MGM’s Restaurant & Lounge was Marco G. Martinez’s birthday gift to himself, and then to his brother.
The Denver native bought the Westwood property on his birthday in late 1984 and opened it on his brother’s birthday, Aug. 21, 1985. In the nearly 34 years since, MGM’s has been all about family — in blood and in community. Martinez’s mother, sister and niece ran the restaurant in the early years. His sister-in-law was his first bartender. His longtime friend was his manager. And through Martinez’s hospitality, generosity and political involvement, MGM’s became a gathering place for the west Denver and Latino communities.
On Wednesday night, it closed for good, though the real goodbye happened days earlier.
“Sunday night was our final Sunday night, which has been notorious for MGM’s. If you went anywhere on Sunday, you went to MGM’s,” Martinez said. “I know people think it was just a little native bar to the community of Westwood, but that wasn’t our only clientele. We’ve had all the major Chicano bands, not perform, but come and party. … Every mayor that has been a mayor in Denver has been to MGM’s. Hickenlooper, I believe he was at MGM’s. I know he was there just to get support. But I’m proud to say every walk of life has been through MGM’s.”
Other than shutting down the kitchen to focus solely on operating the nightclub side of his business, Martinez hasn’t changed much at MGM’s. It had been a rockabilly bar before he bought it, and the early days saw a few would-be customers who’d make racist remarks and leave, but it didn’t take too long for him to settle in. His family is pretty well entrenched in Denver, and Martinez said he’s been politically active since he was 14. With his family and community behind him, he soon had a solid customer base.
Martinez is actually an east Denver native, and he still lives there. The road from his childhood to running a club in Westwood meandered a little, but it informed much of work and what MGM’s meant to the community.
“I grew up in the hood. Humble beginnings,” he said. “We were definitely not well-off and growing up as a child and a young person, your view on life can be very limited and you don’t have a good perspective what you’re going to do for a career.”
One career he considered was “not so nice,” he said. He wanted to be a pimp until he realized that it was, well, bad. He considered becoming an attorney and was accepted into a law program at the University of New Mexico, but he had a child and “that kind of put a cramp on that.” So he bought a restaurant and lounge instead.
From the get-go, his childhood informed the way he ran MGM’s.
For about a decade, Martinez and MGM’s would fund a senior trip for a student of a single parent. (This stopped when Denver Public Schools stopped doing senior trips, he said, around the time Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba.)
“We were proud of that because they didn’t have to be star students or anything of that nature. I’ve always thought it was important for minority people and Chicanos to see what’s out there. If they get to see a different life … then they can appreciate why they want that education,” he said. “That was a very big thing for us. We were very happy to do that.”
For many more years, his Toyz In Da Hood/Spirit of Giving Toy Run, which Martinez believes is the longest running independent toy run in Denver, has made Christmas brighter for kids around Denver. The space has been donated countless times for fundraisers, and MGM’s has organized countless fundraisers of its own.
“Let’s say somebody died and they didn’t have the money to bury somebody,” Martinez said. “Some of the funeral homes actually gave people our phone number so we could help raise and send them off. We have done countless fundraisers to help get people buried.”
What happens now that they’ve sent off MGM’s, time will tell. Martinez still owns the building at 4801 Morrison Road. He’s leasing it out to a couple who live in the neighborhood, who will open a restaurant there.
He asked that these be the final words on his club:
“MGM’s is successful because it was family run endeavor of love… spurred on by me, because you know family, sometimes they don’t want to come to work.”