Muddy's Cafe: An Important Denver Institution

I was from a Western Slope town where we didn’t even have a café. With its warm, eclectic, welcoming crowd of old beatniks, poets, punk rockers, and other weirdos, Muddy’s Café blew my mind. Here in Denver, misfits had a public place of their own, where they could hang out and eat good food without being harassed by cowboys or rednecks (a revelation). In his book, Muddy’s Chronicles: Memoirs from the Last Great Coffeehouse, Bill Stevens chronicles the story of this café and its community of unique people, where you could always find a chess game, an all-night intellectual conversation, a caffeine buzz and companionship. For over twenty-five years, this “philosophical coffeehouse” was one of a very few Denver institutions to provide a haven for independent thinkers and counter-cultural elements. Muddy’s hosted the likes of Allen Ginsburg, Ken Kesey, and all of Denver’s mayors and Colorado’s governors of the time. But, “Egalitarian in nature, [Muddy’s] also sheltered the bizarre, the demented and those soulless beings the world never knew existed. There was no schism between the bitter and the frightened, or normal and the sociopath; Muddy’s protected and gave sanctuary to all” (Stevens, p. 8). Muddy's was located at 2557 15th Street. It's later incarnation was at 2200 Champa. Place a hold on Muddy’s Chronicles. Search our Western History Subject Index for old newspaper articles about Muddy’s Cafe. Or come into the Western History and Genealogy Department to read our copy of Muddy’s Chronicles and to see other books about important restaurants, hotels, and businesses of Denver and the West.

I fondly remember the Earl Grey milkshakes.

I appreciate this so much. I loved the place like family.

My name is Rhode
My friends call me Donny.
In 1982 and 1983 i pulled a few latenite visits there. I was a redneck cowboy yuppie type who went to Muddys Cafe for that great coffee and a little bit of late night breakfast after The Honky Tonks in Glendale and Aurora closed. I never knew where muddys was so I used to drive up and down a few Streets on The quiet quaint side of downtown Denver until I found it and I found it several times and loved it. A few of the Thomas Wolfe volumes and William Faulkner books that I have I acquired in their bookstore.

I have a story "fit to tell" which I would like to tell sometime

The Muddy's I knew in the early 1990s was located at 2200 Champa St. Is this the same cafe?

In reply to by Chris (not verified)

I was wondering the same thing.

In reply to by Chris (not verified)

Not the same location. The Muddy's I knew in the 1980s was at 2557 15th Street, just North of I-25.

Yeah... it sounds the same in his description, but I don't know either. Hopefully there will be a reply.

The café was originally "Muddy Waters on the Platte Coffeehouse" (2557 15th Street) during the 70's and 80's. It later moved to Champa and became Muddy's Java Café which was my old haunt in the 90's. Same lineage though as Joe DeRose owned the cafés in both locations until Sheila bought it if I'm not mistaken.

Do you remember what the owner's name was?

In reply to by Al (not verified)

Bill Stevens and Joe De La Rosa

In reply to by L.D. Brite (not verified)

Joe DeRose owned the first iteration on 15th, then partnered with Bill Stevens on the second location.

In reply to by Bryan (not verified)

If you read the book you will discover their were 3 Muddy's locations. The final one on Champa was the most well known. I was part of the younger crowd and I have written what can be considered a sequel in a way to Muddy's Chronicles called City Ode City. Please email me at cityodecity@gmail.com to get a free copy and to find pout where the next event is. Thanks!

Only two locations. Not three.

In reply to by Bryan (not verified)

Sheila did own it. Her and her dad if I remember right. We had fundraisers and everything to try and help save it. It was just no use. My ex-boyfriend and his best friend took me there one night after a horrible fight with my mom. And that was that. Everytime her and I went rounds, Muddys was there for me. Totally got through my horrific high school years. It really did save my life a couple of times. I was a weirdo. Still am and Muddy Family taught me that was an awesome kind of person to be.

In 1990, I went through the SERE course at Ft. Bragg with a special forces staff sergeant. He was in the Colorado national guard. I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he owned a coffee shop in Denver. Said it was called Muddy's. That i remember. Alas, i cant remember his name.

