We found the person behind that Meow Wolf/Casa Bonita Rickroll prank 

“I was hoping it would bring a little cheer to everyone’s day,” the sign-maker said. 

A sign advertising a fake Meow Wolf Casa Bonita collaboration at 38th and Irving. October 26, 2021.

A sign advertising a fake Meow Wolf Casa Bonita collaboration at 38th and Irving. October 26, 2021.

Courtesy: Michelle Gregg
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Last week, Denver was buzzing about a mysterious sign that appeared on a fence outside the old Thai Basil building in the Highlands. The sign advertised a “Meow Wolf Highlands Casa Bonita Express Pop-Up experience” coming in fall 2022, a concept just bizarre enough to be plausible.

The sign disappeared about as soon as people started noticing it. Denverite went on the case to find out if the sign was legit (turns out, it was all an elaborate Rickroll), who was behind it, and who took it down.

A sign advertising a fake Meow Wolf Casa Bonita collaboration at 38th and Irving. October 26, 2021.

A sign advertising a fake Meow Wolf Casa Bonita collaboration at 38th and Irving. October 26, 2021.

Courtesy: Michelle Gregg

After the building’s co-owner Mike Carnes responded to our request for comment with adapted lyrics from the song “Rosetta Stoned” by the band Tool, we suspected he must be the one behind it. But Carnes said he was just getting in on the fun.

“We do not know who put the sign up,” he said. “And we don’t know who took the sign down and where it may or may not end up next in Denver. This sign could turn into the new Pokémon Go for all I know.”

He added that he greatly appreciated the sign-maker’s sense of humor.

“In the post-COVID era when there’s so many serious things going on today, I’m glad to see the people of Denver and whoever the sign designer was still have a sense of humor,” he said. “Because what is life without laughter in it?”

Last Thursday, Denverite received an email from someone claiming to be the person behind the prank.

The emailer was Gabriel Gutierrez, a local artist and graphic designer with no connections to either immersive entity, though he said he’s a big fan of both. Denverite reviewed photos forwarded by Gutierrez that seem to confirm he is the sign’s designer, including an original draft for the sign and a photo of it on the fence at 38th and Irving, taken on the evening it supposedly went up.

Gutierrez had no idea anyone was talking about the sign until Wednesday, when someone sent him our story about it.

“I was very tickled. I loved it. I laughed out loud,” he said, adding that he particularly enjoyed Carnes’ quote.

He said he was inspired to create the sign by the cynical humor in the subreddit Denver Circlejerk, a hub for snarky and sarcastic commentary about Denver. He said one user had made a satirical post about the Thai Basil location, which has been sitting in disuse for months, becoming the next Meow Wolf.

“I thought that was so hilarious,” he said. He’s a big fan of parody art and guerilla art, naming Ron English as an artist he admires. The Reddit post reminded him of a prank he’d heard about years ago, in which someone posted a fake Whole Foods banner on the fence outside an old appliance store in the LA neighborhood he grew up in. The building had been closed for years.

“The neighborhood went wild thinking they were gonna get a Whole Foods in Silverlake,” Gutierrez said.

He decided to pull all of those threads together. He worked in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create a satirical sign riffing on the comparisons people have made between Meow Wolf and Casa Bonita.

“I thought it would be hilarious if the banner suggested that there was a Casa Bonita Express, suggesting that maybe you would go there strictly for the food,” Gutierrez said.

Why bring back the Rickroll trend?

“I thought it was a good little Easter egg to let people know that it was done in good humor,” he said. “And to let them know, if they investigated close enough, that it was in fact a joke, and not have their expectations upset that it’s not, in fact, the new Meow Wolf.”

He said he had the sign printed at a local sign shop, and posted it around 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24.

“I was hoping it would bring a little cheer to everyone’s day,” he said. “One of the things I love most about odd street art is the ability to stimulate people’s imaginations. Everything begins with an idea. So the more you get people to grasp at different ideas, the more creative and diverse the world gets, and culture gets.”

He said people may have taken an interest in the sign because they’re excited about the recent Meow Wolf opening, or because people in the neighborhood are curious about the future of the building on 38th and Irving, or because people love pop-ups. He said the sign also tapped into an important moment in Denver’s arts world, bringing together two major entertainment groups that have helped contribute to Denver’s growing identity as a national creative hub.

“It feels like something that could happen,” Gutierrez said. “It’s plausible enough to make you question whether it’s real or not. Because I would go to a Casa Bonita Meow Wolf collaboration. I think it’d be brilliant.”

While the sign was fake, there’s some hope that it could turn into a life imitating art imitating life situation.  The folks at Meow Wolf joked that maybe they’d partner with Casa Bonita for an event in the future and invite Rick Astley to perform. Carnes said that if that happens, the old Thai Basil site could be the venue.

“I’d love to have a big ’80s party with jelly bracelets and combs in hair and leg warmers and Rick Astley rocking it out live,” Carnes said.

We still don’t know who took the sign down, or where it is now. As we continue to investigate that mystery, be on the lookout for other public art pranks. Gutierrez hinted, “there may be more.”

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