You can’t enter Black Bart’s Cave yet but that time is allegedly drawing near.
Although the historic Casa Bonita restaurant is in Colorado, it’s well known to Wyomingites who, over the years, have made the trek to the iconic pink palace in Lakewood.
The restaurant had fallen on tough times before South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker purchased the business two years ago.
And now, after $12 million in renovations, it’s set to reopen.
The restaurant set a May reopening date, which is fine, except May is running out of runway.
No big deal. Dana Rodriguez, the new chef of Casa Bonita said that in her 24-year career, no restaurant has ever opened on time.
It could still happen, of course, but if they’re late, they’re late. There’s been so much anticipation and buzz about this genuinely wacky place reopening, they can wait as long as they want.
But there has been progress.
The menu has been released and on Friday, members of the media had a sneak peak of the establishment.
The new menu is basic but it’s all made fresh, which is the big difference. There are eight main dishes plus a kids' menu.
Enchiladas with red or green chile
Picadillo (a ground beef, green chile and potato stew)
Calabacitas (veggie dish)
Camarones (shrimp served in an adobo sauce)
For the uninitiated, it was never about the food.
That was the least attractive part. It was, for the most part, edible.
But it wasn't what drew people in day by day, by the thousands.
Rodriguez — who has been nominated four times for the prestigious James Beard culinary award — acknowledged the sheer crappiness of the food when discussing her goal of making the cuisine taste good.
“We either ate before or after [when going to Casa Bonita],” Dana Rodriguez told the Denver Post. “The food was really secondary.”
She has pledged to make the food “one thousand times better.”
Casa Bonita’s famous sopaipillas are back too (those were actually good).
She won’t have to worry about the atmosphere though as Stone and Parker just want to bring that part of the restaurant back to its glory days.
What drew people in was the restaurant's audacity.
It’s huge — some 52,000 sq. It’s the largest restaurant in America under one roof. It can seat over 2,000 people. And it’s pink.
Then there were the high divers jumping off 30-foot cliffs, their falling bodies illuminated only by tiki torches.
The roving, and festively loud, mariachi bands. The skeleton-laced hideaway known as Black Bart’s Cave. The arcades.
The screeching (piped-in) calls of exotic animals.
Also, there were leagues of other restaurant-goers, more than 2,000 at one time — who were also there for the atmosphere.
It was sensory overload for anyone who went — and kids loved that. And the parents could enjoy margaritas while the kids babysat themselves.
It was a win-win for everyone.
The Next Few Days
Until the opening, breathless TV reporters in Denver -- with all the urgency of a new papal announcement -- will continue to do their live stand-ups outside the palace awaiting perhaps a guacamole-scented cloud of smoke.
It’s not known when the restaurant will be open for the general public. But to get on the shortlist, the restaurant tells people to sign up for an invitation.
"While beta-testing Casa Bonita, we will be opening with limited dinner hours. Our first guests will be pulled EXCLUSIVELY from our email list. No walk-ins,” they tweeted.
Jimmy Orr can be reached at: Jimmy@CowboyStateDaily.com