The Humpty Dumpty: The Rise and Fall of Colorado’s First Drive-In
The restaurant industry has immensely changed in Colorado over the years, as it has throughout the country. Nowadays, there are dozens of different categories of cuisines, served out of brick-and-mortar restaurants, mobile food trucks, rolling carts, kiosks, and beyond.
In today's world, endless options of fast food restaurants exist within minutes of our homes, but nearly a century ago, the concept of "fast food" was just taking off.
It was during the 1920s when the first fast food establishment popped up in Colorado. Located at 2776 North Speer Boulevard in Denver, the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Inn opened as Colorado's first fast-food drive-in restaurant. The popular eatery was owned by Louis Ballast, proudly pictured below with his famous "curb girls."
Cars parked around the building and patrons placed their orders in the window. The curb girls delivered the food to hungry diners. Denverites often referred to the drive-up restaurant as "The Barrel" or the "Barrel House" because of its unique architecture.
During his time as owner, Louis Ballast experimented with different ways he could serve hamburgers to his customers, even trying out chocolate and peanut butter as toppings. While those toppers didn't stick, a melted slice of cheese did. With that, the cheeseburger was born. Ballast officially acquired a trademark for "The Cheeseburger" on March 5, 1935.
Besides inventing cheeseburgers, the Ballast family claimed they were the first in the world to serve deep-fried chicken sandwiches too.
Unfortunately, the beloved burger joint closed up shop decades ago. The building was eventually torn down and replaced by a KeyBank.
Customers of the past fondly remember the mini jukeboxes that sat on each table at the Humpty Dumpty. Former patrons also commented on how affordable the eatery was and how delicious the hamburgers were back in the day.
Now, a monument honoring the long-gone Humpty Dumpty Barrel sits within a lily garden in front of the bank at the northwest corner of Speer Boulevard and Alcott Street, where the first drive-in once stood. A local dairy association erected the granite marker in 1987. The words on the plaque pay tribute to the invention of the cheeseburger and a small picture of the drive-in is also present on the memorial.
The public is welcome to stop by and view the granite memorial, or even snap a photo at the birthplace of the iconic cheeseburger.
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