Blinky, burgers and the beach
ARROWHEAD – Snowflakes fell on the baseball diamond, obscuring Robert Blunk’s vision. He blinked over and over, wondering if what he saw was a snowflake or the ball.Strike three.Blunk’s college teammates chided him, saying “You’re striking out too much – you’re blinky,” Blunk said. And thus, in 1964, the nickname Blinky was born.Three years later Blinky arrived in Vail to clear cut the mountain for skiing and became a permanent fixture.”I like the people here,” Blinky said. “The people are what made me stay.”It would take 21 years before he became world-renowned for his burgers at an Arrowhead grill that opened in 1988 next to the Arrow Bahn lift. The grill recently got knocked over to make way for Blinky’s Grill, which opened this year serving up the staple burgers, pulled pork, coleslaw and fat kosher dogs.But it’s not only the 250 to 300 burgers sold daily drawing visitors to the smoking grill, it’s the man. People from all over the country and world drop by to chat and enjoy a cold brew while Blinky, 62, douses burgers with secret spices and slaps the meat on the grill.
“He’s like a culinary folk hero,” said Billy Doran, slicing some onions.Doran, wearing a straw cowboy hat and aviator glasses, explained the draw of Blinky’s.”It all comes from the burger,” he said. “People from Russia, Japan and Thailand are coming back for the burger.”Burger and beer in hand, the diverse visitors bask on chairs sitting slopeside at “the beach” each afternoon to catch some rays and party after a day skiing or snowboarding. The large brick patio sits square in the sun and gets even hotter as spring approaches. “They call it the beach because it gets so warm in the spring,” Doran said.Blinky, having seen some beach capers in his day, said he once witnessed a young boy who pulled off the old barbeque-sauce-in-the-glove trick. Needless to say, the young girl victimized was not happy, Blinky said.Out on the beach, Blinky is disinclined to draw attention to his name, although it’s plastered on the grill house and burger’s namesake, which has gone through some changes per management.”Blinky Burger, that’s fine,” he said. “Then it was the Famous Blinky Burger. Then the World-Famous Blinky Burger. Just keep it the Blinky Burger.”
Still, drawing the masses to the Blinky Burger takes some skill. There’s a key to drawing the hungry hordes in to grab the popular burgers before they’ve even realized they’re hungry.”You get three to four burgers going to get the aroma going out there and they can’t resist it,” Blinky said.Each summer Blinky breaks from the grill and valley to plant, tend to and harvest soybeans at his Springfield, Ill. farms. Then he returns to the valley to avoid the bitter Illinois winters for some fun at the grill.And it could be the fun at Arrowhead keeping Blinky young.”I’m 62 years old, but I don’t look a day over 70,” he joked.”Yeah, but he doesn’t act a day over 16,” Doran quickly followed.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or email@example.com.