bookstore in 1985 in the up and coming area called LoDo. They also enlisted Michael Fagen to help put together the fabulous Art & Architecture bookstore in the basement of this new venture. City Spirit Cafe served health conscious fare as well as sinful desserts. After 9pm the cafe was the place to be, regularly hosting live musicians like Johnny Long, Lionel Young, Eagle Park Slim & Sympathy F as well as live local djs like DJ Knee.
As an artist I fit right in. This is where I got my start with my first exhibition in the Art Annex next door to the cafe. I waited tables for about 3 years, then started bartending and managing the restaurant. I also booked bands and moved into handling special events and PR for the thriving cafe.
As a community meeting place, City Spirit always hosted interesting things to bring people together; from talks, to seminars, to poetry readings to fashion shows there was always something going on.
One of the most memorable fashion events was “Fashionhomemade,” the 5th annual show and one of the more wilder fashion extravaganzas. The fashion shows were always interesting and this small cafe drew over 1000 people this particular evening.
We took over Blake Street and the back alley, setting up tables for service and a runway right down the middle of the cafe. Le Menu consisted of fresh salads, Brie and roasted garlic, artichokes & the signature salsa and blue corn chips. Other tasty fare included; seafood lasagna & mussels, along with the deluxe tamale plate, Paella and Asian Lo Mein.
Another signature item was the famous and potent City Spirit La La. This “pre-cosmo” was a must have while sitting at the bar, limit of 4. I’ve included the recipe below for those nostalgics that would like to recreate it.
The fashion show started around 9:30pm and included lots of local designer talent including handmade knits and redo clothing by Susan Wick, vintage clothes from Soul Flower & designs made of astro-turf by Alicia Nowicki, Carol Mier sculptural fashions, uncommon & eclectic work by Mona Lucero, and S&M Housewife & tupperwear kink by now NYC designers Uzi (Jose Duran & David Ball). Other designers included Claire Inwood, Heidi Peterson, Shelly Schoeneshoefer, Cleo Ortize Couture, Colorado Institute of Art Students, Cydney Griggs, Chitahka Nsombie, Nur D’afrique, Gayla Coleman, Saohm Hattier & Jerry Whitehead. After the show patrons were invited downstairs to browse and buy all the creative wears in the show and the event ended with dancing at 11pm with music by dj Afro-dytee.
The café was also a great place to meet famous musicians all looking for a heathly place to eat on the road. Over my 10 years at the café I met or crossed paths with Beck, Allison Morissette, Boy George, Lauryn Hill, Digable Planets,The Fugees, Tool, Lenny Kravitz and The Brand New Heavys. The Smashing Pumpkins even made a special unplugged appearance one night after their concert in town.
What a place! City Spirit will always have a special place in my heart; here I learned what community was all about. We’d love to hear your memories of the café please post below.
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City Spirit Café La La: Sold for $4 (limit 4)
1 ½ oz. Absolut Vodka
3 oz. Knudsen’s Cranberry Juice
Splash of Cointreau
Splash of Rose’s Lime Juice or fresh lime juice
Serve chilled in a martini glass with a Twist of Lemon