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Best Denver “Tape” of 2021

One final listen to 2021

Hello, City Casteroids!

It’s Paul from the pod, and I’m back in your inbox with yet another year-end best-of list, but this one is a little different.

See, audio people have a reverence for good tape. Everyday we go out and try to find something worth recording and sharing with people. But good tape is more than just an interesting thing someone said. Capturing good tape is like capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s about putting the microphone in the right place at the right time to preserve forever a moment that is perfectly unique. A real human moment of real human emotion. Something that could only happen once, that encapsulates a feeling all its own. Something real.

So, I went back through all our episodes from the year to carefully curate what I believe to be The Best Denver Tape of 2021. (And yes, a lot of them are about Casa Bonita.)

— Paul Karolyi, City Cast Denver Producer

A toast to an uncertain future with Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno

How fitting that the first piece of tape on my list comes from the first regular episode of our show? I revisited the ep recently for a few reasons, and wow, I’m still super proud of what we made that day. Hearing Bree talk to Frank about his restaurants on that little strip of Governor’s Park and the possible sale and demolition, it provokes a feeling many longtime Denverites know all too well: something I love is going away. And really, the whole episode hinges on one piece of tape that captures that feeling perfectly. It’s the moment when Frank and his wife Jacqueline are giving a toast to the 20th anniversary of Mizuna, and they’re speaking to the uncertainty of the future and the relationships that brought them to where they were, and it honestly makes me tear up a little when I think about it. 

Time stamp: 5:54

Norman Harris sees himself for the very first time

We had Norman Harris on the show for the first time back in May to speak alongside his co-developer Kenneth Ho about their work to redevelop the old Park Hill Golf Course. And in the course of that convo, we learned that Norman also happens to be one of the driving forces behind Denver’s annual Juneteenth celebration. So in the lead up to the big day, Xandra tagged along with Norman one morning while he was doing the rounds, checking to see that things were shipshape. That’s when magic happened. As Norman and Xandra turned a corner, they came upon a brand-spanking-new mural depicting Norman himself, and thanks to Xandra’s deft work with the mic, we get to hear his first reaction. And it’s kinda weird! He’s worked for this community for so long and the community wanted to give him his shine, but where does his mind go first? To his grandfather. It’s maybe not an outpouring of emotion, but it’s a real reaction and a singular moment that shows off a lot about who Norman is. 

Time stamp: 13:47

The Valentes Corleons paradox

By definition, storytelling with audio opens up a different dimension. You hear things in someone’s voice that you can’t read in a transcript of their words. And in some cases, that difference can be vast. Such was the case with Valentes Corleons, aka Hussam Kayali, the current owner of the nightclub Beta, who has been fighting with the cops and the city all year to keep his club open. Now I, like many others, I’m guessing, didn’t know what to make of Valentes from the print coverage of his situation. He is an odd character who speaks with a unique cadence, a self-described “made man” who is seemingly involved in every seamy deal downtown, and he openly admits that people were dealing drugs in his club — not a very sympathetic figure to be sure! But then I called him up and we talked for an hour. And then Bree talked to Westword reporter Conor McCormick-Cavanagh about how long this kind of stuff has been happening in LoDo, and somehow, against all odds, I found myself understanding what Valentes meant when he said something as outlandish as this: “I can’t say all Jewish has big nose. I can’t tell you all Black people are criminal. I can’t say all white people are racist. Correct? You cannot say all mobster are criminal because mafia is different.” That’s good tape. 

And really, that whole call with Valentes is pretty interesting to listen to. The call dropped a couple times and a lot of it is kinda confusing — have you ever talked to a self-proclaimed mafioso? It’s not easy to get on that wavelength. So it’s not really worth dropping in the feed, but let me know if you want to hear it and I’ll send you an mp3. I’m at or @paulkarolyi on Twitter.

Time stamp: 13:47

A moment of beautiful awkward joy with Gov. Jared Polis, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker

Okay, so this is a funny one. All year, Denverites were waiting with bated breath to see what would become of our favorite Mexican restaurant in a strip mall. Rumors were swirling. Could Casa Bonita possibly shut down for good? Would it be demolished in favor of yet another coworking space? And then, on August 13, Governor Polis went live on Facebook with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker and asked a question everyone’s press handlers agreed he would ask, “What can you tell us?” The event may have been staged but the response was real, and it was beautiful. Three middle-aged white guys, all tired as hell from 18 months of pandemic, awkwardly hugging and shrieking with joy. Of course, Matt and Trey’s purchase of Casa Bonita posed a whole bunch of new questions, but in that moment, the feelings were real, and the vibes? They were good. 

Time stamp: 11:16

MK Brooks Fleming takes the stand

This piece of tape comes with a content advisory for sexual assault. 

Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson was first accused of sexual assault via Twitter on March 26. He denied the allegation. Two months later, a woman named MK Brooks Fleming took the stand in front of a legislative committee at the state Capitol and claimed that more than 60 young women and girls had come to her with allegations of sexual assault against Anderson. He again denied, but the recording of her passionate testimony caught fire, sparking a wave of quick-turn news stories that all parroted her basic narrative without any apparent effort to investigate the claims or talk to the victims she claimed to be speaking for. 

Listening back to her testimony after DPS-commissioned investigators deemed her claims “unsubstantiated,” the recording leaves a much different impression. And that’s why we invited slam poet and Colorado Sun columnist Theo Wilson for an interview to explain why he felt, even before the investigators’ report was published, that the allegations against Anderson didn’t quite add up. I’m not going to pretend I had the same reaction to the allegations that Wilson did, but I can say that after hearing Bree talk to him, I understand what he meant about Brooks Fleming’s testimony. It’s riveting. It’s powerful. It’s controversial. It’s highly questionable. And it changed the course of Denver history. 

Time stamp: 2:38