More than fifty years after originally staking its claim on a dirt road in the middle of rural Bumfuck Aurora, Emil-Lene's Sirloin House, one of the longest-standing cow classics in Denver, has been put out to pasture, leaving the abandoned landscape strewn with empty cardboard boxes, plastic buckets, tattered furniture, rusted pots and pans, lemons aged with mold and a three-disc Glen Miller CD, its inside powdered with dirt and dust. A "no-trespassing" sign greets cars that pull into the vacant parking lot; the interior suggests it's been neglected for weeks.
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In 2004, when then-Westword restaurant critic Jason Sheehan reviewed the rickety roadhouse, which was as famous for its cottonwood tree growing through the roof as it was for its steaks and retro relish trays, old-time spaghetti and foiled Dominoes of still-frozen butter, he described it as a "genuine throwback to the days when beef was always what was for dinner." In fact, all Sheehan lamented was the absence of "a really big steak."
But more recently, Emil-Lene's had much bigger things to worry about than the size of its slabs of beef. In late November of last year, Tri-County health department inspectors slapped the roadhouse with 21 critical violations. Fox31 Denver, which posts online summaries of health-department inspections of local restaurants -- and then assigns a grade to those inspections -- reported on November 21 that inspectors scouring the Aurora steakery "found fly strips stored over food preparation tables" and liquor bottles that were "adulterated with insects." In addition, "rodent droppings were observed" and the meat grinder was "soiled with meat."
In response to that story, owner Karen Kuchar claimed that her staff was cleaning the grinder on a daily basis. "We are very clean here; nobody has ever gotten sick from here," she said.
Whether that inspection, which generated an "F" grade from Fox31, was the final nail in the coffin, we don't know, but with the demise of Emil-Lene's, one of the city's most beloved steak houses during its heyday, comes the end of a faded era.