Where: 4018 Tennyson Street
When: Open 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
For more info: Visit lucysburgerbar.com
What we saw: Lucy's made our list of the ten most anticipated openings of 2021 for a few reasons. It's women-owned, its mission is all about positivity, and its specialty is something no one else in Denver emphasizes: the Juicy Lucy.
With its grand opening on August 20, Lucy's is now ready to feed molten cheese-stuffed burgers to the masses. Owner Michelle "Meesh" McGlone and her partner, Nate Collis, are both from Minnesota, and both have a background in touring — McGlone as an aerialist and Collis as the longtime guitar player for Atmosphere.
Collis also spent six years manning the grill at the Minneapolis spot that claims to have invented the cheese-in-the-middle burger, Matt's Bar & Grill (which spells the specialty "Jucy Lucy," stemming from a menu typo that stuck).
Armed with inside knowledge of a secret technique that creates the ultimate oozy middle layer of melty cheese, McGlone and Collis have been getting Lucy's ready since they were handed the keys to the Tennyson space in April. The small restaurant is open and airy, outfitted with several booths and a long counter with stools. Two walls are lined with living plants from the also-women-owned Fern & Bloom a few doors down. A Prince puzzle — another nod to Minnesota — sits behind the counter, and a playlist of hip-hop, pop and classic rock provides an upbeat soundtrack. In the bathroom, an art installation by McGlone covers the wall, depicting images of powerful women in the world.
The menu is simple: fries ($5.50 for a full order, $3.50 for a half) and a lineup of sandwiches ($8 to $14) — headed, of course, by the Juicy Lucy, a half-pound patty with cheese inside, served on a simple bun with minced griddled onions and dill pickle slices. And this burger doesn't need much more than that.
The Juicy Lucy is served with a warning: Take one bite, then put it down and take a break to nosh on some fries or sip your drink — wine, beer and canned cocktails are available. That will give the hot interior time to cool to a palatable temperature.
Rounding out the menu are traditional burgers and cheeseburgers, a black-bean patty option, a chicken sandwich and a grilled cheese that's "definitely an adult grilled cheese," McGlone notes, and not just an option for kids.
Beyond a place sharing a taste from home, McGlone sees Lucy's as a community gathering space that promotes inclusiveness and positivity. And given the entertainment backgrounds of the owners, don't be surprised to find impromptu dance parties happening regularly. The one piece that still needs to be added is the sign out front, which will be modeled after the old Orpheum Theatre marquee.
Lunchboxx in Denver Central Market, both the fried chicken sandwich and the burger ring in at $14 (with a side). At Lady Nomada in Arvada, a plate with two tacos runs $11 to $14. Federales in RiNo, a place backed by big Chicago real estate money, charges $14 for its torta.
With a renewed focus on paying staff a fair wage, increasing costs for everything from rent and gloves to ground beef, and the dust still settling (then being unsettled again) from the pandemic, it's time to readjust expectations regarding how much it costs to eat out — especially at new, small, locally owned ventures.
"Other places have opted to do a 20 percent gratuity added to all the checks, and we're trying to not do that and see if we can afford to not do that," McGlone explains. "So we're just setting the prices that we need just to cover our rent and be able to be a viable business."
McGlone is passionate about quality, and about doing things the right way. "It's a labor of love that goes into it, " she notes. "Getting everything prepped hours before — without revealing too much of our process — there's a certain amount of time that has to go into the recipes and the way that the burgers are made. It takes time, it takes money, and it's 2021 now."
Indeed it is, and you still get what you pay for — even if you get some sticker shock along with that higher quality.