Fourteen months ago, one of Denver's great dive bars closed after nearly seventy years in business. The tiny Squeeze Inn at 5395 West 48th Avenue had been started by two World War II vets as the Hilltop, a drive-thru burger joint; its size was dictated by the brick shortage created by the war. Over the years, the place stayed small but was always a big favorite with residents of the changing neighborhood, even as burgers were replaced with booze and the name changed to the Squeeze Inn in 1993.
In 2016, the Squeeze Inn's last owner passed away, and a developer who'd bought the corner property that also holds a multi-story office building planned to level the bar. But that deal fell through, and then another deal fell through, and then architect Dean Dalvit wound up buying it for EV Studio. He called his cousin Michael Dalvit, who works for CenturyLink, to see about getting some fiber optics in the office building. Looking out the window, Michael asked what was happening to the bar. Nothing, his cousin told him. Michael went home and talked to his wife, Missy, who'd been laid off and then gotten some experience in the hospitality industry working for a friend who managed a hotel, and they decided to take it on. Denver natives, they'd never been to the Squeeze Inn, but they recognized that it had possibilities.
That was this summer. The couple started sprucing up the long-empty joint — Michael's pretty sure the vents had never been cleaned — and put a doorknob on the men's bathroom, which hadn't had one for as long as anyone could remember. (A hole drilled in the door let light shine through to indicate that it was occupied.) They carved out a few more seats behind the bar and opened up a window between the bar and that space. But otherwise, they were careful to keep the original character of the place: The once-white ceiling tiles had been colored taupe by decades of cigarette smoke, but they'd also been signed by patrons, so the Dalvits wanted to keep them. That plan passed muster with Denver inspectors once they covered the tiles with lacquer. The blonde bricks bear generations of messages, too.
They were ready to reopen the doors long before the liquor-license transfer came through. That finally happened this month, and the Dalvits set a grand-opening bash for Saturday, November 18. But when they were putting a few finishing touches on the bar on Tuesday, November 14, a couple of people knocked on the door and asked to come in. The Dalvits said they were welcome as long as they could pay in cash, since the register wasn't yet operational. They could, and they were soon joined by others, former regulars happy to see the bar back in business. Before the night was over, close to sixty people had squeezed through the bar, to share stories and welcome back what's now officially known as The Squeeze. At that accidental opening, Michael remembers, "Everywhere I looked, there were big grins."
And they keep coming. The car enthusiasts who regularly filled the parking lot revved up for the grand opening, keeping an eye on their rides through the big windows in the tiny front area. Longtime customers have been bringing back items they acquired when the place closed: a coat rack, the PBR sign. Bikers have stopped by to break up their trip along I-70, which was built just south of the bar decades after it got its start. Firefighters drop in after their shifts; later in the evening, the twenty- and thirty-somethings who've been moving to the area discover the classic neighborhood joint for themselves.
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For now, Missy is at the bar from opening to close, usually 10 a.m. to at least 10 p.m. daily; family members — daughters, parents — stop in, too. The Dalvits have plans to introduce a happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, specials from 8 to 10 p.m., and a Bloody Mary deal Sunday morning; they may even add enough kitchen equipment to expand the snack line, which currently consists of bags of chips (though food trucks have been coming by).
They might even go for historic designation of the circa 1947 building, in a nod to its contribution to the community. "I'd like this to be our retirement," says Missy. But that's decades away, and in the meantime, new and old customers keep squeezing in. "Everybody we meet, everyone has been great," she adds.
"Like a family," Michael concludes. And there's always room for one more member to squeeze in.
You can reach the bar at 720-630-8431; find out more on the Squeeze's Facebook page.