A number of things have changed at the Squeaky Bean, but Farrah Fawcett still watches over all the comings and goings. Her candlelit memorial is a touchstone every time I return to the Bean, through chef changes, ups and downs and meals both inspiring and confusing. Though I love sitting at the horseshoe-shaped bar, I never managed to try out the Cocktail Hour, running from 4 to 6 p.m. and after 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, but I'm glad to report it delivers the same name-brand funk to your system.
The late Al Molinaro now watches from the memorial wall as well, and he's being fêted with a delicious-sounding amaro float ($10). I'm not one to rejoice in the passing of beloved celebrities, but I appreciate that there's often a little surprise whenever I return to the Bean. But there could be unpleasant surprises as well, considering the turnover in the kitchen. The happy-hour offerings here have mellowed a bit since Cocktail Hour was introduced in 2013, but on this night the bar was sliding overproof cocktails to customers for just $5. Drinks are seemingly named after Hallmark Channel re-runs, so you can try a Lonesome Dove with 110 proof tequila and San Pellegrino grapefruit soda, or a Tombstone with the house's own cask of Knob Creek plus ginger beer, lime and bitters. It's a Kentucky Mule by another name, but how refreshing to be offered top-shelf bourbon with a $5 cocktail.
The main dishes at The Squeaky Bean have always been beautiful, substantial things that demand an Instagram post at the very least. I had to know if that spirit would translate to the happy-hour dishes priced from $5 to $8, compared to entrees that can go up to $26. Presentation at cocktail hour is commensurate with pricing — casual, but far from tossed off. Chicken wings ($6) are served in a cute little cast-iron dish, coated in a Szechuan sweet-hot dressing and topped with sesame seeds. The skin on these wings and thighs is nice and wrinkled, with sauce that picks up fingerprints quicker than Sherlock Holmes and pulls off the yin-yang balance of heat and tang found in any good Chinese joint. I miss the crackling crispiness of buffalo-basted wings, but this dish should be welcomed into the fast-growing club of fancy happy-hour flappers.
The Bean is all about what comes from the soil, and most of it comes from the restaurant's farms in Lakewood and Highland. The menu doesn't advertise the provenance of the crispy cauliflower ($7), but it's lithe and tender with sunflower-seed pesto spackled into every crevice. Mint and gently pickled shallots complete the garden-fresh effect. The cauliflower lacks crispiness as well — lost in shifting from happy hour to dinner service, I suspect — but the value of this plate is in the richness of its ingredients.
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For it's relatively modest price, the beets here ($8) are a no-contest knockout. Knowing that these roots were grown locallymade them all the sweeter, all the more pleasantly earthy and tart. Combined with hazelnuts, crushed raspberries and red-veined sorrel, the bowl arrived as a pristine still life and left as a Tab-colored bloodbath. Other happy-hour root vegetables should quake in fear.
Capping off the night with a navy-strength gin and tonic (the McHale's Navy, $5 at happy hour) and warm coffee, it's easier to appreciate the fun touches like the vintage spoon chandeliers and the HDTVs blessedly muted in black-and-white. It's heartening that the place that wows at dinnertime can pull it off in a softer fashion during the quieter hours of the evening. Let's raise a glass to Al and Farrah.
Perfect for: If you thought the Bean is starting to play it safe, try the braised Spanish octopus ($12, $8 at happy hour), served as a cold salad with celery, potatoes and lemon vinaigrette. On the other end, the famous roadhouse-style burger is available with all the fixings for $15. It's a good place to drag someone who enjoys a new experience as well as the warmth of the familiar.
Don't Miss: The Squeaky Bean is taking over Rosa Linda's (RIP) mission to help the hungry on Thanksgiving, planning to feed hundreds at the LoDo restaurant and deliver many, many more. Volunteer slots are just about filled up, but you can still find out how to help by calling the Bean at 303-623-2665 or emailing email@example.com.