While the exact date for Casa Bonita’s much-anticipated grand re-opening is still under wraps, a sneak peek of the facility in Lakewood reveals that, much like its high divers, you’re in for a deep plunge into nostalgia.
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Restaurant officials announced May 26 that while Casa Bonita is in a beta-test mode, it will open with limited dinner hours, and first guests will be pulled exclusively from the email list, with no walk-ins. (Sign up at this link.)
On Friday, officials offered a sneak peek of the pink palace to media, so we can now confirm: it’s still the same kitschy place you may recall fondly. In fact, the owners worked very hard to preserve and restore the original 1975 look. The exception is the much cleaner look of the restaurant, especially the kitchen.
The most notable part of the press tour was security. This visit and every piece of information on it was under an embargo until today. At the site, several Allied Universal Security personnel maintained lines. The only people allowed through the security rope were those lucky enough to find themselves on a strict list of names.
Security may be a theme moving forward as well. Two metal detectors stood idle by the front doors. The press was allowed to bypass them. The public may not have that option.
Despite all the secrecy, there are a few things we can share now from our peek inside Casa Bonita.
Here’s what’s new:
Here’s what hasn’t changed:
Here’s what we still don’t know:
Host city Lakewood will face its own challenges when Casa Bonita finally opens. While part of a big parking lot, capacity to handle the crowds is an open question.
According to Mayor Adam Paul, the city is ready for the challenge.
“We're probably as prepared as we can be,” he said before going on to acknowledge the crowds, “but there's going to be a lot of interest, a lot of people moving in and out of there.”
He went on to mention other concerns in addition to parking and security, including the Colfax city project and inclement weather.
“I think that we'll find unique ways to make sure that we can accommodate not only some but all the businesses in that area," he said. "Then it's just going to have to be a partnership (with Casa Bonita) moving forward, knowing that the future of West Colfax is super bright. And that all these projects together are going to make a big difference.”
The restaurant originally opened on west Colfax Avenue in March of 1974 as part of a franchise by Bill Waugh, according to an obituary from his death in 2015. With the ability to seat more than 1,000 patrons, the 52,000-square-foot, multilevel facility served as a cultural landmark, event center and curiosity long before the animated show “South Park” prominently featured it in an episode in 2003. (With the additions that the current owners have made, the size of Casa Bonita is now 56,000 square feet.)
For those who have never been inside, Casa Bonita is designed to mimic a Mexican resort village. But after years of being touched by thousands of young hands and lax upkeep, the landmark developed a feel that could only be described as “gritty,” much like how Lakewood officials like to tout West Colfax in general.
Previous tours of Casa Bonita also highlighted a 150-seat theater in a lower level, where the Denver Broncos held their 2011 draft. (The venue was good luck — they selected linebacker Von Miller, a defensive powerhouse who was the Super Bowl 50 MVP.)
The pink palace shut its doors during the COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020. At that time, expectations of its demise were rampant, with employees reporting that their March 2020 paychecks had bounced. Then-owners Star Buffet Inc. declared bankruptcy in April 2021.
The facility, though still not operational as a restaurant, offered free tours to the curious. In August 2021, Gov. Jared Polis appeared with “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to announce they had reached an agreement to purchase the facility.
“We’re excited to work with everybody to make it the place we all want to make it,” Parker said at the time.
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