You might get off at 16th and Larimer and think about where you are. Even though you'd have to walk four blocks north to get a feel for the last of the old skid-row Larimer, you're now standing at the heart of what used to be the bona fide skid-row that Neal knew as a boy. Cassady's activity was centered around his father's barbershop, the Zaza, right next to the Zaza Theater (1727 Larimer). There's not a sign of the old Larimer in the 1700 block -- just modern office buildings built in the seventies and eighties. But this was where Cassady would spend hours watching movies and reading voraciously in his father's shop. And on his '49 trek to track Cassady, Kerouac went to movies here as well.
If you're still at 16th and Larimer, look across to the northwestern corner: this is where the old Manhattan Restaurant (1635 Larimer) stood for at least five decades, called "Denver's Most Famous Restaurant" in period advertisements), and the place where Neal's father's fleabag roommate Shorty sat and solicited donations to the Shorty cause. To the left once stood the Citizen's Mission (1617 Larimer) where Neal came for breakfast and dinner. He and his father had to walk north eight blocks to Father Divine's mission (24th and Larimer) for lunch.
For an idea of the architecture that was here, go south one block to the vibrant and wanna-be-hip Larimer Square area between 14th and 15th. An entrepreneur named Dana Crawford rescued this area in the 60s, but all the buildings are intact, and this is a perfect time to hop into The Market at midblock for coffee, a bagel or a sandwich.
From here, you can do a couple of things. Walk up (north) and over (west) to 16th and Market and on the southeastern corner (there's an Office Club store there right now) you'll be at the site of the dreaded Metropolitan Hotel (227 16th St.), the fleabag among fleabags where Cassady stayed with his father most of the time. They moved around to lots of transient hotels, but The Metropolitan seemed to be his father's favorite locale.
Or, if you're in the mood to visit a modern Denver pool room to say you've been there, check out Calvin's on 15th between Market and Blake (though you should know that Cassady's real poolroom hangout was ten blocks east at 15th and Glenarm, Peterson's Billiard Parlor, at 1519 Glenarm -- there's nothing there now that even remotely resembles a poolhall). If you do want to go back in this direction via the 16th Street Mall shuttle, you might want to know that Allen Ginsberg, in the summer of '47, worked nights vacuuming the sales floor of May D&F at 15th and Tremont -- it's been closed for a couple of years and is about to be torn down for an urban shopping mall. And Cassady worked for May D&F, too, chauffeuring customers to and from the store parking lot -- making money for driving in a car must have been heaven for him.
Back in lower downtown, if you want to visit a downright holy bar (and you do, you do), go up to the Oxford Hotel at 17th and Wazee and seek out the narrow, orange and thoroughly Deco chamber called The Cruise Room (opens at 4:30 daily -- get there at opening for a seat). It's unchanged from before prohibition and Cassady almost certainly took a drink or two here. Have a martini and meditate.
And if you're at the Oxford, glance toward the mountains down 17th Street and you'll see Union Station, where Neal and his Dad would stop (restroom break!) on their Sunday walks around the Platte Valley train tracks. At the moment the main waiting room is huge and beautiful -- a great neglected public space from another age with long wooden benches and a lunch counter. Within a year, though, a semi-horrific restaurant chain is putting a restaurant in the place. Gentrification is always cool until it gets thoroughly out of hand.
And as you walk around this lower downtown area, you might put a tape of Kerouac's "Neal and the Three Stooges" meditation into your Walkman -- he talks about Larimer, Wazee and Wynkoop and the railroad tracks.....and Neal, of course.
The Beat Auto Tour
The Bona Fide Beat Train
Neal's Denver Contributed by Andrew Burnett