Jerry Krantz, the longtime owner of landmark Denver jazz club El Chapultepec, died Tuesday morning. He was 77.Haven't been there in years, but back then we called it "the 'Pec, too, so I guess we were "insiders." Wonder why nobody ever told us.
In its heyday, El Chapultepec welcomed music legends such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as visiting rock stars like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. Krantz's insistence on free, live, straight-ahead jazz every night of the week helped the 'Pec — as insiders affectionately call it — stand out on the corner of 20th and Market Streets.
Even President Bill Clinton played his tenor sax on stage there.
"I've had everyone in here but Jesus," Krantz was once quoted as saying.
No, Jesus played there once, too. Oh, wait. That was Art Blakey (scroll down a little).
The club opened in 1933, the day after Prohibition was repealed and decades before Coors Field and historic preservation turned Lower Downtown into a haven for sports bars and trendy restaurants. Krantz began bartending at El Chapultepec in 1958 and inherited it a decade later from his father-in-law Tony Romano.
"He was there just about every night," said musician Freddy Rodriguez, who met Krantz in 1979 and has been playing at El Chapultepec ever since. "He'd sit in the back all night every night. He never came and sat down front where the music was happening, but he knew what he wanted and he just loved the jazz community."
Freddy led--or I guess leads--the house band there. A friend of mine who sat in with them a time or two always called the band, "Freddy and the Plastic-hairs." No idea why.
Krantz's love of jazz and hard-nosed approach to running the bar earned both a loyal audience and the respect of countless musicians — as well a national reputation rich in dive-bar lore. One story says Krantz won the bar in a poker game. Another tells of him knocking an unruly patron's teeth out with a pool cue.
Dive-bar lore: One time (and only one time) I stopped by El Chapultepec in the afternoon. There were three customers, including me, at the bar, and that was it. The guy on my right had his head comfortably ensconced in one of those red plastic bowls of stale popcorn Jerry was so generous with. The guy on my left, while equally passed out, had managed to remain upright on his stool. This simalcrum of consciousness, unfortunately, was somewhat marred by the guy having a foot-long hunk of iridescently green snot hanging out of his nose.
One of the few times the D-blog has ever lent sparkle (comparatively speaking) to a gathering.
In piece [sic] for Esquire magazine, long-time Denver-based writer J.R. Moehringer called Krantz cranky and charismatic, a "full-blooded Russian" who didn't take any guff from customers and handled his business brusquely and efficiently.
Cranky, si. Brusque, certainly. Charismatic, not so much.
El Chapultepec "smells like New York, feels like New Orleans, and sounds like southside Chicago," Moehringer wrote for the magazine.
It's just a tiny place; I doubt you could legally stuff 75 people in there--though there was often double that on good nights. I'll let the guy with the discerning nose have his way on what the place smelled like. The fact remains that the 'Pec (see, insider!) was one of the main reasons the D-blog could confidently say: Denver: Not a cowtown.
"His big thing is that he always wanted it to be for everybody," said Krantz's daughter Anna Diaz. "At the time when he started it you'd get dressed up to go to the symphony, and there were people who had never even seen live music. So there was no cover charge, no dress code. The bums on the street were just as welcome to come and listen as the millionaires." . . .
There was, I believe, a two-drink minimum, though. Bums hardest hit.
Oh, well. RIP Jerry.