That would be Leonard Cook. He provided all the financing to opening Muddys new location while giving 50% of shares to a couple who were supposed to handle running the place after the old Muddys closed. His partnerships and arrangements changed as time went by until he finally decided to walk away.
He was a very special man & unique individual. I well remember his return from SERE. And if you met him there, you deserve much respect & admiration, as would anyone who made through. Thank you for your service.

Hi Al,
i had an art exhibition at this wonderful café in 1996 and if my memory serves me well the owner was a nice guy called Joel, I'll always remember eating tasty hot soup and fresh bread there.... also he used to feed many homeless kids.

In reply to by Adam Pinson (not verified)

I was one of those homeless kids back in the 90's..... I've since grown up and have a great life, but this brings back tons of memories and late nights with friends at muddys!

Hi Rebeikah - Glad to hear everything worked out for you! I guess hanging out at an inviting coffee house with friendly people wasn't all bad!

It wasn't bad at all, it was a warm inviting place. An escape from the hell we were living. The people were all unique... I hung out with punkrockers, metalheads and skaters back then we were all just a bunch of misfits and lost kids whos homes were broken, but there was never any judgment at Muddys! It's memories like that, that gave me hope, assured me that there was good in the world and ultimately led me to turn my life around.

Where exactly was the original Muddy's? What is there now?

In reply to by jg (not verified)

Hi JG - It's our understanding that the original Muddy's was at 2557 15th Street, which is now occupied by a brow sculpting shop and a tattoo removal service.

In reply to by jg (not verified)

It is vacant I think. A couple years ago it was NORAD night club.

In reply to by jg (not verified)

I’m a few years late to this thread but I believe it actually may have been located where our restaurant (Ohana Island Kitchen) is now located at 2563 15th street (unit 105). I came across this thread about Muddy’s Coffeehouse while trying to find more information on the history of our building. Brows is across the street and has an even number address. Also, if you look at our building and the photo on the book, our spot looks pretty identical (although we no longer have an upstairs). Would love to hear from someone else if our spot was, indeed, the old Muddy’s!

I was one of those homeless kids. I spent my days at the capitol. Climbed the steps of the gold dome a lot. Many nights at Muddy's where I made life long friends. I have a master's degree now and I work at the capitol...Muddy's contributed greatly to who I am...

Hi Corrine - We've loved hearing these stories from Muddy's kids and how the place positively impacted their lives. Thanks for sharing it with us!

I don't know where you got 21st & Curtis. The building still stands at 22nd & Champa. This post is being used by the clueless to argue with those of us that actually worked there about where it was. smh :(

Thank you for calling our attention to this! The fix has been made. We apologize for any inconvenience that this caused you.

Lived in Denver ‘75 to ‘84. It was a fun place to hang out in. Recall a quality used book store owned by a fellow who was a retired insurance salesman. Can’t recall the name of a cafe/restaurant located diagonally opposite Muddy’s

Hi Jeff, thanks for sharing! There was a Highland Bar at 2532 15th Street; any chance this is the cafe/restaurant you remember?

The Mercury Cafe was across the street and they had a concert venue upstairs.
A local band the Psychedelic Zombies would play there. Its still open and sells beer and food. Its one of the oldest in Denver. My book City Ode' City talks all about this and if you cant afford the $10 for a hard back with color photos I will give you one for free. Cheers!

My home, my nirvana. So much of me was literally carved into inches of the entire place by beautiful, artful souls I encountered. My booth had my tattoo lovingly carved into it, by my first as a reminder that we were punk rock loves. And books! And bad poets, drag queens...clove cigs out back. The fruit and cheese platter and Egyptian sunrise drink that renewed my soul. All the diverse people, and the staff with big dreams..but always good vibes. And when I went back before it closed, I felt some dreams would die. Yet, made passionate sex in my car across the street after it closed. All my dreams came true though, blessing and hopes shared in those lovely wooden booths were realized. Muddys was the gateway to roads untravelled, ideas old and new. My life has been an unconventional Henry Miller/Hunter Thompson experience but as an over educated woman of the world. Places and people I never dream existed. And this is only the first half of my time on this blue planet!

