Serendipity, Gorillas, and Pirates: Denver’s Casa Bonita

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By Michelle Railey

Every now and again, the weirdest thing happens. Sometimes the weird thing approaches the serendipitous: like that time I was trawling a flea market and stumbled across a souvenir postcard-booklet (7 double-sided postcards all attached) dating to 1974 and wrapped in plastic. The subject? Denver’s Casa Bonita, a restaurant I had visited in 1983 when I was a kid and that really made an impression.

It still exists, which is good enough for me. They still have cliff divers, skee-ball games, puppet shows, fancy lights against rocks, mariachis and…well, it’s a teensy-tiny mini-Disneyland of “Mexican!” According to their website, they even have gorilla and pirate shows (separately; there’s a schedule), but only on weekends.

The reviews online nowadays of Casa Bonita are a little all over the map: there are lots of jokes about indigestion, a lot of anger about cold fajitas and burned tortillas, and a surprising amount of frustration at the long lines and occasionally-non-functional skee-ball games in the arcade. But a lot of people still seem to feel that the environment is one-of-a-kind.

Having been there as a kid, I agree. I couldn’t tell you what I ate: I can tell you the colors of lights shining in the fake street scene, plaza, and the caves. I can tell you that the indoor waterfall (also lit in many fancy colors) was one of the coolest things my little-kid-eyes had ever seen.

It would be easy and fun to write up a 10-things-about list of Casa Bonita: who owns it now (Star Buffet, Inc, trading symbol STRZ), that it seats more than a thousand people at a time, that it’s the last of a small chain of restaurants, that the city/suburb of Lakewood where it’s technically located added the building to its Historic List of Landmarks, or that it’s the only “real” restaurant to be mentioned in South Park.

The truth is, there is nothing I can say or link to that can further highlight the charm of these silly, totally 100 percent ’70s and ’80s fantastic souvenir photo postcards. Even the random capitalization on the captions is great. And, let’s face it, the “DINNER FOR TWO” image is basically relationship goals for me, down to the Love Boat Julie hair and the painfully chevron sweater. Also, the couple does appear to really be having a pleasant night. At Casa Bonita.

So, just enjoy the slideshow: three of the images are recent, just for fun.

And if you want to read more, check out: (1) 7 Things You May Not Know About Casa Bonita (Denver Channel) (2) Wikipedia (3) Atlas Obscura (4) Watch Me Eat

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