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Cruisin’ to the ’90s

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
People stand in line to order at walk-up window at Charcoal Burger in west Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

When Bart Victor purchased the Charcoalburger Drive-In in the early 2000s, he wanted to make a few minor changes to the historic eatery’s menu.

One change involved swapping out the drive-in’s golden brown crinkle fries with curly ones.

“I had people threaten me,” Victor said. “I thought I was doing a cool thing.”

Longtime customers, however, filled Victor in on the benefit of dipping crinkle fries, as opposed to curly ones, in a milkshake.

“The ridges on your crinkle fry kept the ice cream on,” Victor said.

While the ridges on the french fries stayed, the red, white and blue Pepsi globe above the Charcoalburger’s sign off of U.S. Highway 6 had to go.

“It immediately became a Coca-Cola sign,” Victor said. “I’m not a Pepsi fan.”

Victor also tacked on his nickname — Vicco — to the Charcoalburger Drive-In’s name, but left everything else pretty much the same.

Signs of the Times

Every so often, a YouTube video of a couple driving through Glenwood Springs in 1990 makes the rounds on social media. In the video, the now-removed Pepsi sign stuck out to Victor – as did a number of others to Historical Society Executive Director Bill Kight.

“There’s Center Drugs,” Kight said of the space Walgreens occupies today along Grand Avenue. “The funny thing about that was, the sign on the window was … ‘guns and drugs.’”

Since 1990, the city has updated its own way-finding signage, too.

The bright yellow triangle kiosks in Centennial Park and on Sixth Street no longer exist but the over-a-century-old attractions they once pointed to remain intact.

While Hotel Colorado and the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool have provided plenty of memories to residents and visitors alike, it was the old Grand Avenue Bridge that brought back fondness for Kight.

“I taught my girls to drive on that bridge when they were teenagers,” Kight said.

According to Kight, the slight jog in the street leading up to the Grand Avenue Bridge always made his daughters Amber and Shandra uneasy.

“That was a terror to them,” Kight said. “If this person over here was not paying attention you could easily crash into one another.”

Thirty years ago, adjacent to where the old Grand Avenue Bridge touched down at Pine and Sixth streets were Volkswagen and Mazda car dealerships.

Additionally, the price of gas on the marquee outside Gilcomart read $1.18 a gallon.

Another noticeable difference between today and Glenwood Springs in 1990 was the nonexistent Glenwood Meadows Mall. The land now occupied by the likes of Target, Chili’s and Lowe’s actually looked like a meadow three decades ago.

“That was a nice little Italian restaurant right there,” Kight said, watching the video as the couple passed Andre’s illuminated fleur-de-lis sign in West Glenwood.

Much like the price of gas, the cost of a room in the city also was considerably cheaper. Next door to Andre’s Restaurant, the Ponderosa Motel 5 advertised rooms for just $22.50 a night.

“There are a lot of changes that occur over time that we forget about,” Kight said. “Nostalgia is an interesting thing. It can freeze you in time where you’re not really accepting changes and change is life.”

Still Cruisin’

While Bowl Lounge, and the Glenwood bowling alley itself, Taco John’s and Los Desperados have all left Glenwood Springs, the Charcoalburger Drive-In — despite having five different owners since opening in 1953 — has remained largely unchanged.

“To me it’s still so reminiscent … the smoke coming out of our draw fan, the great smell of a burger,” Victor said. “It was worth more to me to keep it like it is and let people still recognize it.”

Victor, unquestionably, has witnessed several changes to the city at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers over the past 30 years.

However, in addition to keeping the Charcoalburger Drive-In alive and well, the small-business owner has continued the “Hot Summer Nights Cruise Series,” too.

Every year beginning in May and running through early September, Victor and fellow car enthusiasts enjoy a charcoalburger together before cruising through town.

“I’ve been here long enough to know when the wind is going to blow at a certain time in the afternoon,” Victor said. “That hasn’t changed and it’s still a beautiful place.”


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