Remember City Spirit? I do.

— by Tracy Weil,

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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

City Spirit was located at 1434 Blake Street. All the tile-work was torn out but remnants of the space, including parts of the bar, can still be seen at Taxi in RiNo.

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24 Responses to Remember City Spirit? I do.

  1. Joe says:

    Tuesday’s Acid Jazz Night w/ Knee et al was a regular draw for a bunch of us from Boulder in the late 80s/early 90s. Loved stumbling upon the pieces of decor at Taxi one time.

  2. Carolyne says:

    I had my first meal at Taxi in 1992. Pretty soon I was eating lunch there every Friday. That’s how I met Tracy and Susan and Mickey, along with a host of regulars who were (are) Denver’s finest characters.

  3. Tim says:

    I remember when City Spirit first opened — it had an amazing collection of art and architecture books — perhaps too amazing, because any bookseller will tell you that the gorgeous tomes make for pricey inventory. The food was good as well, with some ups and downs. City Spirit was also the place where I first saw an arty tattoo on arty woman (hey, it was the early 90s. It was a vivid hornet on her left shoulder, and back then, it really made a statement. A great place for talking, and somehow always a cheeful place with the pinks and the glowing lights. I miss it.

  4. Zsa Zsa says:

    Ahh yes, the City Spirit! This place was funky and fun. The staff was always cool. Feels great to be a part of history. Cool site $1.50

  5. Jonathan says:

    A cool, very heartening post. It’s always nice to know that someone takes the time to do things that might be appreciated by the half dozen of us or so that remember! And I do, in fact, remember City Spirit quite well.

    The first time I heard about it is unclear to me — it was either in Denver’s short-lived rave ‘zine The Seed or a little segment that TeleTunes did on it (that I viewed as a freshman at CSU in 1993, deeply immersed in the burgeoning Rave scene at the time — hell, you could find a vinyl DJ collection, an Anarchic Adjustment hat, 26 Red flannel shirt, and a Santa Cruz snowboard all in my possession at that time!). Too bad I was only 19 years old and lacking a fake ID — no Acid Jazz night for me. I did, however, manage to stop at the place as often as I could after snowboarding trips or to my frequent visits to Wax Trax.

    When I moved to Denver in 1997, it was the first place I visited and I was quite saddened to find that it was closing its doors (the waitress told me she hoped to God it wasn’t going to be “another sports bar.”) Well, younger readers might not realize that our fair city was once blessed with a downtown that WAS mildly “edgy”, believe it or not: raves, dive bars, and the biggest heroin district (21st and Larimer) for anywhere within a thousand miles.

    Reading this makes me wonder if Denver is really just a one-step-forward, one-step-backward kind of town. Well, I’m now 35 years old and my “going out” days seem like a distant memory now (and feral junkies and ambulance sirens have lost a lot of their appeal) but posts like this take me back, if only for a little bit. Thanks.

  6. Leah says:

    I’ve found myself waxing nostalgic about City Spirit of and on over the last, oh…fifteen years? I worked there for just over a year when I lived in Denver. I was really young, and it made a huge impression on me. It was the first place I had worked – and come to think of it, the only place – where I was encouraged to be myself and be as wild as I wanted to be (and at my age then, that was a big deal). Even our aprons were funky. I met the most colorful, amazing people there – more than anywhere else during my stay – and I’m still in touch with several of them. When the Smashing Pumpkins came in that night (I got to wait on ’em) and they gave me and boyfriend du jour complimentary tickets, I was told by my supervisor that I couldn’t go because I was on the schedule the next night. Mickey and Susan told me that I simply must go, helped get my shift covered, and then asked if I needed any extra spending money. They were the best “bosses” ever. So, thank you – I’m so glad to see all the pics! (And you were my favorite bartender. Except for that time you went overseas :) ).

  7. Mary says:

    I remember when Johnny Long would play at City Spirit on Friday nights and he would invite me to sing with him. I felt so special and it was so fun!

  8. Mary says:

    Oh yes, and we would all watch the fourth of July fireworks on the rooftop.

