Eat and Drink Your Way Around Historic Littleton | Westword

Eat and Drink Your Way Around Historic Littleton

Did you know that the current Cherry Cricket location used to house a Swiss-themed burger joint called the Hasty House?
Littleton's Main Street is lined with historic buildings.
Littleton's Main Street is lined with historic buildings. Helen Xu
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Littleton gets its fair share of comparisons to Stars Hollow, the fictional small town where Gilmore Girls is set. It has a quaint feel, with a thriving Main Street that hosts a different festival every month.

While there are plenty of newer additions to this Denver suburb, it has a rich history dating back to the 1860s, and with the help of curators at the Littleton Museum, we’ve put together a guide to food establishments that are deeply connected to Littleton’s past.

Feel free to take this list à la carte or become a true Littleton champion by hitting all the spots in one day. The itinerary is designed to provide three square meals with some physical activity in between, allowing you to fully explore and appreciate the charm of this town south of the city.

Hudson Gardens

Start the day with a walk down the Mary Carter Greenway Trail to Hudson Gardens, at 6115 South Santa Fe Drive, a less crowded alternative to the Denver Botanic Gardens. The land and name come from Colonel and Mrs. King C. Hudson, who owned and operated a farm and restaurant called the Country Kitchen from 1942 to 1962.

“This couple, they had a lot of money and they loved to travel,” says Jenny Hankinson, senior curator of collections at the Littleton Museum. Their travel diaries list all the places they went, including Aguascalientes, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Texas, Paris, Sweden, Denmark, Hawaii and Japan. “And they would come back and do these big parties and smorgasbord. ... They’d tell people all about what they ate and then try to re-create menus based on that.” That “smorgasbord dinner” was offered for $2.50, or roughly $33 today.

The Country Kitchen’s log building is now the Inn at Hudson Gardens Event Center. Grab a light breakfast from Nixon's Coffee House on site and wander through the property's thirty acres. Check out the events calendar on the Hudson Gardens website to catch a garden lecture, join a baby goat pajama party, go on a guided bird watch or learn about beekeeping.

The Cherry Cricket

It’s a short drive to the space that is now the Littleton outpost of the Cherry Cricket, at 819 West Littleton Boulevard. The building has been home to a series of restaurants over the years, starting with the Hasty House, which opened in 1964. “The Hasty House chain had its origins in Zurich’s Silver Ball chain, started by three Swiss businessmen using the American hamburger house as a model. The concept was exported to the U.S. with the motto 'The Hamburger That Went to Switzerland,’” according to a 2001 historical survey. “Orders are taken by waitresses in provincial alpine dress. Hamburgers were fried on one side only on special aluminum grills; minute holes in the burgers permitted thorough cooking and the penetration of a special sauce.”

No additional details are available about the ingredients or toppings for this “Hamburger That Went to Switzerland,” but you can build the burger of your dreams at the Cherry Cricket, which famously offers a long list of toppings to choose from — including Swiss cheese and plenty of sauce options.

Living Farms at the Littleton Museum

Richard Sullivan Little, Littleton's namesake, worked as an engineer before purchasing 920 acres of what is now the heart of the town. He built an impressive irrigation system, diverting water from the Platte River to water his and his neighbor’s fields. Thus, Littleton was settled by farmers and dairy producers.

Get a taste of this period by visiting the two living farms at the Littleton Museum, 6028 South Gallup Street. One is devoted to the 1860s, when Littleton was settled, and the other to the 1890s, when it became an incorporated town. The staff dress up in historic costumes and explain trades and skills from the era. They also maintain the two gardens, pumpkin fields and historically accurate livestock on both farms. Try to time your visit to catch a cooking demonstration using produce from the gardens.
click to enlarge front of a building
The Littleton location of the Melting Pot is the largest in the country.
Helen Xu
The Melting Pot

Drive to the Melting Pot at 2707 Main Street, which happens to be the largest location of the popular fondue franchise in the U.S. The building's construction started in 1915, and it opened in 1916 as a Carnegie public library funded by the local Women’s Club. It then became the Littleton police station and jail. (If you’re seated on the basement level, you can still see etchings from prisoners who scratched out the number of days they had left in their cells.)

The building has a bit of a violent history, leading to speculation and rumors of it being haunted. "Long before the building was built, old pioneers had an encampment right there [in the current parking lot], and the Platte River flooded and washed out the camp. A lot of bodies went unrecovered, with no proper burial,” says general manager Chris Milburn. "Then in the 1950s, one of the people [the police] were holding got out of the cells and somehow got hold of an officer’s gun, and they had a shootout. He shot an officer, and then another officer shot him.”

If you walk over to the south side of the building, you’ll see a non-operating fountain. A long time ago, a young girl drowned there, and folks have said that she has since haunted the women’s restroom. The current owner of the restaurant, who was the general manager for sixteen years, has trained the staff to be knowledgeable about the building’s history. After you grill your server on the ghost stories and other trivia, be sure to wander around and look at the historical photos on display that show the building and its occupants from both the library and police station days.
click to enlarge an oval sign that says "the lazy greyhound cocktail lounge"
The Lazy Greyhound landed on our 2024 list of the top 100 bars in the metro area.
Thomas Mitchell
Walk Down Main Street

As you exit the Melting Pot, look to your right and you’ll catch a glimpse of a tall red and white boxy structure. That’s Columbine Mill, built in 1901 by Richard Little for storing and shipping the town's grain throughout Denver. In 2017, it was purchased by ViewHouse and My Neighbor Félix owner Francois Safieddine, who recently listed it for sale for $1.25 million.

Heading east on the current Main Street takes you down the historic main thoroughfare, where nearly every building has been preserved and has a historic record. Littleton’s Historical Preservation page has more information on these structures along with photos so you can compare photographs and descriptions of each building's past with their modern-day counterparts.

Pass by the old Town Hall, which is now the Town Hall Arts Center. If you’re looking for dessert, stop by the Chocolate Therapist, which originally opened as Dana Downing Grocery in 1905, according to the Littleton Independent. Next door was Kalinowski Bakery, which was owned by a German immigrant who came to Littleton in 1893; it now houses one of the top bars in the metro area, the Lazy Greyhound.

If you’re ready for a bite, stroll to Cencalli Taqueria, or to Pho Real next door at 2399 Main Street, which is the historical site of Valore Hardware. The store was founded in 1925 by A.J. “Jim” Valore, a French immigrant escaping religious persecution; the business was passed down three generations before closing its doors in 2005.
click to enlarge front of a red building
The building that houses Ned Kelly's has been a bar since 1955.
Helen Xu
Ned Kelly’s

Once you’ve walked down all of Main Street, you’ll find yourself at Ned Kelly’s Irish Pub, at 5686 South Sycamore Street. This building first opened as Franzen grocery store in 1920 and was owned by Cornelius Franzen, who started the business after Prohibition shuttered his saloon down the street. Since 1955, its been a local watering hole, first called Swedes Tavern, then Mecca Tavern, Oasis Tavern and, finally, Ned Kelly’s.

Close your night out with a pint or two. On our last visit, the bartender regaled us with a tale of a widow who used to spend her days drinking at the last bar stool by the door, until one day she got up and left and was never seen again; many claim her spirit haunts the bar.

Whether that tale is true or not, Littleton is worth visiting frequently to uncover both the history and numerous modern-day reasons to spend time in the suburban small town.
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