Harry Lewis, Hamburger Hamlet founder was 93

hamlet-menu.jpgHarry Lewis was an actor who played gangster “Toots” Bass in the Humphrey Bogart classic "Key Largo," then went on to open a number of restaurants that became Hollywood hangouts. Lewis and his wife, Marilyn, opened the first Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Strip in 1950 — the brand grew into a chain in several states before they sold in the late 1980s. The Lewises opened Kate Mantilini in a Thom Mayne-designed space at Wilshire and Doheny in Beverly Hills in 1987. They also ran Hamlet Gardens in Westwood Village for many years. Lewis died Sunday at a convalescent home in Beverly Hills.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Harry Lewis was born April 1, 1920, on Wilton Place in Hollywood. He entered the U.S. Air Force at age 19 and signed a contract with Warner Bros. after World War II.

He met his future wife when she came several straight days to the Pasadena Playhouse, where he was performing. Lewis asked for her number, saying, “How does one get to know you?” According to Adam Lewis, her response was, “One puts their finger on the dial and telephones me.”

On their first date, Harry shared his dream for a restaurant, and they started scouting locations. Several years later, they opened Hamburger Hamlet on the Sunset Strip, with Harry cooking, Marilyn waiting tables and their parents washing dishes.

When he and Marilyn got married in Las Vegas, actors Jeff Chandler and Sammy Davis Jr. ran the place. The couple opened a second Hamlet the day Adam was born, in 1955. In the late 1960s, the Lewises moved the original Hamlet up the street and off the Strip.

Over the years, the Lewises experimented with other concepts, including Hamlet Gardens, Downtown Grill and a 1970s-era disco called the Hot Club.

There are two LA-area Hamburger Hamlets still open that I can see — in Pasadena and Sherman Oaks — and something called Hamburger Hamlet XP on Larchmont. Kate Mantilini is stiil thriving, run by Lewis offspring. The Hamlet Gardens in Westwood closed and reopened under different ownership as Skylight Gardens. And just to note: when the last Hamlet on Sunset Boulevard closed in 2011, there was a lot of media misreporting that it was the original Sunset Strip location. That was off by several blocks.

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