  9. Jose says:

    The first time I went to City Spirit was the day I moved next door. Some friends and my brother rented an 18,000 square foot warehouse on the corner of Lorimer and Blake. Being 19 and vegetarian, City Spirit was perfect. The special vegetarian tamales were always amazing. And because I knew several people who worked there, I could drink and even go to Acid Jazz downstairs.
    I wish I could remember the names of all the amazing people who City Spirit employed. Shannon was a tattooed biker/skin chick who moved to LA and became a welder. There was that one waitress who was cast in the first Real World – I think she moved to New York. The artist David Zimmer, who I had a major crush on. I loved Susan’s style with her Comme de Garconesque looks. And Tracy was/is amazing.
    The fashion shows were something that my friends and I looked forward to. Mari Gustafson and Dave Ball from UZI were outlandish with their S&M nuns. Rebecca Vera and I (VORTEX) carried the UZI trends with our vinyl dresses. There was even infighting when Alan from Soulflower (now in NYC) was allowed to show clothing from his store. I love the postcard from the 5th annual show – it shows three of my outfits, and I am there too, with my arm around Steve Cruz.
    When I heard that City Spirit was closing I was devastated. Pieces of art were being sold and I wished and prayed that I could somehow buy my favorite piece – a sign above the bar that read ‘Denver is a cow town’. I wonder who got it?
    City Spirit and it’s denizens will always be in my heart and memories. It was a place where anything was possible, and being yourself was encouraged.

  10. Cydney says:

    Not kidding, I just looked at the birdhouse you made me tonight! and wondered what you were doing and then I found this inadvertantly on the web! I saw Susan and Mickey over Xmas at The Ships Tavern and I told my fiance stories about the fab City Spirit! Susan was such an inspiration to me and the bar really helped me get back into the swing of things. She lived above me at the Dorsett House and had a brilliant way of getting me involved in the City Spirit festivities, or in making outfits for her.

    I loved the light-up Empire State building, Tom Casey working the bar and always running into old friends like Tom and Jen Kirk. Many a night started or ended at City Spirit.
    The place was brilliant.

    The green chile was to die for, and goodness knows how many LA-LA’s I must have consumed…

  11. Camille says:

    Thanks for the memories… always the first and last stop. The friendliest, hippest place to meet and gather.. relaxed, cool and fun. All those with real connection to Denver knew and loved City Spirit Cafe. How great to still have so many friends with City Spirit in common. And that it lives still is a testament to the vision of Mickey and Susan. xo

  12. Alfredo says:

    Oh! Tracy where to start.
    In 1985 after some of Andy Warhol´s Interview magazine people came to Denver, I started buying a page and selling a spot for $100.00 to have your name in Interview Magazine. Hair Salons, Fashion designers, Stylists and fun party guys bought a space. To celebrate the occasion we had a party at “CITY SPIRIT” where Wende Watson came to meet and hired me to work with her on a new night club that would change the way we looked at Denver. I lived on 19th and Blake so a walk down to City Spirit was the most comfortable thing for me to do! Remember the meal tickets? We opened Rock Island under the viaduct in the fall of 1986, Downtown would empty out by 6:00 pm so the streets were ours to have! A year later we opened 23 Parrish and I remember the day you came to apply for a Job…at the Garage! The fashion shows, the birdhouse competitions (which in turn gave Jim and I the spark that later would become our way of living) Every time I think of my life in Denver there is a link to City Spirit. Cheers to Susan and Mickey and their gift to surround themselves with amazing people. David Zimmer, Tom Casey, Susanne Addoms, Andrea, Jil, Tiger, you and …..

  13. Steve Cruz says:

    City Spirit was my home-away-from-home for many years, two of which I spent bleary-eyed after an all-night deadline pushing the weekly mag I worked on out to press… oh the days of paste-up. My service bureau was just a couple of doors down, so where else was I supposed to park my unshaven, unwashed, over-computed carcass.

    Then there were the fashion shows! Shutting down half of Blake St., taking over neighboring vacant spaces and parading local fashions through the cafe, down the sidewalk, through an empty office loft and around through the alley.

    Of course So What? was the place to be: the most diverse group in town. Rainbow ethnicity, sweet deep grooves, all ages and sensualities.

    I remember when Michael Lustig brought Billy Corrigan of Smashing Pumpkins who sat at a table and sang several songs. One guy said, “I’ve gotta call my friends.” Michael said, “Don’t bother, by the time they get here, he’ll be done. Chill and enjoy.” I was also privileged to sing downstairs with my band on a few occasions.

    There were some sweet days and nights, chatting, plotting, smoking, eating, drinking.

  14. Jean says:

    Wow, City Spirit – Susan – Mickey – favorite memories for sure. My first encounter with City Spirit and Susan Wick was in 1987 after I took a workshop at Anderson Ranch and met a friend of Susan’s, SAS Colby. When I told her I lived in Denver, she said, “So you know Susan Wick and City Spirit.” Well, as soon as I returned from the workshop I headed for City Spirit and introduced myself to Susan, Tracy, and Mickey and have enjoyed many fun times since…the creativity…the hand that feeds…food all the time always…conversation, music, art lounge, food, our friend, always welcome, art, art, art, fashion shows, t shirts, and La-Las. The 10th Anniversary was a blast as was the 15th Anniversary party on Valentines Day 1997, followed by the Transition Party in November. I have some photos but don’t know how to put them up. Thanks for so many great memories and for all of these years of friendship!

