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Nicolais: They almost killed Casa Bonita! South Park creators aim to come to the rescue

With the iconic Colorado restaurant still closed to food service, two cartooning crusaders are the latest to offer assistance

Casa Bonita should be every bit as eternal as the gastrointestinal suffering it has caused over the past 50 years. Yet, just as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered other Colorado eateries, it closed the iconic restaurant last year.

Free tours of the paradise/hellscape within the apropos Pepto Bismol-pink tower persist and the arcade is open, but the current owners have filed for bankruptcy. Any permanent closure would be an affront to the childhood of every Coloradan, particularly those of us who grew up in the western suburbs of Denver. 

Thanks to two Colorado originals, the fate of Casa Bonita may no longer be circling the toilet.

Mario Nicolais

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park” — and the criminally under-rated BASEketball movie — have announced their intention to purchase the venue.

I don’t know what the state equivalent of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is, but Gov. Jared Polis should seriously consider bestowing it on Parker and Stone if they save our beloved landmark.

Growing up in Lakewood, Casa Bonita held a place of honor and esteem as a destination for every grade school celebration. From the chintz décor to the corralled buffet, everything about Casa Bonita seemed magical. Blaring mariachis, darkened cave tunnels, and the cheesy show put on by cliff-divers plummeting down the 30-foot waterfall.

We were too young to understand just how bad the food was and too hopped up on sugar-coated sopapillas dipped in honey to care. 

As a teenager, I worked as a lifeguard for the City of Lakewood and had friends who moonlighted as cliff-divers. To my eternal lament, I felt too cool to follow their lead. But I spent plenty of nights hanging out eating sopapillas (my pallet had become too refined for the other fare) and watching them plunge into the water.

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The unique funk created by decades of refried beans, chlorine and fried dough occasionally drifts back to me. My own version of a Proustian madeleine, I cannot help but smile before getting a bit nauseated.

Presumably, Parker and Stone share similar reverence for the storied strip-mall anchor. They did canonize it in an episode of “South Park,” right down to the puppet-shows and raised flags for service. 

I have always wondered whether Parker and Stone were able to provide those details from memory or had to engage in a little creative research while penning the script. Regardless, they missed several golden opportunities to kill Kenny: A fall from a cliff? A violent reaction to the food? His skeleton left to rot next to Black Bart?

Maybe a second chance is in the cards.

The dynamic duo are not the only Coloradans putting up cash to keep the cherished attraction alive, though. More than 1,200 people have contributed over $68,000 to the “Save Casa Bonita” GoFundMe page. Donations will help to pay small, local creditors owed by Casa Bonita including the mariachi bands, food vendors and janitorial service providers.

That said, who would not want to see what the gloriously twisted minds of Parker and Stone could do for Casa Bonita? I am already envisioning two golden thrones perched on either side of the waterfall for both to look out over their new kingdom. A bigger and better cave. An antacid dispensary.

Who knows, maybe they could persuade the now-immortalized Sewell Hall chef to help improve the menu? Only a few years behind Parker and Stone at the University of Colorado, I can attest that the man did make a tasty taco.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

As Colorado has grown and expanded in my lifetime, we have lost some of our most iconic locales. The old Mile High Stadium. The original Elitch Gardens. Heritage Square in Golden.

Casa Bonita is in jeopardy of becoming the next. Hopefully two cartooning crusaders can swoop in and save the day.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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