I’ve dined at the squeaky bean three times now. I’ve ordered 18 different dishes. And every time a new item arrived, some version of this script repeated itself. A conversation about the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum was interrupted by a plate of pigeon—artfully arranged with a knobby black claw jutting skyward. A chat about family politics was stopped by the “fried chicken,” in which the only thing obviously fried was a stiff, flat placard of chicken skin. A discussion about acceptable day rates for consultants ceased the moment the carrot cake arrived, looking like something a child had gotten ahold of, torn apart, and scattered with orange gummy worms. Welcome to the downtown version of the Squeaky Bean, a restaurant where the overall experience commands your attention like a night at the theater.
The new Squeaky Bean barely resembles its predecessor in Highland, which closed in June 2011. There, the neighborhood space was small, the vibe funky-casual, the decor playfully vintage. While chef Max Mackissock’s creative ambitions were apparent, they were limited by the cramped space and lack of a professionally equipped kitchen.
Fast-forward 18 months. Today, the restaurant lives in an upscale space inside a 100-year-old building that once housed a saddlery. Hints of the building’s history remain in the exposed red brick and heavy wooden beams. But thanks to oversize windows, Mad Men–style lighting, and a shiny, stainless steel, open-view kitchen, the Squeaky Bean now resides firmly in the 21st century.
About the only thing that remains from the old location is the sense of play. Menus arrive clipped to vintage cookbooks. Cocktails are grouped under categories named after old films (The Longest Yard, Rocky III) and include a choice of Jell-O shots, like the Paloma, a gelatinized taste of grapefruit and tequila. An electric bingo board peers down from a wall above the dining room. But these touches are subtle, understated, part of the set design. The food is what takes the starring role.
The Squeaky Bean’s menu is built around seasonal ingredients—Mackissock often sources produce from the restaurant’s one-acre farm—but this is hardly the straight forward seasonal cuisine you’re used to. Yes, each dish starts with a focus on a single ingredient. But like a jazz riff built around a single chord, Mackissock bends and stretches those ingredients in a multitude of ways.