By Mitch Broder
Walking into Jimbo’s Hamburger Place is less liking walking into a place than it is like walking into a hamburger.
You inhale hamburger steam. You see through hamburger vapor. You are having a hamburger sauna.
You’re engulfed by the greasy haze of decades of hamburger.
You believe you’re getting a film.
If you’re a fairly antiseptic person you will tell yourself to flee. But since you want a really good hamburger, you will tell yourself to sit. You will allow yourself to drift back into fifties luncheonette culture. You will be rewarded with “The Best Chopmeat Money Can Buy.”
There aren’t many places left like Jimbo’s. There aren’t many places left called Places. Jimbo’s is a refuge from a city of chefs trying to make the hamburger something it’s not. It has a list of twenty-three burgers, but the most exotic topping is blue cheese. (It also has the one with the fried egg on top. There’s a reason it’s called Texas Burger.)
Jimbo’s has indeed been cultivating burger mist since the fifties, at least as Jimbo’s, whether or not Jimbo was actually named Jimbo. He is said to have been a man who came from Arkansas, which is plausible; Arkansas is a cattle-raising state.
Jimbo is believed to have sold the restaurant to a man named Gus, who was Greek, which is also plausible, since there’s no reason to make it up. In the late seventies it was taken over by Mahmoud Mostafa, who is Egyptian, which, too, is plausible, since he is still the owner.
|That's Andy's and my table. And Abe at the counter.|
Mahmoud, who answers to “Jim,” runs the place with his son Abe. He renovates it every decade or so, so it has the look of no particular era. He says he’s closing down in about two weeks for this decade’s renovation. It won’t be massive, he told me. Just the same, I’d get over there now.
When I was over there, I got the table by the window, which was lucky because it was Andy Warhol’s table, and because there are only three tables. Abe told me that Andy used to sit there on Saturday mornings. Michael Jackson never sat there, he added. He preferred to order in.
I ordered the Beef Burger Deluxe. I received a trapezoidal mound of perfectly cooked chopmeat that was hot, steamy, and juicy. The tomato was white; I didn’t care. The Coke was canned; I didn’t care. The burger was delicious and the fries were delicious, and every diner in New York City ought to just give up on tomatoes.
I asked for the men’s room. I was led out to an iron gate that said “360 E. 55th St. Service Entrance.” A man unlocked the gate and pointed me to a bathroom that held, among other things, a mop and bucket and a pair of pants. I didn’t care about that, either. I just didn’t want to run into the guy who owned the pants.
Jimbo’s isn’t dainty. But that’s why it is precious. You deal with things like the grease fog. Just like the manager does.
“You go home with it,” Abe told me, referring to himself. “If you’re going out at night you have to shower. Unless you want to smell like burgers.”
Beef up at Jimbo’s Hamburger Place, 991 First Avenue, between 54th and 55th streets, in Manhattan.