The Cherry Cricket (2641 East Second Avenue) — formerly Duffy's Cherry Cricket and, before that, Mary Zimmerman's Bar — didn't always have a door guy checking IDs and stamping hands at 5:30 p.m., or a forty-minute wait for a table on a Tuesday night, or a national reputation for serving more than sixty beers and some of D-Town's best burgers. It didn't always have such a cheeky, playfully impertinent marketing campaign emphasizing not only its location ("The black sheep of Cherry Creek" and "If Cherry Creek North is the diamond, we're the flaw"), but also its menu ("fancy bottled beer" and "horzidurvees" are two apt headings). It didn't always have three separate dining rooms and a fenced-in back patio, attract droves of new parents stowing fold-down strollers underneath tiny tables, inspire hundreds upon hundreds of reviews on local amateur-critic websites.
But things change. Original owners retire, sell and die. Well-intentioned bar/restaurant empires step in with remodeling money and operational manuals. Frou-frou boutiques, spas and restaurants sprout up and around like fragrant-yet-pesky wildflowers, and parking suddenly requires a credit card or coins. Life goes on.
Luckily, some things don't change. So when I visit the Cricket, I make a point to notice traces of the dive that once was — from floor (green carpet) to wall (concrete and wood paneling) to ceiling (a massive wooden centerpiece painted like a hockey rink that used to hang over the bar when it was still in the middle of the main room). Beerphernalia — much of it vintage, such as the "Have YOU Tried a Yellow Hammer?" Coors sign by the Elvis pinball machine and the Hall of Fame beer-tap case — is still scattered about; brown plastic air purifiers (holdovers from the glory, ahem, smoking-indoors days) still cover every fan frame; and the new coat of blue paint in the bathrooms? It's smeared over the trim and ceiling tiles, just as it would be in any working-stiff saloon.
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The clientele, while a bit more upper-crusty than the garbage-truck drivers and swing-shifters who populated this place decades ago, is still a healthy mix of winos, women and weirdos. Tonight I'm here with my fifty-year-old mother, and she's by no means the oldest hen in the coop. After fighting tooth and elbow for two stools at the bar, we lean for a good four hours, drinking pints of Wynkoop B3K and tall Colorado Bulldogs for $4 apiece, chatting with the bartenders and people-watching. Sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. — as the hostess continues to take names and predict a wait — an old-timer in a cowboy hat waltzes in with a young woman wearing sunglasses. While she orders drinks (and complains about not getting a full pour in her cocktail), the cowboy tries to snag a table without the hostess noticing. Our bartender does, however. When he returns from schooling the odd couple on patience and protocol, he quips, "It's no coincidence that bouncer, bartender and babysitter all start with a 'b.'" We laugh, and he realizes that he's said something clever. "I just thought of that," he admits, "but I definitely need to add it to my repertoire."
My buzz shifts into fifth around 10 p.m., so I order a burger and frings and pass the time making strangers uncomfortable as I hover near their table and stare at the tri-panel fish tank separating the dining room from the kitchen. I order more drinks from Heidi (she calls me "sweetheart" with every serve). We smoke outside near the bike rack and watch through bleary eyes as the Cricket's neon sign turns an endless circle and luxury SUVs crawl by.
Things change. But for the Cricket, life goes on.