Mercury Cafe, A Denver Staple, Is Fighting to Stay Afloat

Mercury Cafe has been a staple to Denver creatives since 1990 when they first opened their doors to the public. In the heart of Denver, yet on a corner that seems so ordinary, Mercury Cafe is where history in this city has been made. A hub of poetry, open mics, comedy, art shows, swing dances, drag shows, magazine launches, book readings, slam poetry and live music of all kinds — it has served as a springboard to all forms of creative and performance art. Anyone who can even tangentially consider themselves a ‘creative’ in Denver can say with confidence that they’ve performed at, and in most cases, been a part of the community of Mercury Cafe. It’s acted as a reprieve from art spaces that at times seemed commodified, and a sanctuary for those who had nowhere else to go. 

Photo from Mercury Cafe’s Facebook

Even during a worldwide pandemic, that hasn’t changed. As soon as they were able to do so safely, Mercury Cafe opened its doors to once again serve vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free food while hosting live music, comedy and benefits for a number of causes including food drives, Black Lives Matter and Colorado Peoples Alliance, which works to defund ICE.

But while Mercury Cafe has been busy helping everyone else, they now need the favor in return. Despite taking many precautions and adjusting to the current climate — the beloved staple is still struggling to make ends meets. A GoFundMe was set up in April in order to help pay for license renewals, payroll as well as $39,300 in their annual property taxes. After the property taxes, there’s the restaurant liquor license ($3,300), insurance ($9,600) and fire inspections ($300). The ASCAP, BMI and SESAC licenses alone — which grant businesses the licensing rights to have music be performed in their environment, both over speakers and music performed live by an artist — cost Mercury Cafe $16,000 every year. Overall, Marilyn Megenity — owner and operator of Mercury Cafe — estimates that she spends over $70,000 before, “we’ve even turned on the lights or cooked any food,” Megenity said over the phone.

Mercury Café via Facebook

Yet Megenity, while stressed about the ability to keep the lights on, pay staff and serve delicious food at such drastically reduced hours and limited seating, sounded positively elated at the level of support her cafe has been receiving since the beginning of the pandemic. “It’s made me weep to see how much people are supporting us,” Megenity said.

Mercury Cafe lies in a corner of downtown currently being gobbled up by hungry real estate developers. Massive condos are building up quickly, and the current pandemic has hardly slowed down the buyers’ market. Mercury Cafe remains an anchor in the fast-changing sea of construction and development. Even with Megenity’s calm and collected disposition, that may soon be threatened as another storm brews on the horizon — a nine-story building in the works right next door, which will block the cafe’s solar and wind clean energy sources.

The amount of money donated already to the GoFundMe should be a sign of the strength and solidarity of Denver’s creative community. “There is a community of people in this city who have poured out their love to the Mercury. [Over the years] I’ve seen people create community and memories here, and I’ve seen people fall in love here,” Megenity said.

This foundational nature of The Mercury is seemingly mirrored in its exterior. Although small in comparison to the behemoths building next door — it’s hard to miss their celestially painted wall and star-studded bricks. It serves as a reminder to Denver that the sky would have to fall before Mercury Cafe vanishes from this city.

You can find more information about Mercury Cafe’s upcoming events here, and you can look through their menu here. For Tuesday-Saturday, they will begin taking orders for takeout and delivery at 4 pm, and pickup and delivery times will take place from 5 – 7:30 pm. Saturday and Sunday brunch pick up and delivery will take place 9 am – 1 pm.