  15. Victoria says:

    I remember it was my go-to place downtown for years.

    Didn’t artist Andy Libertone work on the excellent tile mosaics at City Spirit? Or am I mis-remembering the who and the where? Someone help me out here…!

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  17. beth says:

    In 1985 I was a baby-dyke punk rocker grrl who had recently graduated from DU and found myself working at United Bank on 17th and Broadway–the “Cash Register Building.” Glad to have a job but not digging the drab corporate culture, panty-hose-and-dress-suit-outfits required, I would escape to City Spirit to get my soul back for one hour a day at lunchtime. I could spend hours in the bookstore and loved the mosaic tables, quirky people, poetry and art. I miss it still!

  18. Sharon Brown says:

    Perhaps our Group x book group was the only one to meet at City Spirit. In 1988 we discussed Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, an odd choice for the surroundings. I fell in love with Susan’s fabulous art—the girls’ bathroom was the best–and the famous lasagnas were divine. Tracy, Susan and Mickey have all become great friends and Rex and I love you all. I wish City Spirit had never closed.

  19. Robin says:

    I loved City Spirit for the moasic tables, progressive food, and cool vibe. One afternoon at City Spirit in 1992 I decided to have my palm read at the table in the back by the palm reader whose name I can’t remember. One of the things she told me was that I would meet the love of my life when I was 28yrs old. I was 19yrs old at the time and not very concerned with true love. 8 years later, one week before my 28th birthday, I met Dan. Our first date was one day after I turned 28. Turns out, he is the love of my life. We have been together for 9 years, married for 5 years. I wish I could find that palm reader again.

  20. Afordytee says:

    What a great place! One of my first DJ gigs was downstairs. Tracy made these fabola pink disco drapes oh lala! I miss the food fun and friends.

  21. cheri says:

    thanx for the site…i was watching modern marvels: chrome…sean guerrero was feat. i met sean at city spirit in the late 80s early 90s…was so impressed with his chrome horse sculpture…sean is a gr8 guy. i miss city spirit…i have since moved to huntington beach and now i live in vegas…miss denver and so cal but vegas is cheap and i dont like cold weather anymore due to health problems. thanx for the fun pix….looooved city spirit in my 20s and 30s…now im 52 thanx for the walk down memory lane…was fun :) warm regards….cheri

  22. Chris (whY) Meta says:

    Been reminiscing about Oldskool Denver over on the page by that name a lot the last few days, (which is where I found out about buckfifty) and can’t believe I’d forgotten about City Spirit. While it was rarely a “destination” for me (except slipping around the corner from the Sage Gallery, where I hung out a lot with Jose and Sam and Rebecca and Scott Nobody and all those folks too many to mention, and back) it was a frequent “stop along the way” to various destinations for me, mostly in the mid to late 80s. “Vibrant” is the first word that comes to mind, regarding City Spirit. “quirky” and “eclectic” and “diverse” rush in to fill the space that follows. My memories of it are a blur, really, but indelible nonetheless. Thanks for helping fill in a big, if still blurry, important blank in my muddled memories of wild and adventurous times past. I didn’t know I was happy then – I was always trying to find my place in life and culture, which I eventually did for a while at least, but at the time I was consumed with the hunger for love, belonging, becoming.. Looking back, my only regret at all is thgat I didn’t realize at the time that I had already “become” myself, and embarked much more fully than I thought at the time on the journey that would lead, circuitously and non-linearly, to who I became, and re-became, and always was and will be. If I could whisper it back in time to my own ear, I’d tell myself, “patience, Grasshopper, your hunger might hurt right now, but it is leading you to the places you want to go, and the places you will one day realize you already were, slow down and smell the coffee and the exhaust fumes, my boy. You will miss these times terribly, in time. And for the love of everything that loves, realize you are already the you that you are trying too hard to be – just be it, and you’ll do just fine.”

  23. Debbi says:

    Loved the City Spirit and I miss it! I had my first Vodka Lemonade there, only it was so much more special than that… and had a fancy name with a “marlin” stir stick. I wish I knew what was in that drink! Loved it!!!

  24. Virginia says:

    My favorite memory, though befuddled, was celebrating my birthday in 1990 with friends and a man I was rapidly falling for. I was thoroughly lubricated by (at least 4) La-las, and too far gone to enjoy the fabulous flourless chocolate cake. Said man drove me home with the boxed cake, which I stepped on in the car. That was the last thing I recall about the evening. I woke up the next day, alone, in my nightgown and the jewelry I had been wearing, my clothes neatly folded over the chair. What a gentleman… We have been married for 27 years now.

    I would sure like to get the recipe for the Nicoise-style salad made with brown rice. It was the dressing that made it unique. Anyone?

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