Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant in Lakewood, Colorado, has been offering live entertainment, Acapulco-style divers and a performing gorilla (don’t worry, it’s a guy in a suit) since the 1970s.
Dubbed the second-largest indoor restaurant in the world back in the ‘90s, it can seat up to 1,100 people within its various rooms. A former department store, Casa Bonita is designed to look like “Old Mexico” with black ceilings to represent a night sky, vineyards and palm trees, small houses jutting out of the walls and a 30-foot waterfall cascading into a tropical pool.
For the kids, there’s Black Bart’s cave (named after one of the characters in the live shows), an arcade, puppet shows and the roaming gorilla named Chaquita who always asks for high-fives.
Its fame today is definitely not for the food (which you must purchase to get in), but is based on the fun, family atmosphere and, probably, an episode about Casa Bonita on South Park.
And don’t forget the entertainment. Caleb Thayer, an actor and diver at Casa Bonita, took some time to answer eight questions about this unique and quirky restaurant.
1. Where is the best place to sit?
“The best place to sit is the Cliffside or in the hut. In the hut you don’t get to see the best angle of the shows, but you get to say hi to the diver.”
2. What’s the lure of Casa Bonita?
“It’s the only place of its kind … it’s Casa Bonita! It is known all across the nation as the greatest restaurant ever. Not for its food, at all, but for its atmosphere. It’s a really cool place.”
3. So what do you eat off the menu?
“I try to avoid eating off of the menu. But when I do have to eat, I eat the Amigo Burger or Polo Plate. The Polo Plate is the chicken fingers; the Amigo Burger is the ‘friendly burger.’ Sopapillas with the honey (free with the meal) are actually really good and safe too.”
4. What’s your favorite dive?
“I do enjoy the flying squirrel just because of its name. What I do is I jump off the bridge, grab my ankles, arch my back and dive in. It’s cool.”
And the audience’s favorite?
“The layout back somersault from the top [of the waterfall] – every time, every time. “They’re like ‘I don’t care how many flips you do in the air as long as it’s from WAY UP!’”
And where do the divers disappear to when they dive in the pool and don’t come back up?
“Into the dive pit…No more information is available. It’s classified.”
5. In the pirate act, does the Princess ever marry the Feared Pirate Sheldon?
“The Princess never marries Sheldon because he’s dirty and rotten and mean-ish and smells bad. And Caspian, pirate king of the seven seas, never marries her because she’s mean and needy and clingy, and he’s a pirate. He likes freedom of the open seas. And it would be way less funny if he wanted to marry her, although, it does happen occasionally when neither of the stunts (actors) want to go in the water. The diver, however (who usually plays the Pirate Sheldon), always (somehow ends up in the water by the end of the act), always gets shoved off a cliff.”
6. What’s the most common question you get asked?
“How deep is the pool?”
And, how deep is the pool?
“Fourteen feet deep. If the question starts off with ‘How…’ I pretty much know to answer ‘14 feet deep!'”
7. What are some etiquette tips every visitor should know?
“Tip the divers! Throw money in the pool… and they don’t mind if you stick a five dollar bill in their waist band [when they’ve climbed up on the rocks]. I mean, we are, after all, half-naked entertainers on Colfax…. And don’t [let your kids] try to kill the gorilla (Chaquita). That is just awful. You’re in that suit and it’s already hard enough to breathe as it is, so watch over your kids and don’t let them jump on the monkey!”
8. What are some fun facts about Casa Bonita?
“It’s one of only four buildings in Colorado to have a gold dome. (The other three are the State Capitol in downtown Denver, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Denver, and the cupola atop the bell tower of Guggenheim Hall, the administration building at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.) And we actually have the first female matador’s costume. It’s pink and it’s pretty – it really should be at a museum, not at Casa Bonita, but it’s at Casa Bonita. Also, the restaurant was built without a blueprint and was made from an old Joslin’s department store.”
Any other fun, exciting facts?
“Well, the pool is 14 feet deep….”
If You Go
6715 W. Colfax Ave.
Lakewood, Colorado 80214
Hours: Sunday–Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Admission is free with purchase of a meal. Adult meals $11.29 – 21.99 Children’s meals $4.69 Free chips and salsa and dessert sopapillas