The Rockybilt hamburger, a humble object of desire that sent three generations of Denverites into swoons of praise, has long since gone the way of cocktails at the Shirley-Savoy, the Broncos' vertically striped socks and convenient Stapleton Airport. The last Rockybilt System shack closed its doors circa 1980, having fallen prey to the marketing juggernauts of McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's.
Ah, but should the ancient urge for a Rockybilt or two come thundering down from the memory bank into the alimentary canal, there is one place in town where you can still satisfy it.
Micky Manor, a beautiful old warhorse of a saloon at 25th Avenue and Federal Boulevard (five blocks north of Mile High Stadium), serves between fifty and a hundred Rockybilts every day -- mostly to nostalgiaphiles who can't live without that skinny little greaseburger tucked into that soft little bun daubed with that "secret" sauce made from mustard, grilled onion and who knows what else. Upon eating this latter-day Rockybilt, the non-native -- an infidel from, say, Los Angeles or Keokuk -- would probably wonder what all the fuss is about. The taste and texture of the thing are nothing special, and at $1.50 ($1.75 with cheese), it's no bargain. Any robust nine-year-old will want two of them, and most grownups can gobble down half a dozen without blinking.
2544 Federal Boulevard
Kitchen hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday (and all Bronco home-game Sundays)
Bar hours: 11 a.m.-midnight daily.
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The magic lies in old associations, of course. Like Proust tasting his madeleine cake, patrons hunkered down in the comfortable old booths at Micky Manor remember, as their Rockybilts are set before them, the vanished '58 Impalas of their youth, the winning touchdowns, the joys of holidays past, the tantrums of their crotchety maiden aunts. They recall their fathers at 35, the moves of long-retired Denver Bears outfielders and the thrills of first love. They relive prom corsage rituals and nights at the Trocadero. Certainly, the present burger eaters are happy that Jerri and Richard Sanchez, who bought the 68-year-old Micky Manor in 1996, have maintained the Rockybilt tradition. For sixteen years, it was kept alive by previous owner Ron Bay, who still holds rights to the sauce. The Sanchezes buy the stuff from him -- at $51 a gallon.
Back in 1936, a Rockybilt went for a nickel. "Tak-Homa-Sak," the management urged. Today the mere memory is more or less priceless. Two weeks ago, Jerri Sanchez says, a group of 25 people descended on the Manor to eat Rockybilts. The family patriarch, who loved the things, had just died, and everyone came in to do him honor. Pretty nice gesture, wouldn't you say?
On the other hand, the heretics in your party might actually prefer a steaming bowl of Micky Manor's sublime, pork-laced green chile and a Bud draft, while the Micky Burger -- two big quarter-pound patties on a split bun, drowned in that same chile, diced tomatoes, lettuce and cheese -- scores high as one of those sloppy neighborhood-bar masterpieces that deserves a reputation of its own. Suit yourself.
In the last four years, five new restaurants have opened close by Micky Manor, and that has hurt business. The North Denver Democrats don't hold their monthly strategy meeting and doughnut dunk at Micky's anymore, and the new management has discontinued its weekend menudo giveaway because a few demanding freeloaders got out of line. But the place remains a classic, a cherished relic of the old Denver -- whether or not Rockybilt nostalgia stirs your tastebuds and moves your soul.