February 4, 2022 | OPINION | By Hank Bedingfield | Photo by Claire Bogart
On the backs of earnest workers and unpretentious fare rests Cy’s Drive-In, a Colorado Springs staple since 1953. In the 69 years the business has existed, from the curbside service to the decor to the menu, little has changed — and that’s a good thing.
From its Westside location, sticking its tall hamburger sign into the street like a hitchhiker’s thumb, Cy’s called me with the thrilling promise of a cheap gamble — a coin toss between an instant, greasy stomachache, and a delicious hole-in-the-wall. Luckily, Cy’s is the latter.
Pulling up to Cy’s is like binge-drinking nostalgia. After a short while, the intoxication is overwhelming, blissful, and slightly unnerving. The promise of milkshakes and burgers served car side by an endearing, aunt-like staff of matriarchs can feel like a blitzkrieg of care and comfort in a world where many servers are burnt and stressed out beyond their capacity for a kind smile. The expectations of a fast-food world of hastily wrapped, factory-lined produced beef-like and bun-bound fast-food burgers are hard to shake.
I’ll die on a lonely hill defending the frankenstein-esque, guilty depravity of a shameful crawl to Taco Bell or McDonalds, but what Cy’s offers is beyond comparison to the corporate, multinational ilk of its competitors. What you see at Cy’s is what you get. And what you get goes past the superficialities of nostalgia — past the endearment of Elvis figurines, plushy booths, and Kenny Loggins in your ear.
The Alaska Burger, a 1959 menu addition honoring Alaska’s newly won statehood, is a quick favorite at Cy’s and a regional special of sorts. It originally went for 49 cents, when Alaska was the 49th state. Now, it goes for $10.15. Piled high on a brioche bun sit two organic beef patties — all of their beef is organic, hormone, antibiotic, and filler-free — a third, center bun, cheese, shredded lettuce, and thousand island dressing.
This burger is the Big Mac’s pretty cousin, and it puts its corporate counterpart to shame. While the patties are slightly overcooked and could use salt, the whole sandwich emulsifies into bite-after-bite of satisfaction. The whole feast adopts the urgency of a quick feral kill with predators on the prowl. If you’re not careful the burger will fall apart in your hands, patties sliding from sauce-slicked buns. It’s fast food — eat it fast.
Shakes (from $2.20 to $6) come in a set of classic flavors. In styrofoam cups, with a spoon and a straw, they’re as thick as shakes should be. The strawberry shake took me back to simpler times in a single sip. They sell a giddy, sugar-crazed sense of childhood that we all owe ourselves from time to time.
After 15 minutes and $25, two burgers, two shakes, and an order of fries — which bore an uncanny resemblance to the ones from Rastall’s — I was in and out of Cy’s ready for just another burger I could’ve found along any strip-mall, car-lined drag in Colorado Springs. What I unwrapped was very different.
Cy’s is a time warp back to a land I’ve only ever seen on TV. Hailing from the splendor of a 1950s atmosphere – when food was made, served, and loved by people – before private owners and family-businesses faced the choking oppression of bastard tyrants and swine franchisees, it is clear that Cy’s is something special.