Walking past the lit murals of expressive moons and roses on the door, the Mercury Café introduces itself. Jazz and swing music float through the air. Soft lighting that illuminates the room. Under the music is the chattering of guests ordering organic meals and local brew.
“It’s my first time here, but I love the red. It has an atmosphere that I really enjoy.” said Abby, a new visitor to the funky Five Points institution. The Mercury Cafe is bathed in red walls and curtains, casting a pink glow on the customers.
The Mercury Café is still shining as it approaches a year under new ownership. Danny Newman and Austin Gayer purchased the Mercury Cafe from Marilyn Megenity at 5:15 a.m. (yes, A.M.) on June 22 because Marilyn felt the stars aligned at that moment. Crowdfunding helped keep the place going during the pandemic but at 70, Marilyn was ready to turn it over to people who would love it like she did.
Megenity opened the Mercury Café’s doors at its current location at 22nd and California on Halloween night back in 1990. She bought the building for $157,000 and sold it for over $2 million dollars to the duo who said they wouldn’t change anything for now.
Community has been the café’s strongest tone from music events, community club meetings, poetry slams and open mic nights. The Mercury Café builds its reputation on giving back to the community through open expression. From smooth jazz sessions to lindy hop, tango brunches, belly dance performances and classes, there’s rarely a quiet day on California Street.
Even the bartenders will share the story of how the Mercury Café evolved throughout the years, telling stories of punk and alternative bands taking over the upper floor back before they became popular, and couples scheduling their own weddings inside the Mercury Café.
If one thing is true, the Mercury Café was built on strong feminine expression and has kept its reputation for dramatic atmosphere and consistent entertainment. It’s a “three ring circus” of swing dancers practicing their new routines on the cleared dance floor upstairs, to the tables where members of the Denver Psychedelic Club discuss their weekly updates and tarot readings are held for those looking for some insight into their spirituality.
“We walked in and a guy told us the story of how it [Mercury Café] started. We wanted to check out the jazz, I think it’s amazing,” said Joey, another first time visitor. “Me and my buddies just stumbled in and we’ve lived downtown for ten years off and on. We always try out different areas and we wanted to see what’s on this side of town.”
While under new ownership decorations have been moved and rearranged to create a more open space for larger events like western swing dance classes. Some of the red lights have been taken down, however, the Mercury Café is still known for its dramatic atmosphere and crimson light that fills the rooms.
“I’m always coming out for Friday Night jazz,” says Debbie, a repeat customer. She views the subtle changes introduced by new management positively. “I have liked them, it opens up the upstairs more for swing dancers. It has opened up the place and created a more open atmosphere.”
Besides keeping the vibe similar, sustainability is still a prime focus in Mercury Café’s kitchens, from their seasonal menus that evolve with the weather, plus what’s available from local vendors, farmers, and ethically sourced goods. Even their tap and spirits are sourced from the Rocky Mountains.
The Mercury Cafe is open Wednesday through Sundays. If you ever find yourself in the retrograde blues, the Mercury Café will realign you in no time.