I was 17 years old, and LoDo was nothing more than a collection of warehouses, derelicts and drunks, the seedy part of Denver avoided by tourists and locals alike.
There were only a couple of reasons to be in this area back then: score some illicit substances, head over to Muddy’s Café or check out who was playing at El Chapultepec. Sometimes, all three in an evening.
Back then, we couldn’t actually get into The ’Pec. Owner Jerry Krantz was a fireplug of a man, a stout, pugnacious owner-operator who made sure he wasn’t getting busted for minors drinking on his watch. But he left the side door open (for one, The ‘Pec doesn’t have the best ventilation), and we sat on the curb and listened to local lions like Tony Black, Ken Walker, Rich Chiaraluce and Bob Montgomery. And sometimes, national big shots like Wynton Marsalis, or Bill Clinton. (Indeed, take a look at the photos lining the room. If there is a better jazz Hall of Fame in Colorado, I don’t know about it. Everyone played there. Everyone).
The corner bar on Market and 20th hasn’t changed a whit since then. Its sun-bleached façade and poor ventilation is a stoic reminder of a district that long ago moved on to trendy lounges, hip dance clubs and overwrought sports bars. It lures in the “bridge-and-tunnel” 20-somethings from Aurora, Thornton and Highlands Ranch and devolves into a cloud of Axe Body Spray and mace by around 2:15 in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays. But orbiting around The ’Pec is a community of the greatest musicians in the region.
“I would go there all alone before and after headlining at The Soiled Dove just to remember why I played music,” says Jonathan Tiersten, longtime local musician, actor and barfly.
Jazz trumpeter Ron Miles agrees. “We owe a great deal to Jerry Krantz,” he says. “I remember hearing the many national acts passing through who would come down and sit in. This was our connection to the essence of this music. He believed in the Colorado scene and in turn we believed in it even more.”
I first played El Chapultepec’s stage a couple years ago, and it was one of those wow moments for me. Second only to Red Rocks, playing that venue was more than a notch on my horn. Playing on the same stage Frank Sinatra played? Ella Fitzgerald? Tony Bennett?
The local music scene has never been more thriving. Live music clubs dot the Front Range, as prolific as Irish pubs. And a lot of people have contributed to this proliferation, and should get their due.
But Jerry Krantz deserves more special accolades. The club he built—that his daughter Angela still runs—was a flag on the moon, so to speak. For so many years, The ’Pec has been a lone outpost of culture in an area bereft of it.
The positive light gleaming from this loss is that Angela shows no sign of slowing down. While Jerry Krantz may be gone from this plane, The ’Pec remains his living legacy.
Tiersten says it best.
“El Chapultepec was and is about honest creativity,” he said, “and that is why it continues to thrive.