If you eavesdropped on me and my sisters without seeing our faces you would think we were 90. We remember things that we are too young to know. Particularly when it comes to
1) Los Angeles history
2) old restaurants in Los Angeles
We were taken to them at a very young age and as LA is not great at perservation most of the eateries of our youth… are gone.
The latest casualty is the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd. The Hamlets were a big deal back in the day. From the Hamlet’s website:
In 1950, Marilyn, a dress designer, and Harry Lewis, an actor, opened the first Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd; because of their commitment to quality, flavor and “simply marvelous food and drink,” it became an immediate success. Hamlet quickly became a Hollywood landmark and was packed with celebrities every night of the week.
Particularly since I had a mom who stopped cooking when I was 8 and an older sister with a driver’s license, many a dinner time was my mom handing my sister a twenty and telling her to take me to the Hamburger Hamlet ( usually on National blvd) to feed me.
The book about how the restaurants got going is a fun read. Sammy Davis Jr helping to serve in the first little place they had.
Well, the Lewis’s sold the place years ago and look, it was NEVER the same. Not as good, menu changed a lot. But, the one on Sunset, the oldest one left, still had a sweet spot in our heart with it’s red vinyl booths, brass fixtures, clippings of John Barrymore as Hamlet.
A couple of days ago Kat Odell of Eater LA wrote that the Sunset Hamlet was closing on December 19th. Some company that makes expensive restaurants for posers ( my words, not hers) were going to take over the place. Good bye French Onion soup and older black waitresses who had worked there for 30 years.
It serves all day so we were able to have dinner at the dream time–for me of 4:45. The host handed us simple pieces of paper with the menu items.
“Everyone is stealing our menus. We don’t have any left.”
Cecily, “I don’t blame them”.
Despite the changes over the years the burger was still quite tasty. We noshed as my mother told us about going to the original Hamlet down the block with my dad and my oldest sister, a baby at the time. My dad had an old Studebaker and my mother cut white shag carpeting to fit on the bottom of the car to make it more comfortable. Cecily and I rememeberd in our teen and college years coming here for a late dinner with our friends. Often through the years Dean Martin sat at the bar. Or he was in a booth with friends. After he lost his son Dean Paul Martin people said he didn’t look the same. How could he?
We thought we were nostalgic snapping a few photos when near the end of our meal a videographer with a camera light blazing followed an older couple to a table. The lady had the upswept hair of an earlier generation. The kind that never left house without being done. Not the scrappy, half dressed peasants we all look like. Her hair was was raven and I knew I knew her. Cec and I couldn’t place here and then I said,
” Her first name is Carol”
Cec: “She was in Incredible Mr. Limpet”
Me: “Carol Cook!” bingo, I knew it wasn’t Arlene Dahl, but in that food group.
As we left a manager told us they had raised the rent. That the restaurant had grandfathered in rent for only 10 grand. A tiny sum for that size of place in that area. “They raised it to 45 thousand”.
Then she said, “and we haven’t been busy like this for a long time. Everyone’s coming since we are closing.”
“I’m sorry”. We told her how much it had meant to us. I realized this woman and the rest of the employees were all about to loose their jobs right before Christmas. The Hamlet’s are part of the past. There are two left, but not ones I ever went to as a kid ( in Pasadena and Sherman Oaks).
Did the world move on or do restaurants like this not keep up and current? Who their patrons were became clear when we tried to leave.
We could not.
As I started to walk to the front door to leave Cecily nodded toward Viven as if “not a good idea”.
“A guy is on the ground” she said.
“What?” There was an elderly man being attended to be some of LA’s strapping finest firemen. After a few minutes or so of vamping I pushed open the door enough to ask if we could leave.
“yeah sure”, Fire man biceps said.
As we walked to our car we saw them put a very frail, gray skinned older man on a gurney.
Yes, we do have the same taste as 90 year olds.