Take the 5280 Jack Kerouac tour.
Jack Kerouac, father of the beat Generation—and now, thanks to the 2012 flick starring Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart, likely the great-grandfather to a bunch of millennials—would have celebrated his 92nd birthday this month. Although Kerouac was originally from Massachusetts, he spent time in Denver in the late 1940s, which he chronicled in his classic novel On The Road. A precise account of Kerouac’s Denver tenure is about as easy to find as a concise sentence in his prose, but legend abounds. So in honor of the Memory Babe’s 92nd year, we’ve put together this guide to the lore: a map of spots rumored to have hosted the voice that changed a generation.
1. My Brother’s Bar
2376 15th St.
The Legend: Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady (who was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in On The Road) visited this Denver joint when it was called Paul’s Place. A framed letter Cassady wrote to a friend that references an outstanding bar tab at the establishment still hangs on a back wall. The letter reads: “Dear Justin, at the corner of 15th and Platte streets there is a cafe called Paul’s Place, where my brother Jack used to be a bartender before he joined the army. Because of this, I frequented the place occasionally and consequently have a small bill run up. I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity, please drop in and pay it, will you?”
Today: My Brother’s Bar still sits on the corner of 15th and Platte streets and touts itself as the longest continuously operating bar in Denver. Check out a picture of Kerouac and Cassady in the back of the bar.
Believability Index: Χ Χ Χ Χ Χ
2. Larimer Street
The Legend: Flip through any book that covers Kerouac’s time in Denver, and you’ll find references to Kerouac, Cassady, and others drinking at the pool halls on “Larimer Street.”
Today: Larimer Street is, of course, not the dive it once was. Nor are there many pool tables. One of the most popular pool halls sits a few blocks away, upstairs at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, and we can’t imagine Kerouac feeling comfortable among today’s slicked-up LoDo crowd.
Believability Index: Χ Χ Χ
3. El Chapultepec
1962 Market St., thepeclodo.com
The Legend: A jazz dive on the edge of Five Points? Logically, this one makes sense. But the evidence is slim: El Chapultepec doesn’t appear in On The Road. A book about Denver’s best dive bars notes Kerouac washed up in the bar’s bathroom, and the late owner of the club, Jerry Krantz, said in an interview he remembered Kerouac and his friends drinking at the bar. But that seems to be all we’ve got.
Today: Although the scenery around this bar has drastically changed from Kerouac’s days—Coors Field is a few blocks away and the nearby streets are dotted with sports bars—the gritty club remains one of the best places to take in Denver’s jazz scene.
Believability Index: Χ Χ
4. The Casino Cabaret
2637 Welton St.
The Legend: Another popular Five Points jazz joint, the Casino Cabaret hosted such acts as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald in its heyday. (Years later, the club continued to draw popular musicians including James Brown, B.B. King, and Ray Charles.) Although there’s no record of a specific Kerouac sighting here, with bebop billowing out of the doors, it seems possible the writer would have followed the music while wandering through the neighborhood.
Today: In 2003, the building reopened as Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, a music venue that features popular jam band, funk, and hip-hop acts.
Believability Index: Χ
5. The Rossonian Hotel
2650 Welton St.
The Legend: Back in the late ’40s, Denver’s Five Points neighborhood was the place to hear jazz stars like Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday rip through chord changes—particularly at the Rossonian Hotel’s club, reportedly a popular hangout of the jazz-loving Kerouac and Co. Kerouac even wrote this of the neighborhood in On The Road: “At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night.”
Today: You can still find the Rossonian near the corner of 27th and Welton streets. City developers have attempted to renovate the 1912 building, but no new plans exist at the moment.
Believability Index: Χ Χ Χ Χ
6. Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill
980 Grant St., charliebrownsbarandgrill.com
The Legend: University of Denver student Carolyn Robinson, who later married Cassady, lived at the Colburn Hotel in 1948. In her 1990 autobiography, she talks about meeting “the guys” at the bar downstairs.
Today: Still open today, Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill is perhaps best known as a piano lounge. Stop in Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. and request your favorite jazz standard in honor of Kerouac.
Believability Index: Χ Χ Χ Χ
-Illustration by Jackie Besteman