Saturday, February 9, 2008

Burger Joints in the City Designed For Living

Posted By on Sat, Feb 9, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In the middle of last week’s completely soaked Friday, I left the Bohemian office around lunchtime, intending to quickly grab something to eat a block, maybe two blocks away. Instead, and without an umbrella, I wound up running in the pouring rain for a full half-mile.

Why on Earth would I do such a thing, you ask? Because I’d remembered, unfortunately at the last second, that January 31st was Superburger’s last day in business.Gayle’s Superburger, as it's rightfully known, has been in its little corner hovel on 4th & St. Helena since 1974, and a longstanding outpost of mine ever since I started hanging around downtown at age 13. It's what my friends routinely remind me is “my kind of place”—a well-worn horseshoe counter with stationary stools, antique fixtures that’ve been on the walls since they were brand new, and a teeny-tiny kitchen serving up tantalizing burgers big and small (but mostly big). Like many places I’m drawn to, it’s the little touches that matter: like the fact that open containers of relish, onions, and mayonnaise are conveniently placed at every seat, or that a healthy pile of newspapers is always waiting on the counter right as you walk in.

By the time I walked through Superburger’s door last Friday, my clothes were drenched, and it was a fitting get-up for what appeared to be a poignantly low-key farewell after 33 years in business. A couple of cheap mylar balloons hovered above the milkshake machine. Hank Williams whinnied out of the speakers of a kitchen radio. There was only one other guy in the place; he didn’t even know or much seem to care that it was their last day.

I got a King Burger and slathered it with mayo. Took a milkshake to go. Life was bittersweet.

Santa Rosa has lost a hundred great burger joints over the years. Fourth Street Franks, with its prime downtown location and sawdust floor. Heavenly Hamburger, with its brittle, yellowing Sprite sign outside and cozy roadside digs. Ingram’s Chili Bowl, with a truly, truly amazing chili burger, right next to Grossman’s hardware.

Going even further back, there was the Eat and Run on Fourth and Montgomery (the “scarf ‘n barf,” the kids called it) and The Pick Up in Montgomery Village. Down the way on Hahman a bit, there was the The Hi-Q—a great drive-in which eventually got sold and turned into Brooks Burgers, where you could get five burgers for a dollar.

And going way, way back: on Mendocino Avenue, near the old UA5, was a hopping place named after a popular song of the day—Teen Angel.

Santa Rosa can be proud of its burger heritage; after all, this is the city that couldn’t support a short-lived McDonald’s right in the heart of downtown in the early 1980s. Why? Because there were tons of better places to go. The downtown McDonald’s, its tail between its legs, closed up after a year.

But now, with downtown places like Juicy Burger, Broiler Burger, and now, Gayle’s Superburger out of the picture, I’m starting to get worried that McDonald’s might have a chance.

Sebastopol has its Sequoia Drive-In. Cotati has its Mike’s. Cloverdale, god bless ‘em, has both Hamburger Ranch and Pick’s Drive-In. What’ve we got?

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