You may know it for the jazz or for the dehydrated grasshopper shots or maybe for the neon cactus sign out front, but you know El Chapultepec. Everyone knows the Pec, even if it’s just for that iconic sign lighting up the corner of 20th and Market Streets in downtown Denver. But after 87 years, El Chapultepec jazz club and bar has closed.
At a press conference earlier today, Anna Diaz spoke about her family’s decision to close the club, citing more than just COVID-19. (Diaz and sister Angela Guerrero took over El Chapultepec after their father, longtime owner Jerry Krantz, passed away in 2012.)
“I want to make sure we’re not going to be too quick to point the finger at COVID and at our shutdowns for being the reason for this closure,” Diaz said. “Of course, the closure played a part in it—undoubtedly that makes an impact on our decision—but there are so many things that led to this choice.”
Diaz said that the neighborhood has changed, and that Coors Field and the bar scene presented challenges for the business; concerns about safety when bars let out and musicians having to time their sets around baseball crowds impacted their decision. “Denver is different than it used to be. 20th and Market is different than it used to be…Unfortunately, Denver’s outgrown us,” Diaz said.
El Chapultepec originally opened as a Mexican restaurant, the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. It was Jerry Krantz, who officially took over in 1968, that made it the jazz temple it would become. Everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Mick Jagger to President Bill Clinton played on the Pec’s stage, and its influence on the Denver jazz and bar scene was immense.
“After Five Points, Jerry is what cemented jazz in our community, and he did it in such a way that’s traditional of jazz standards,” says Dazzle jazz club owner Donald Rossa. “Everybody always went there for the excitement, for the thrill, and, I think, that’s what jazz was all about. From an inspiration standpoint, everybody has played that place. Every musician has been there, and to have that stature…you can only wish to have that.”
“This one hits our entire jazz community hard,” says Nicole Mattson, co-owner of Nocturne jazz bar and supper club. “Every jazz musician and fan in Denver has memories from the Pec, the most beloved jazz staple in the community. It was a cultural institution, a landmark of music for Denver. Losing the Pec is akin to losing the CBGB when it closed in New York City.”
Michael Bruntz, co-owner of Mozart’s Lounge, which regularly hosted jazz nights, also has many memories of El Chapultepec. “I’m not only heartbroken for the neighborhood, but also for the local musicians that had the opportunity to play on the same stage as many of the all-time greats. This pandemic continues to devastate many long-term, locally owned bars and restaurants,” Bruntz says.
After news broke of the closure, fans reached out to the family, offering financial help and otherwise to keep the Pec going. But the Krantz family said that their decision to close is final, and that they’re not interested in selling. There will never again be jazz at El Chapultepec.
“The Pec is a living, breathing part of Denver, and especially a part of our family, and it’s very intimate to us,” Diaz said. “We’re just ready to close that chapter and keep it with us. Our hearts go out to everyone who’s saddened by this announcement.”