Leave it to Johnny Ballen, the eccentric (and innovative) owner of the Squeaky Bean, to honor the lives of those that have passed with more than just a obligatory R.I.P.
It all started years ago at the former Squeaky Bean with Farrah Fawcett (who died of anal cancer) -- and whose death was markedly overshadowed by Michael Jackson (who died of a drug overdose). Ballen, who had already given Fawcett -- leggy in that famous swimming suit poster -- a prominent place on the wall, insisted that the poster wasn't enough, and so he immortalized the actress by giving her a permanent shrine on a shelf. Ballen left Jackson's death, on other hand, to play out in the media. "Michael Jackson rained on poor Farrah's parade," deadpans an unapologetic Ballen.
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Fawcett's mementos was carefully packed in the move to the new Squeaky Bean in LoDo, and she'll be there for eternity, if Ballen has his way. "She's an incredible icon and she deserves a permanent place," says Ballen, who also erected temporary shrines to celebrate the lives of other dearly departed celebrities, including Larry Hagman, Jean Stapleton, Annette Funicello, Roger Ebert, Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters.
Yesterday, sadly, James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr., who rose to fame as Tony Soprano in the HBO series of the same name, apparently suffered a heart attack and passed away in Italy, while he was on vacation with his son. And Gandolfini, says Ballen, not only deserves a shrine -- but his own cocktail, too. "Sean Kenyon, our head bartender, and I always text other when someone notable has passed on, and yesterday was a sad day with the passing of James, and we decided to honor him with his own cocktail," says Ballen, adding that Gandolfini will also have a temporary shine...at least until the next luminary bites the dust. "If Elizabeth Taylor were to die, then we'd have to replace James with her, but I kind of hope James has his own shrine for a while."
And moving forward, anyone who -- or anything that -- merits a shine at the Squaeky Bean (animals are eligible; troublemakers are not) will also have a cocktail named after them.
The "Gandolfini" cocktail, created by Kenyon, and priced at $11, is concocted with Buffalo Trace whiskey, Amaro Averna and Strega and served over a hand-cut ice cube with a lemon garnish. "It's a fantastic cocktail, and it'll be on the cocktail list until we lose the next notable," says Ballen, adding to "be sure to ask your server which shrine cocktail we're serving, because you never know who's going to pop off next."
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As for Gandolfini, Ballen warns that if you don't "pay respect to the man with a delicious cocktail, Tony Soprano's thugs will find you."