Hamburger Hamlet Shuts Down WeHo Restaurant

Rent, fees more than restaurant can afford, say insiders who called the decision to close "heartbreaking"

After more than 60 years on the Sunset Strip, countless celebrity sightings and power lunches, the iconic homegrown restaurant Hamburger Hamlet couldn't stomach a substantial rent increase and cumbersome red tape from the city of West Hollywood, according to owners.

Monday is the restaurant's last day in WeHo.

"People are going to hang on to tables and I'm sure they'll hang on until they're kicked out," owner Mary Warlick said.

"I know people are going to miss it. People are standing in line to get in and every seat is filled, but we needed that for the last two years," she said. "It's a heartbreaker."

For decades, the 9201 Sunset Blvd. location has been the flagship for the LA-based burger chain, which once boasted more than 36 locales nationwide, said Seymour Floyd, vice president of development for the Hamlet Group, Inc.

The original opened in 1950 a few blocks east, and quickly became a go-to spot for Hollywood types. After relocating the flagship and a full-on expansion, the founders sold the franchise. Eventually it was kicked around in bankruptcy court until the current owners were able to salvage the last handful of restaurants and the highly recognizable brand, Floyd said.

However, the Sunset location just couldn't keep up with a proposed "substantial" rent increase and a prickly relationship with WeHo officials over parking, fines and inspections, Floyd said.

"The restrictions you have in the city of West Hollywood are onerous at best," said Floyd. "It's almost a detriment to doing business in the city for what you would have to pay."

"The valet's been with us for years," Warlick said. "He takes care of all these customers… Out of nowhere, the city assessed him a fee for having a valet service and he never had to do that before."

Despite the end of the Sunset Strip era for the chain, there are plans to open a new LA location, possibly a return to the heart of Hollywood, a neighborhood that once housed a now-shuttered Hamlet restaurant.

The new eatery would capture the charm of the flagship, Warlick said.

"Every single thing, everything that's there is going into storage, so we can try to create something just like it -- with the Tap Room and Baby Tap -- in a new location," Warlick said.

That is, if there's anything left to put in storage.

"People are taking things," Warlick said. "Most of our menus have been taken. Everybody thinks of it as their store, and it is and it has been."

"We took the Tap Room sign down so it couldn't be taken, and they can't walk out with a booth, so were OK," she said.

In the meantime, the Sherman Oaks and Pasadena locations are alive and well, and a new location opened Nov. 21 in San Diego with a second on the way.

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