I was reminded of this place today when I was randomly wandering around the web. It was hamburger joint like no other you’ve ever or will see. It had an astounding selection of hamburgers and was at a corner on Van Ness street. It was a place that the who’s who went to when in town which is probably why my Grandmother used to take me there.
Opening in the 50’s and closing down in 1987 it was the burgers themselves that made the place. Sure at a place like In-n-out you can get just a cheeseburger or hamburger, but what if your burger was soaked in teriyaki sauce [that’s what I used to get] or topped with bernaise sauce? They had a few odd ones like the streaker that was just a hamburger with it bun and toppings removed or the stroganoff burger which literally had beef stroganoff on top of the burger. The strangest was the hamburger sundae which was a burger with ice cream, hot fudge, nuts, cherry and pickle spears. They’re menu even said, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
This was a hamburger restaurant [you’ll note on the menu they often refer to them as hamburger steaks if served without the bun] where you could get a little weird. These weren’t the average hamburgers people ate at the time. The Cantonese burger had sweet and sour sauce chopped onions and pineapple on top. Not too strange by today’s standards, but back in the 50’s that was probably weird. I managed to find a copy of their old menu so you could see all the types of burgers they sold. It’s really kind of funny. Since they had a streaker burger I’ll have to say this was probably from the early 70’s
The toilets in the bathroom also showed you a hippo head when closed, but when you lifted the lid you got to see a hippo with it’s mouth wide open ready to take a bite out of you. That probably scared a few customer’s away I’m sure.
People of all types were attracted to the place. You could see someone dressed up for a night on the town and a hippie, or priest sitting next to them. It was a time when people didn’t care about who you were, but how good the burgers were. Apparently they also attracted a lot of the local restauranteurs of the time to drop in. Vic Bergeron of Trader Vic’s was often seen there. Even Art Zimmerman of Zim’s Broiled Burgers would show up.
They were so popular that they even made a burger cookbook that had some silly recipes like the grass burger where you were supposed to mix in grass with the meat, cook it up and then watch the look on people’s faces when they ate it. Jack Falvey who started Hippo’s must have had a rather wicked sense of humor about it.I know because I was there around Christmas one year and he actually had a black Santa walking around passing out candy canes to all the kids. That took me awhile to understand and probably contributed to my dislike of candy canes, not because he was black, but I just never had seen a black Santa before.