By Phil Lindeman
Sneak Repeats is a local’s look at longstanding haunts and hideaways with one question in mind: What made us fall in love with our valley favorites? Was it the grub? The drinks? The atmosphere? We revisit habitual hangouts and, with any lucky, introduce you to new ones. This round is on us.
Find it: 100 W. Beaver Creek Blvd. (next to Bob’s Place)
In a nutshell: Sloppy, flavorful, old-school sandwiches and hot dogs from a Chicago native.
On the north side of Chicago, bare-bones sandwich joints like Geno’s dot corner stores every few blocks. When owner Terry McCune moved to Colorado from his Midwest hometown in 1987, he wanted to bring that same blue-collar vibe to a resort town.
“The small thing fits what I do,” McCune says. “The menu is still the same today. How that is, I really don’t know, but one thing people appreciate is consistency – they can come here 15 years later and know what they want. It’s comforting. Maybe a bit of laziness, too.”
Now approaching 24 years in business, McCune has been the sole cook, teller and manager since opening day. That never-changing menu is small but enticing: plain hot dogs, Chicago dogs with relish and mustard, Italian beef and sausage combos with fresh-shaved meat. None of it costs more than $8. Side items are equally nonchalant, from small bags of Fritos and Doritos to Grandma’s brand cookies. In true Midwest fashion, McCune keeps the Snickers bars in the fridge next to bottled root beer, and diners eat standing next to a faded cut-out of ‘90s-era Michael Jordan.
“(A sandwich shop) just sounded like a good idea at the time, and I figured why not?” says McCune, who sports a gray goatee and a quick sense of humor. When I drop by near the beginning of February, he cracks jokes about the recent snowfall in Denver.
“They’re shoveling snow while we’re stuck mowing the grass,” McCune says, pauses for my laughter, then joins in. He comes off as a Rodney Dangerfield type, if Dangerfield had a penchant for playing blues guitar. The music at Geno’s is pulled directly from McCune’s childhood: ‘50s and ‘60s electric blues, the kind he soaked up in person to learn chord progressions.
“I grew up listening to all those guys and can’t stop,” says McCune, a stellar guitarist who plays almost weekly with his band, Bluzilla. “Unfortunately, those guys are dead now, but I like to think I keep the music alive.”
In a valley where dining gets increasingly snobbish, Geno’s remains a rare and welcome sight – if you can find it. The 300-square-foot shop is snuggled (more like wedged) in a corner space of the Avon Center, just steps from the front door of Bob’s Place. It crams a handful of chairs, two tables, meat shaver and standalone fridge in the space of a moderately-sized bedroom. The register on the counter is aging and yellowed, with nary a credit-card swipe in sight. Geno’s is a cash-only kind of place.
Although the shop has moved several times – first to Eagle-Vail, then West Vail, each time getting progressively smaller – Geno’s is in danger of closing permanently. A poor economy has turned away his primary customer base: construction workers.
“The economy has crushed a lot of the people who are my regulars,” McCune says with uncharacteristic solemnity. “They don’t have jobs anymore, so they don’t need somewhere to go on lunch break. I really don’t know about my future.”
After a few beats, McCune's tone changes and he returns with genuine good humor.
“But feel free to embellish this place to a reasonable degree,” he says. “People know what I am. I’d credit my survival to good customers, real people. Them, and luck.”
Don’t miss: Midwest natives will be satisfied by hot dogs made the only way imaginable: with Vienna Beef, originators of the Chicago dog.
Unexpected delight: Chatting with McCune about the blues guitar players of his youth, from Muddy Waters and Freddy King to Buddy Guy.
Personal bias: Nothing beats the Italian sausage, served on a baker’s roll with provolone, hot peppers and plenty of spicy sausage in sloppy marinara.