Denver’s former Porter and Waiters Club has rich history
DENVER, Colorado (AP) These days, the tiny bar is called M&M’s, but that’s just nomenclature as far as the regulars are concerned.”Everyone still calls it the Porters and Waiters Club,” says owner Margie Collins, who is one of the M’s in “M&M’s.” (The other is her stepdaughter, Mary.) “We always knew this was the Porters and Waiters Club.”Not many remember its original formal name: The Protective Order of Dining Car Waiters, Local ‥465 the Denver chapter associated with A. Philip Randolph’s famous Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first African-American union organization.The order is listed as the space’s tenant in yellowing receipts (Mountain States Telephone, Public Service Co.) tucked away in a closet down the hall. Doris Hammond, who was born six years before the club opened in 1937, remembers watching her uncle and cousin, both railroad cooks, climb the black wooden staircase to the club.”On Sundays, especially, when people came out after church, this was the place to socialize,” she said.It still is, though finding the club requires insider knowledge. Nearly all of M&M’s patrons are the children and grandchildren of railroad porters, cooks and waiters, most of whom have passed on.Little has changed about the former Porters and Waiters Club, marked by discreet historical plaques flanking the staircase entrance.Patrons still climb 19 steep steps that dead-end at a door where a MEN sign hangs. The entrance to the club is down the hall on the left, a plain white windowless door that usually is vibrating with a jukebox tune.Inside, the space is so intimate that a newcomer has to take only a step or two to find a stool at the bar.”It’s a place where you come in, and everyone says, ‘Now, there he is,’ you know?” said Michael Dawson, whose grandfather, a railroad worker, introduced him to the club.This neat, tiny bar is one of Five Points’ longest-lived social hubs. The bartender maintains the club’s original custom of generous pours and inexpensive drinks. Musicians from Cervantes, down the street, come here on their breaks to drink $2 Budweisers followed by $2 shots. If you’re nursing a couple of shots on the rocks at the right time when the bartender’s shot-pouring jug is nearly empty then your drink will be topped off, free. The most expensive pour on the menu is the $6 cognac.There’s no kitchen, but there is a cultivated tradition of donated food. It dates to the club’s original days, when the first porters, waiters and cooks brought in surplus food from dining cars.Back then, everyone ate standing up at the bar, before a 1950s-era renovation introduced the luxury of stools. Today, regular customers contribute potluck dishes for celebrations birthday or anniversary parties, holidays and other occasions. Hammond once brought in 80 burritos. For Easter last month, Collins fixed a honey ham and candied yams.”We always have something to do when we come up here,” said Virgil Bentley, whose father worked for the railroad.”It is a comfort. When you get tired of complaints around the house, you can sit here, have a few drinks, and go home relaxed enough to sleep.”
For 40 years, Eagle’s Community Helpline has been a living example of the axiom that giving begins at home.