Cherry Cricket general manager Kathy Huddleston and bar manager Clifton Bell have 25 combined years of experience serving customers at the venerable Cherry Creek burger joint, but that's still only a fraction of the bar's long life on East Second Avenue. The Cherry Cricket will celebrate its seventieth anniversary on Friday with throwback prices, a champagne toast and a cake laden with enough candles to set off fire alarms.
Mary Zimmerman opened the original Cherry Cricket in 1945; she ran the bar out of her house on the south side of Second Avenue. It was as watering hole and lunch counter for truck drivers and neighborhood workers — including employees of the city dump, which was located just south of the Cricket's current home, on land now occupied by the Cherry Creek Mall. Zimmerman moved her bar across the street in 1951 — and it's been there ever since.
Bernard Duffy bought the place in the early 1960s and added the "Duffy's" sign above the now-iconic Cherry Cricket marquee. Burgers weren't part of the draw back then; Zimmerman had fed her guests simple, home-cooked food and Duffy introduced a swankier list of steaks and prime rib. At one point, what is now the Cricket's second dining room (to the right of the main bar area) was occupied by Leo Klima's Cherry Cricket Delicatessen, where patrons could grab a sandwich to bring back to the bar.
There have been other owners over the years, Eli McGuire made burgers a focus when she bought the place in 1990. "Eli wanted to be known for the best burgers in Denver," Huddleston explains, although she notes that the signature Cricket burger appeared on menus well before then. She thinks the secret to the popularity of the burgers lies in their continuing simplicity: Nothing more than an 80/20 blend of Angus beef is dusted with salt and pepper and flame-grilled over lava rocks.
Huddleston started working at the Cricket in 1997 and remembers the days before and after it was purchased by the Wynkoop group (now Breckenridge-Wynkoop LLC) in 2000. Things didn't change much under the new owners, she says: "They've been very gracious about letting us be ourselves."
Bell came on board in 2009, the same year as the Cricket's last face lift, which added more dining space and the east-side patio. One of his early memories of the place was his first St. Patrick's Day behind the bar. "I remember thinking ,'This place is insane!' and how many people showed up," he says.
Huddleston's longer tenure means she's met plenty of regulars over the years who were customers long before she started working there. "I love seeing people I haven't seen in years," she explains. One customer by the name of George, who now lives in Oregon, brought his centenarian mother into the Cherry Cricket about ten years ago. George's mom knew Mary Zimmerman and recalled having George's baby shower at the Cricket.
The manager also recalls William "Billy" Martin, who grew up in a house on the property where the North Italia restaurant now sits. Martin gave her a photo that his father took while standing in front of Zimmerman's house.
Under the ownership of Breckenridge-Wynkoop, the bar at the Cricket has focused more and more on craft beers while still maintaining its vintage charm. "It's a tough balance," says Bell, "but since we're owned by two craft breweries, we're going more that way."
But even before that, he points out, Eli McGuire saw value in Denver's budding beer culture. "We were the first bar to have Railyard on draft — in 1990 or '91," Bell notes.
To celebrate its seventieth anniversary, the Cricket is offering throwback prices on food and beer on Friday, October 2. From 2 to 4 p.m., customers can order Cricket burgers for $1.90, with an order of fries for an additional 45 cents. The bar will serve Coors Banquet stubbies for 70 cents from 2 to 6 p.m. — "that's the only beer we have that's been around as long as us," Bell points out.
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There will also be cake and champagne at 9 p.m., and vintage games, toys and music (changing hourly to match the style of each decade the Cricket's been around) will add to the atmosphere.
And fans, take note: Huddleston says she's had trouble locating photos of the Cherry Cricket from the '70s and '80s. If you have any, feel free to share them on the Cherry Cricket Facebook page.