In the early 1990’s I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Denver and the surrounding areas. Muddy’s offered NA a space upstairs for our meetings. Sometimes when we felt adventurous as a group we would venture out onto the roof of Muddy’s to share with one another, the gift of staying clean just for one day. On occasion, we would be blessed with snow, during our intimate little meetings. I recall one evening, snow falling from the heavens. As my NA family, one by one shared about their “recovery from active addiction”. The magic and the mystery of that night so long ago, I still hold dear to my heart. Now, this some 28 years later, what stands out to me was not the people or even being there at Muddy’s Cafe, but the way the snow appeared to sparkle like glitter under the lights as it fell to my face, from the sky. It was indeed a good day to be clean and alive and at a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous at the good ole’ “Muddy’s Cafe”.

In reply to by Natalie Fulton (not verified)

What a wonderful story, Natalie. Thank you for sharing!

In reply to by Natalie Fulton (not verified)

Hey I attended those meetings! I remember them moving to the space in the basement and then, when the stairs down there got a little unstable, to the room in the back with the pool table and the Mortal Kombat game. I remember the arcade game specifically because we would get in trouble for unplugging the cabinet during the meetings, which wiped out high scores and irritated the regulars who played on it all the time.

During the summer when the weather warmed, we moved the meetings out to the back porch area. I miss that place.

Is Muddy's still (Dec 2020) open as a coffee shop...there are lots of address changes, etc. in this post, so I am not quite sure. And if so, what is the current address? BTW, love these posts.

Melody, unfortunately, according to a Denver Post article from February 16, 2016, "Redevelopment pushed Muddy's out in 1985. DeRose moved the cafe to 2200 Champa Street, adding improvements such as a windowless employee break room that allowed servers to suck up plenty of weed before going back to work, but that location closed in 1997."

While having a bite at Muddy's on the Platte my friends and I saw Garrett Morris and invited him to join us. Wonderful night!

I had many a wonderful dark night back in the 90’s at muddy’s. I wish I had not taken those magical teen moments for granted!

I had many a wonderful dark nights back in the 90’s at muddy’s. I wish I had not taken those magical teen moments for granted!

I loved this place! I was too young to go by myself but my sister used to take me with her and her friends. I remember writing on the wall, which was awesome at 12 to be able to leave a mark someplace. I remember having my first Greek salad there and the coffee which she would let me have. It was perfect in every way and such a cool place to share a memory with my sister treating me like a little adult. I am so glad I got to be there during that time. LUCKY ME!!!

This place was heaven on earth for me as a teenager when we were old enough to drive, and it was such fun to take my younger sister there when our mother allowed. The relationships I formed there created my future. Emma Sue Prince from England was our favorite waitress. Anyone remember her? I'll never forget the smell and vibe of that place.

I remember Muddy's in the 70's. My friend Gregory Hill and I would.go there every Sunday, to read the newspaper and drink the beat coffee. Fond memories!

I remember Muddy's in the 70's. My friend Gregory Hill and I would.go there every Sunday, to read the newspaper and drink the beat coffee. Fond memories!

I miss Muddy’s! I spent as much time as possible there from 1994-1995. I made so many friends, Isaac, Matt, Dahlia, a little blonde kid, Thaddeus and his girlfriend and so many others. Very cool to see how much it meant to other people.

Jenny-Wow! I was just reading through all the comments when I came across yours, and your mention of all those names, it sure brings back A LOT of good memories....I lived in Parker(among other places...LOL)at the time, but from 7pm-4am, several days a week, Muddy's was my home away from home.....

Lord, I miss that place. Back in the 90s, my friends and I would go out for Goth night on Sundays, dance till the clubs closed, then hit Muddy's (it was at Champa) to drink coffee, peruse the books, have a snack and occasionally play video games. I remember the remodel and we really felt it sucked the character out of the building. Part of the charm was all the mismatched chairs and tables, and the covered up windows.

We'd roll out of there once they closed, then hit The White Spot for breakfast.

Good times and memories.

That's really funny thst was my first Dead show and I ended up at Muddys riding out the rest of my head full of cid.Cid.. 1990

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