Carter once hyped solar energy in Denver — at a swingin’ singles bar

On the heels of President Barack Obama’s visit Tuesday to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to tour the building’s rooftop solar array — and, by the way, sign the $787 billion stimulus bill — Westword’s Michael Roberts recalls the last time a U.S. president celebrated solar power in Denver.

Solar installations, not to mention presidential visits, have come a long way since President Jimmy Carter dodged drunken revelers in 1978 at Rick’s Cafe, a celebrated singles bar in Cherry Creek that used the sun’s rays to heat its dishwasher.

Roberts reproduces a contemporary account of Carter’s visit penned by the late Sandy Widener, one of Westword’s founders. Take a step back three decades to a time when the air was thick with Jovan Musk and frondy ferns framed the mating habits of lusty locals. A few samples:

A Secret Service agent checking out the chosen dinner spot for Jimmy Carter’s Colorado visit to hype solar energy on Sun Day, May 3, stopped in astonishment at the entrance to Rick’s Cafe. “Is it always like this?” he asked the manager, eyeing the crush of swaying singles. The agent had stopped by on Friday night, commonly known as “Zoo Night,” when Denver’s young social set meets at the restaurant, jamming the place to capacity.

Another waitress reportedly was asked by a Secret Service agent to sit down and have a drink. “I’ve got to work,” she said. As the story goes, the Secret Serviceman told her, “listen, honey, if that’s what you’re worried about, we could clear out this place in five minutes.”

Once settled downstairs, the president dined on a hot crab and avocado sandwich (“We’re proud of our food. We’re not serving him caviar because we don’t serve caviar,” [manager Paul] Hutchens said defiantly) and discussed solar energy, although Kuperman said she witnessed a major exchange between Carter and energy czar James Schlesinger on the subject of bean sprouts. “They’re very good for you,” Kuperman said Schlesinger told Carter.

Read the entire account of Carter’s visit — and the madcap preparations leading up to it — here. Roberts also includes an excerpt from Carter’s presidential diary, which reminds aficionados of recent Denver history that Carter stayed at the late, lamented Cosmopolitan Hotel and motored about town with a young Sen. Gary Hart.

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Ernest Luning

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