Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Restaurant Spotlight: The Mercury Cafe

The Mercury Cafe
2199 California Street
Denver, Colorado 80205
Information: 303-294-9281
Reservations: 303-294-9258

Dinner, Tues. - Sun., 5:30 - 11:00 p.m.
Brunch, Sat. & Sun., 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Photo Credits:
Greenprint Denver & The Mercury Cafe Website

If you've never been to the Mercury Cafe, make a New Year's Resolution to go there. Now.

A Denver icon, the Mercury Cafe has long been in the forefront of the sustainability movement. In fact, Greenprint Denver, the Mayor's Sustainability Initiative, has recognized "The Merc" as a Denver success story. The following is taken from the Mercury Cafe's website:

"The Mercury Cafe's living wall helps filter air pollutants such as carbon dioxide while beautifying the surroundings and cooling the building's southern exposure. Integrated sustainable practices like these are served up with Colorado-grown cuisine and a hearty side of art, theatre, music and swing dancing. This unique combination sets the Mercury Cafe apart as a prominent community-focused business.

When the Mercury Cafe relocated to California Street 17 years ago, owner Marilyn Megenity committed herself to creating a sustainable haven among the desolate, concrete parking lots bordering her property. With each successive year of operation following the cafe's establishment, the restaurant, now a legendary Denver icon, continually adopts new sustainable practices that foster an ongoing "greening" of not only its location, but also its food and staff.

Megenity began by planting a dozen trees around the cafe, along with a garden of sage, mint, grape vines and various fruit trees. The vegetation now extends up the side of the building, acting as a living wall to offset carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the building and simultaneously serving as a natural cooling mechanism.

To irrigate the garden, Mercury Cafe employees use water and coffee left unconsumed by clientele, and to quench the living wall, excess ice machine water is piped to its base. As another water conservation measure, 11 toilets in the facility are outfitted with hand washing sinks above the top of the tank. The water from the sinks provides greywater to flush the toilets. Internal recycling methods such as these are a key component for maintaining the integrity of Mercury Cafe's sustainable principles. In terms of the building itself, the Mercury Cafe is a champion for alternatives. It was the first business and restaurant in Denver to generate power from its own private wind turbines. Located atop the cafe, each 40-foot turbine supplies the restaurant with 400 watts. Another 1,000 watts of energy come from 18 1.75-kWh rooftop solar panels, and any energy that is not self-generated is purchased through Xcel Energy's WindSource program.

The Mercury Cafe makes an effort to keep energy usage at a minimum: you won't find a TV or a computer anywhere in the building. Additionally, the restaurant is not air conditioned. Instead, six low-energy swamp coolers are used, and ample windows open to provide cross ventilation. They also use a concentrated refrigeration method which requires that three refrigerators are turned off regularly, and its live entertainment is all acoustic - relying on audience participation through song and dance as its primary energy source.

Megenity's personal environmental ethic began with the dawn of the environmental movement in the 1960s. She became an active part of the social change which swept the United States as young people began to whole-heartedly support environmental ideals.

Those principles also led Megenity to think about local economy. Now, 99 percent of the menu's meals are made from organic food, 80 percent of which is sourced locally. Additionally, she tries to hire staff from neighborhoods in close proximity to her restaurant. This way, the Mercury Cafe establishes its locality and further reduces its carbon footprint by minimizing employee travel.

Over the years, the Mercury Cafe has developed a strong base of loyal clientele who appreciate their environmental decisions, and who prefer healthy and organic meals. Megenity cites other benefits resulting from their sustainable practices, including a reduced public service bill and a cooler building. She acknowledges that local support comes with a cost, however: it is nearly twice as expensive to do business locally. Good food may come at a high price, but the Mercury is dedicated to providing customers with nothing less than the "greenest" meals.

Continuing their progressive development, they are in the process of installing more wind turbines. Eventually the Mercury hopes to go off-the-grid, becoming a self-powered establishment. Megenity suggests that the enduring success of Mercury Cafe has resulted from a simple premise that "everyone wants a healthy environment.""

Impressive, eh?

O.K. That's all well and good, but how's the food? We're going there this week, so stay tuned....

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