Denver comic Ben Bryant picks up Steve Vanderploeg at El Charrito — and both are then picked up by Zeke Herrera following the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl win in 2015. El Charrito is closing on Dec. 23, 2018, after more than a half-century in Lower Downtown. (Provided by Timmi Lasley)
Ballpark neighborhood bar and restaurant El Charrito will close Dec. 23 after five decades of beers, burritos and — following a reboot that found the Mexican eatery at the center of Denver’s DIY comedy scene — laughs.
“There are a bunch of factors, but you get to a point where you just get tired of dealing with all these things that beat you down,” said Matt Orrin, 44, a former math teacher who took over the bar in 2009 with his wife, Esmeralda, from her mother — El Charrito founder Pat de la Torre.
“I’ve known this was going to happen but never had a set date in mind,” Orrin said. “If we went into next year I was going to be financially responsible for a bunch of stuff, so rather than get into any kind of legal thing I was like, ‘Now’s a good time to do it.’ ”
Located at 2100 Larimer St. along a formerly blighted row of historic brick buildings, El Charrito has in recent years been swarmed by upscale restaurants, condos and competing bars, while the formerly gritty Larimer Street has transformed into a nightlife hot spot. It began with the opening of Coors Field in 1995, but has accelerated over the last decade as development set its sights on Lower Downtown and the nearby River North neighborhood.
“I’ve wasted all my young, beautiful years here, working hard, raising kids. Now they’re cleaning it up,” de la Torre told The Denver Post in 1995. “We don’t hear of any muggings anymore. There’s going to be investing in here. They’re opening so many nice places. I never thought I’d live to see it happen.”
However, the development has also meant a 33 percent increase in property taxes over a single year, Orrin said, from $27,000 to $36,000.
“I sell two-dollar PBRs,” he said. “How can I take care of an entire building with one bar? I’ve just gotten to a point where I can’t really do it on my own, and I wasn’t going to get family help, so I’ve got to cut my losses.”
El Charrito’s closure will be acutely felt in Denver’s comedy scene. More than a dozen regular shows call El Charrito home, including a popular open-mic on Thursdays that has been filling the DIY-comedy void after the closure of similarly artist-friendly spaces like the Deer Pile on Capitol Hill.
Comic Nick Gossert started the comedy open-mic at El Charrito in 2010, and Denver comic Timmi Lasley eventually persuaded Orrin to rebrand the back room as the Comedy RoomRoom — complete with exterior signage — as stand-ups and sketch performers began flocking to the lovably run-down space. The space has lately advertised itself as “Denver’s finest alt-comedy room.”
“I’m heartbroken,” said Lasley, who runs Comedy RoomRoom and shared numerous stories via social media of El Charrito’s importance to the stand-up community. “There are a lot of live venues in Denver, but none of them are very comedy-oriented, and comedy needs something a little bit different than music does.”
At Comedy RoomRoom, Lasley, current open-mic host Alison Rose and others have set the ideal stage for laughs: low ceilings, cozy seating, directed lighting and a lack of distracting sports-bar fixtures like TVs and other background noise.
“Dive-y little places are the best places to do comedy,” Lasley said. “And Comedy RoomRoom had that in spades. It gave people who have never produced a show the chance to feel confident and not have to butt up against all these barriers. It was a cradle, and it’s meant a lot to the amateur comedy community here.”
While Comedy RoomRoom only seats about 50, Denver comic Adam Cayton-Holland, the co-star of truTV’s sitcom “Those Who Can’t,” has recorded and performed there along with other national headliners like Josh Blue (also from Denver), Chris Fairbanks and Ron Lynch.
Former Denver resident Max Beasley, now based in Los Angeles, called Comedy RoomRoom one of his favorite places to work “since I started comedy as a bright-eyed college freshman in 2014.”
“I’ve seen friends bomb and crush, I’ve seen local ragamuffins make scenes, I’ve drank a foolish amount of cheap Miller High Life,” he wrote on Facebook this week. “I’m coming back to Denver Dec. 18th to the 25th, and this bar is where I’ll be spending time in between shows.”
Patrons of El Charrito posted more tributes on social media this week after learning of the news, calling the bar a “five-star dive” and the closure “a sad ending to a great era.”
“I have fallen asleep inside of you, been dumped twice inside of you, hosted shows and brunch bingo inside you, cried, choked (on food and on stage) … got drunk, got sober, got hungry, got full, made people laugh, made people cry … all inside of you,” comic Meghan DePonceau wrote on Facebook, accompanied by photos of friends and comics telling jokes and hanging out at the bar.
“(El Charrito had) karaoke, Lady Lavender’s Brunchlesque, the tequila tastings, and the place I’d always hit Wednesday afternoons before business meetings downtown,” wrote Denver resident Nicholas Joseph Brettillo. “Change is inevitable, but still sad to see the best dive bar in town leaving.”
Orrin said the building will likely be sold next year, though he has not accepted any offers made so far. He expects the property could fetch about $2 million, given that a comparable building down the street — the former Colorado Music Association building at 22nd and Larimer streets — sold for $1.6 million a year and a half ago.
“I’m really proud of a lot of things we built there, especially with what Timmi and I had done for the RoomRoom,” Orrin said, hinting at the food-and-alcohol revenues brought in by live comedy, karaoke and other low-cost programming. “I noticed in the last year we saw an increase in not just new comics but a lot more women comics coming down and giving it a shot. We were committed to making sure it was a place where people would be comfortable.”
“Don’t be too sad,” he added in a Nov. 4 Facebook post, “but rather think of the good times you might have had with us, and will have with us these next seven weeks.”