I expected dinner at someplace like the picture above but, in truth, I went to the Mercury Cafe in Denver last night.
Let me backtrack a little. My family is renovating their main bathroom and, as it saves a little money if I paint it, I spent several hours yesterday painting a ceiling white, cutting in a pale blue along the top of the walls, and painting the same blue anywhere a roller wouldn’t reach. By late afternoon, I was ready for a treat and Seemie Xavier, my belly dance instructor, had provided me with a perfect opportunity. Seemie is an amazing dancer, proficient in belly dance and Bollywood; and I believe she’s taking Flamenco lessons. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to see her perform and even more thrilled when I learned the venue was a cafe/restaurant that catered to vegetarians and vegans.
Now, I don’t wish to sound like I’m complaining because I’m not. My lifestyle is my choice and I don’t expect the world to change itself to accommodate me. However, it isn’t very exciting to be throwing meals together from side dishes or ordering a menu item without 25% of its ingredients (the price doesn’t change because I leave off the cheese and dairy based spread-I’m just saying…). I was, perhaps, more excited than I should have been to try a place where I could order straight from the menu and have my meal be completely vegan. I set a reservation for an hour ahead of the show’s start time and headed downtown.
I don’t usually go downtown. It’s busy, it’s crowded, and the one way streets can be a confusing. I considered taking the light rail downtown but that would mean walking four blocks from the train station to the restaurant, then back after the show, and a half hour wait for the next train. My mother looked a little pinched at the idea I’d be walking around Downtown Denver, by myself, late at night and I had to admit a parking lot directly across the street from the restaurant sounded nice and convenient. Parking after 4pm only costs $4.00, which is less than what round trip train fare costs: I drove. I was nervous because I’m unfamiliar with Downtown Denver but I have GPS.
I do not have photos of the Mercury Cafe. I’d intended to get there a little early and take some but my trip was delayed because my GPS decided to stop talking to me three-quarters of the way through the trip. I got it fixed (I don’t know how-it just started working again) and parked the car at 6PM. As my reservation was for 6, dawdling to take photos seemed rude. Hopefully, I can paint some word pictures for you.
The Mercury Cafe is one of the older buildings in Denver which I like because it isn’t a cookie-cutter glass and steel structure. Rather, it’s a two story stone building covered by climbing vines which covered the light brown stone with autumn tints of green, gold, and russet. I walked around the building to a narrow entrance, opened the door, and stepped into the restaurant where a young man greeted me with a smile. I told him my name. He recognized it and the fact that I had a reservation and, while he searched for his list, I took a look around.
The cafe is lit to create an intimate atmosphere. There are no garish overhead lights, rather red and white strands of Christmas lights drape from the ceiling, supplemented by hanging lanterns, each one unique. I don’t know if the red and white lights are for Halloween or if that’s how the cafe is usually lit but I liked it. I could see well enough that I wasn’t going to trip as I was led to my table but not lit so brightly the space ceased to be warm and welcoming. And the cafe is warm and welcoming. Everyone greeted me with a smile, a friendly waitress took my order and checked on me several times to see if I needed anything else, and all my questions were answered with a positive and willing attitude. Putting in an early reservation was a great idea because I was seated in the front row, directly in front of the stage. Rows of chairs were added in front of me later but my spot was prime. The table was a small, round affair painted with a red flower and lit with a single candle. Perfect for creating an intimate affair but I didn’t fit it: I could barely fit my legs under it and not at all if I crossed them. There are higher tables and stools lining the back wall (which is painted with a jungle themed mural) so, if you’re tall like me, perhaps request one of those. Still, I was able to settle myself comfortably and perused the menu.
As I was driving, I forewent a glass of Malbec (organic) and ordered a Chai Tea (also organic). Milk choices were dairy, oat, almond, and soy. I almost ordered two teas, each with different milks because I could, but I restrained myself and ordered one with soy. It came warm and frothy with a bottle of honey if I wished to sweeten it. I can see you strictest of the strict vegans cringing at the mention of honey but the Mercury Cafe supports local and organic farmers. This honey came from Clark’s Farm and was organic, raw, and unrefined. Kudos to the cafe for supporting a local beekeeper. Of course, all that being said, I didn’t use the honey as I find soy milk sweet enough on its own. I spooned the froth off the top of my tea as I perused the menu.
The Cafe isn’t just for vegans and vegetarians. I saw burgers, chicken, and grilled salmon for the omnivores, vegetable and cheese options for the vegetarians, and tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and beans for us vegans. I’d never seen tempeh on a menu before but, as I thought it would be too much meal for me, I ordered the Vegan Grill from the appetizer menu. The Vegan Grill consisted of breaded and fried tofu, a veggie skewer with mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions, and two sauces. One was a spicy tomato salsa and the other an Asian inspired black bean sauce. Two sauces when I usually have none because they’re dairy based! Boundless joy. The tofu was perfect; lightly flavored and firm-textured. Ordering tofu can be iffy sometimes: I don’t care for silken tofu unless it’s being used in sauces or quiches and was more than satisfied with what arrived on my plate.
At one point, I bit into something I thought was a peppercorn. Perhaps it was. Pepper flavor sparked in my mouth and, as I like pepper, I didn’t mind. Then the agony started, searing its way through my mouth and sinus passages, bringing tears to my eyes. I made the mistake of grabbing water which only served to move the fire around my mouth. My milk-based tea worked a little better but, I admit it, I was hurting. In desperation I reached for my little side dish of grapes and I was grateful to have them. Their sweetness helped tone down the fire and I was able to complete my meal although, as I was out of grapes by then, I was a bit more cautious. Despite my adventure with the peppercorn, I heartily enjoyed my meal. It was full of flavor, presented in an appealing way, and completely vegan. With parking, dinner, tip, and the cost of the show, my night out came in under $30.00. Was it worth it? Every cent.
The food was amazing, the atmosphere enticing, and the show spectacular. Tribal Belly Dance, Traditional Belly Dance, and Bollywood dance all came together in a tour of a Macabre Mansion. There were fun tweaks to traditional performances, like a cane dance being performed with brooms by two women dressed as witches, and a blend of American Belly dance mixed with African dance. There was an ensemble that included a male belly dancer and a Star Trek inspired routine; green body paint included. My night at the Mercury Cafe’s Macabre Mansion was awesome and I can’t wait for the next show.