A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure/displeasure of eating at one of Denver’s – scratch that – the Nation’s landmark restaurants: Casa Bonita.
Casa Bonita opened in 1974. It is over 52,000 square feet with seating for 1,100 guests and took one year to build. Since the Casa Bonita in Tulsa closed in September of 2005 (which I’m incredibly disappointed in never having had the chance to visit), Denver’s Casa Bonita is now one of a kind – with the exception of the soon to be open Casa Viva and The Mayan (which was sued by Casa Bonita). Casa Bonita achieved national recognition recently with it’s appearance on South Park.
I think it’s easily described as the offspring of a broken down Disneyland, less than stellar Taco Bell, long airport security lines, the Las Vegas Strip, Chunky Cheese, and good liquid acid.
Nearly everyone who has lived in Denver, for any amount of time, is going to know what casa Bonita is. And most of those people are going to gag at the mere mention of it’s name. In fact, the reputation of the food at Casa Bonita is so poor it has been deemed “Casa Don’t-eat-a” by many Denverites. Casa Bonita is not for the week of heart or the week of stomach. It is just as plastic as Vegas (maybe more). And the food is some of the worst I’ve ever had. For reals.
The lines to get into the Casa can be horrendous. Go on a weeknight, less screaming children and little-to-no lines. If you decide to make a weekend night out of it you can expect lines up to an hour long to get in. And often a 30 minute line can form just to get the hell out of there. You’ve been warned. Trust me, this is one of the last places on earth you want to feel trapped.
After you have made your order and paid (you didn’t think they’re going let you see what’s on your plate before you paid did you), you are ushered to another cafeteria style line were you get a tray and wait until a young lady asks, “wachoo order?”. Soon your meal comes sliding out of a mysterious hole in the wall were it waits for you under the heating lamps. I love the fact that you never see where or by whom your food is made – it just appears through a hole!
I can only harsh on Casa Bonita for so long though. I personally, have spent many a childhood birthday at Casa Bonita. It will forever hold a nostalgic place in my heart, no matter how many times I end up puking in the fountain on the way out.
And so the fun begins. After getting your slop you’ll be lead to your seat. Everyone asks for a seat by the waterfall. Don’t. The smell of chlorine will get your stomach upset before you have a chance to drink your first coronaita. And they won’t seat you there anyway. One of the coolest things about Casa Bonita is all the cool rooms they can seat you in. There are gazebos, waterfall seating, mines, cave rooms, “open air” seating, and the governors mansion.
In addition to magic shows, Casa Bonita has all kinds of other entertainment including pupppet shows, flame jugglers, a wishing well, a roaming mariachi band (which reportedly can’t play anything other than ‘happy birthday’), Black Barts cave, an arcade filled with 80’s video games and ski-ball, a souvenir store filled with absolute shit – and t-shirts, “authentic” Mexican dancers, a wishing well, piñatas for the kids, and all kinds of other stuff. Casa Bonita is great to go exploring in. Go thru a door your not supposed, search around, there is cool stuff to be found.
But by far the main attraction at Casa Bonita is the thirty-foot waterfall. Everyone seems to fall into the waterfall. If it’s not the regular divers doing flips, it’s Black Bart being shot by the sheriff and falling into the pool, or Chiquita the gorilla running around it escaping her captor and harassing the patrons. It’s the waterfall that makes Casa Bonita really unique. The diver’s at Casa Bonita even have there own blog featuring Chiquita.
Go to Tiki Boyds and get a drink called the Casa Bonita. Refreshing!
Her reminiscing about Casa Bonita really hit home with me.
This dude made a video of his Casa Bonita experience.
Jeffery Sward has some great phtography of Casa Bonita.
The death metal band Carrion Crawler once did a short show on the Casa Bonita stage before getting kicked off.
Some more Casa Bonita photos can be found
This is a decent post about the Casa.
Please share you favorite / nostalgic / least favorite stories about the Casa. Or, just comment on how absolutly jealous you are of not being able to go here every weekend!