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The Joint

You don't have to know a spark plug from a socket wrench to enjoy a cold one at the Squeeze Inn. But it helps. Drop by this tiny northwest Denver nook -- the name is perfect -- and you find yourself submerged in the glories of car culture. The fender-smashing mayhem of ESPN's Speed World comes roaring out of the TV set. The Beach Boys sing "409" on the jukebox. There's a NASCAR schedule plastered to the ceiling, and the linoleum floor is straight checkered flag; almost every square inch of wall space is devoted to race-car pictures and race-theme beer posters. The casual talk at the tables -- all four of them -- is about camshafts and carburetors and timing chains.

In other words, the Pep Boys would love this place. So would Dale Earnhardt and Mario Andretti. And so will anyone who's ever changed his own air filter, replaced a U-joint or lovingly restored a '51 Ford. Hey. If owner Ralph Frazzini featured Pennzoil on draft instead of Budweiser, the regulars would probably clamor for a longer happy hour.

Saturday before last, the Squeeze Inn held its semi-annual outdoor car show in the parking lot, which is ten times the size of the bar itself. Make no mistake: The tribes had gathered to celebrate the mythology and magic of the American automobile. Among the fifty or so hot rods and street machines on hand, Rudy brought his beautiful 1946 Ford, Ken his fire-engine-red 1967 GTO, Ron his turquoise '57 Chevy Bel Air. A sprinkling of Brothers Fast and Sons of Silence came by on their Harleys. There were a lot of great cars, but I fell for Ray's customized '48 Chevy convertible, in a dazzling shade of midnight blue, like a teenager falls for a movie star. Come to think of it, this gorgeous vision of faultless chrome and dark sweeping line was as beautiful as Liz Taylor in her prime or Julia Roberts the day before yesterday. For a long moment there, I didn't even want to go inside and grab a drink.

Info

The Squeeze Inn

5395 West 48th Avenue

Hours: 7 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

303-458-6440 or 303-458-9904

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That would have been a mistake, though. Because the Squeeze Inn is itself a classic -- every bit as appealing as the impeccably restored black 1948 Dodge taxicab (complete with vintage trip meter) that Dee drove to the car show. Old Denverites remember this squat brick cottage as the Hill Top, a cozy, seven-barstool, four-table saloon where brothers Joe and Roxie DeNuzzi held forth for almost half a century, regaling their customers with matchless war stories and, whenever they felt like it, tuning in the late movie on their ancient black-and-white TV. New owner Frazzini, who's the size of a Buick Roadmaster, bought the place four years ago, renamed it the Squeeze Inn and installed his passion for four-wheeled fury. The brothers DeNuzzi had their style, and Frazzini has his. What hasn't changed is the essential charm and intimacy of the place: It's smaller than the average living room or racing garage, and when Ralph is on the premises, you inevitably trade a little paint with him. The Squeeze makes up in verve what it lacks in floor space.

"Honey," one bartender told us, "we once had 92 people in here, and I mean, it was claustrophobic." Maximum occupancy is 28, and if you're not immediately a part of everyone's conversation, it's only because management has got the Indy 500 reruns turned up too loud. The Squeeze Inn is certainly no place to get away from it all, or to coop with a secret love, but it's matchless for meeting new gearheads and hashing out old races. Especially if you don't give a damn that the house wine is Franzia rosé straight out of the box or that dinner means microwave pizza and a bag of chips.

Unless you've got the Northstar system in your ride, though, you might need directions. Go north to the corner of I-70 and Sheridan, hang a louie on the north frontage road, and suddenly you're there -- in horsepower heaven.

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