Casa Bonita celebrates 40 years in Denver

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(Photo: Courtesy of Casa Bonita)
<p>Chiquita the gorilla (left) gets into mischief and entertains guests at Casa Bonita.</p>

Since 1974, Casa Bonita, the huge Mexican restaurant in Lakewood. has attracted customers through its pink archway. Once inside, diners are entertained with cliff divers, magic shows, a mischeivous gorilla, and, of course, a mariachi band. The restaurant is such a local attraction, it even became the subject of a South Park episode in which one of the characters, Kyle, gets to take three of his friends to Casa Bonita for his birthday.

That's how Mike Mason discovered Casa Bonita. As a child, Mason went to the restaurant for his birthday party and it inspired him to get a job.

Now, 38 years later, Mason is the general manager. He's done almost everything at the restaurant except dive from the 16 foot platform into a lagoon below and put on the gorrilla costume. Mason remembers riding his bicycle to the restaurant to work. "It was a great place to work but I had no idea that I'd be here (for 38 years) but I've enjoyed every minute of it."

To help us commemorate Casa Bonita's 40th birthday, Mason recently gave us a look around the restaurant which includes a 30 foot waterfall, a pirate show, a puppet show and much more.

Colorado's Casa Bonita has long outlasted some older siblings. The concept began with a handful of restaurants in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas. The last of those closed in 1993.

What's your favorite Casa Bonita moment or experience? Some of the customers we spoke to on our visit told us they come back again and again. Share your memories at our Facebook page to join the conversation.