Mural inside the Sherman Oaks Hamburger Hamlet, photo by Mark London via Alison Martino on Facebook.
For sure the Van Nuys Boulevard location of Hamburger Hamlet in Sherman Oaks, opened sometime in the 1960s, is closed right now. It sounds like there is some chance it could reopen under new management after a hiatus. Even so, it won't really be a Hamlet now that all the others are gone and, just this month, even the Lewis family's Kate Mantilini closed down.
The last remnant of the Hamburger Hamlet enterprise is now shut down, with no evidence that it will return to Los Angeles. A tipster writes in to say that the Sherman Oaks outlet is "closed and under new ownership." The sit-down burger chain was founded in 1950 by Harry and Marilyn Lewis (who also created Kate Mantillini, which is gasped its last on June 14), Hamburger Hamlet spread throughout the country before a slow demise. Two locations in the D.C. area persisted to this year as well before shuttering as well.
Just this January, the second-to-last location closed in Pasadena, giving way to a Du-Pars. The legendary restaurant was, "like a country club without the monthly membership," remembers one waiter, who also said in this LA Magazine piece: "I waited on everyone from Danny Thomas to Florence Henderson to Mel Brooks."
One commenter at the site says a sign on door indicates the HH was closed by the health department. Another commenter posts:
There were significant liens against the operation in the last couple of years. It was losing money at the end. The space is for lease. And the equipment in there must be ancient, give or take.
It needs a complete gutting, and in fact, the space might even be converted to a non-food use. That parking lot to the west may be developed in the not too distant future. Apartments makes sense there, but only the city can grant variances to the zoning.
From Alison Martino's ode to Hamburger Hamlet for Los Angeles Magazine earlier this year:
I’m still in deep mourning over the loss of the Sunset Strip location on December 17, 2011. I was there for its last day and plan on saying farewell to the Pasadena location in person on Thursday, too. I feel it’s my duty as an Angeleno because the Hamlet has been such a big part of Los Angeles culture, and since it helped shape my childhood.
Nothing pained me more then saying goodbye to the West Hollywood neighborhood hangout. It was where 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.
Speaking of comfort let’s get to the food. I have never had a bad meal or lousy service at the chain....
Well, many would disagree with her about the food — but it was more reliably good and comforting than most chains, at least during the heyday of Hamburger Hamlet. The brand did become dated and gradually faded from the Los Angeles food scene. But should anyone open an LA culinary museum or wrote a history of LA food, Hamburger Hamlet would belong there.
Random fact: Tavern in Brentwood is located in a former Hamburger Hamlet.
Previously on LA Observed:
Now there is just one last Hamburger Hamlet
Harry Lewis, Hamburger Hamlet founder was 93
Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset closes Monday (2011)
Scratch another Hamburger Hamlet (2008)
Will Hamburger Hamlet live? (LA Biz Observed)