First Look

First Look: Lucy's Burger Bar Brings a Minneapolis Specialty to Denver

Michelle "Meesh" McGlone has been dreaming of opening Lucy's for four years.
Michelle "Meesh" McGlone has been dreaming of opening Lucy's for four years. Molly Martin
What: Lucy's Burger Bar

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.
click to enlarge Simple toppings let the cheese-stuffed patty shine. - MOLLY MARTIN
Simple toppings let the cheese-stuffed patty shine.
Molly Martin
The cheese does indeed spill out in a satisfying river of orange American mixed with beefy juice from the cooked-to-a-perfect-medium-well patty. Red ketchup bottles and baskets of yellow mustard packets are readily available for those who want to add a condiment — but try it without first, in order to get the full impact of the simple yet supremely tasty combination of flavors.

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.
click to enlarge Old-school burger joint simplicity meets a modern aesthetic at Lucy's. - MOLLY MARTIN
Old-school burger joint simplicity meets a modern aesthetic at Lucy's.
Molly Martin
What surprised us: The $14 price tag for the Juicy Lucy, on the high end for a burger without sides — though it's on par with the pricing at many spots, particularly new establishments opening during a period of all-time-high costs for running a restaurant. Over at 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.
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin