Ode: The Squeaky Bean Cheeseburger
Although a few successors nearly took up the mantle (RIP Royal Rooster and Brass Tacks) and several current Denver burgers are nearly as tasty, nothing has come close to the pure, melty, meaty perfection of the Squeaky Bean cheeseburger.
I miss it to this day.
Johnny Ballen’s iconic restaurant (first in LoHi and then in LoDo) is probably best remembered as a proving ground and launchpad for many of our local bartending wonders (Sean, Minetta, Jack, Jessica… the list goes on) — their influence still felt around the Mile High — but that cheeseburger is spoken of in tones of hushed reverence to this very day.
The $10 weekday lunch special was the best way to enjoy it — with a beer and fries and no judgement — but it was also everything you wanted pregame as a foundation for the cocktails in your near future or as the last thing you ate before stumbling home to bed after a sloshy night in LoDo.
What made it so special?
Imagine the goopy joy of a Double-Double Animal Style from In-n-Out upgraded to sit-down restaurant quality (no need for a paper wrapper to keep it from disintegrating in your hands), with a surfeit of pickles, caramelized onions melted into a layer of cheesy goodness, two hamburgers charred and salted and cooked just past med-rare, all encompassed — embraced, even — by a toasted bun that didn’t fall apart until the very last bite. Your heart broke a little every time you finished eating a Squeaky Bean cheeseburger (the real temptation of ordering another sometimes assuaged by splitting a second one with your neighbor at the bar), and you’d console yourself by picking at the shoestring fries and dipping them in the last juices or melted cheese stuck to your plate.
I cried when I ate my last burger on the Bean’s final night of service, slowly savoring the experience, unable to engage in the conversations around me, reluctant to the last, when all but a perfect morsel of bun and burger was left between my thumb and forefinger. The final bite tasted like love and desolation.
You can find a very tasty burger in Denver right now. You’ll want to take a shower after finishing the monster from Dimestore DeliBar. The biggest surprise at Stoic & Genuine is the perfection of their double cheeseburger, which I’ll order to skeptical stares from the people around me enjoying their lobster. And the late night special at Williams & Graham is a drunk food delight, joined by sticky fries covered in a sweet balsamic gastrique.
They’re really very good.
But if you offer to send me back in time to anyplace and anywhen, you’ll have a tough go trying to convince me not to return to lunchtime at The Squeaky Bean.