The original Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Boulevard, in photo by Ellen Berman on Los Angeles Magazine website.
The Hamburger Hamlet in Pasadena is scheduled to close for good tonight and flip into a Du-Par's, according to Alison Martino of Vintage LA. That leaves the Van Nuys Boulevard location in Sherman Oaks as the last of the local Hamlets, and it long ago remodeled away from the chain's original red booths look — but still holds up when you need an HH fix. Martino waxes quite nicely at the Los Angeles Magazine website on growing up at the second Hamburger Hamlet on the Sunset Strip, which closed in 2011. The photo above was taken a few blocks east on Sunset, outside the long-closed original Hamburger Hamlet opened in 1950 by Harry and Marilyn Lewis.
From Martino's piece:
Nothing pained me more then saying goodbye to the West Hollywood neighborhood hangout. It was where here you bumped into celebrities and industry moguls in a casual environment, dining in darkly lit giant red leather chairs. But there was nothing casual about the clientele. Where else could you see Dean Martin sipping a martini at the bar, Lucille Ball hair spraying her red locks in the ladies room, Bette Davis chain smoking in the Tap Room, or Frank Sinatra taking a meeting with his publicist? I witnessed all of this first hand. Even the restaurant’s hostess, actress and singer Frances Davis, who was once married to Miles Davis, would occasionally burst into song and dance while taking you to your table. I remember Francis and Diahann Carroll discussing chord progressions in the lobby. It was great eavesdropping. For me, it was also a home away from home. At times the Hamlet felt like an extended room of our house. Raised a few blocks away, I had my 10th birthday party in the main dining room, and my high school graduation dinner in the Tap Room. After the sudden passing of my father in 2009, Hamburger Hamlet was the first place my mother and I ran for comfort....
A contract player for Warner Bros in the 40s, Harry is better remembered for "Key Largo," which he stared in with Humphrey Bogart, Edward G Robinson, Lauren Bacall, and Claire Trevor (who won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film) than he is for his chain of restaurants....
According to [son] Adam, the idea of operating a restaurant for actors made a lot of sense to Harry. “When he met my mother, she drove that idea to reality,” he says. Hamburger Hamlet arrived in 1950. The family sold the chain in 1987 for $33 million, then went on to open Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills.
The Lewises never quite get enough credit for the Hamlets being one of the first restaurants rooted in white Los Angeles to employ African Americans as servers and managers. Harry Lewis died last year.
The company still has two outpost Hamburger Hamlets in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.